Authors: Elizabeth Taylor

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

At Mrs. Lippincote’s, 1945

Palladian, 1946

A View of the Harbour, 1947

A Wreath of Roses, 1949

A Game of Hide and Seek, 1951

The Sleeping Beauty, 1953

Angel, 1957

In a Summer Season, 1961

The Soul of Kindness, 1964

The Wedding Group, 1968

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, 1971

Blaming, 1976

Short Fiction:

Hester Lilly, and Twelve Short Stories, 1954 (pb. in England as Hester Lilly, and Other Stories, 1954)

The Blush, and Other Stories, 1958

A Dedicated Man, and Other Stories, 1965

The Devastating Boys, and Other Stories, 1972

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Mossy Trotter, 1967

Biography

Elizabeth Taylor was born to Oliver Coles, an insurance inspector, and Elsie Fewtrell Coles, whom Taylor credited with nurturing her imagination and creating an interest in literature. As a child, Elizabeth Coles spent a lot of time in the Reading public library. She attended the Abbey School in Reading. In 1930, at the age of eighteen, she became a governess and a few years later a librarian at High Wycombe. In 1936 she married John William Kendell Taylor, a manufacturer, with whom she had a son, Renny, and a daughter, Joanna.{$I[AN]9810001572}{$I[A]Taylor, Elizabeth}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Taylor, Elizabeth}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Taylor, Elizabeth}{$I[tim]1912;Taylor, Elizabeth}

Elizabeth Taylor began to write in the years following her marriage. Several short stories were published in Time and Tide, Harper’s Bazaar, Harper’s Magazine, and Adelphi. During World War II she lived at Scarborough while her husband was in the Royal Air Force. She drew upon this experience for her first published novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, a comedy of manners that portrays life in wartime England.

After the war she and her family settled in the country village of Penn, Buckinghamshire, which Taylor considered a congenial atmosphere for a novelist. There she wrote a total of twelve novels, four short story collections, and a children’s book. A View of the Harbour is a satire of the gothic novel. Taylor’s lighthearted treatment of the genre is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818). A View of the Harbour, which depicts life in an English seaside village, was praised by reviewers for its economy of expression, scenic accuracy, and objective characterizations.

One of Taylor’s interests was painting, and in 1949 she presented, in A Wreath of Roses, a main character who lives for her art but whose career and idyllic village life are threatened by violence in the form of a strangler–a situation symbolic of the precarious position of civilization in a competitive, materialistic, violent world.

Critics tended to praise Taylor, often comparing her to Austen, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, and Barbara Pym, but she never became widely popular. Bowen and Ivy Compton-Burnett, respected novelists who shared the problem of reaching an audience, wrote to Taylor to offer their appreciation of A Game of Hide and Seek in 1951. Bowen compared it to Austen’s Persuasion (1818) and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Taylor’s 1953 novel The Sleeping Beauty was another critical success. One aspect that was cited–the comic sense conveyed through the conversation of minor characters–was a technique associated with the work of Compton-Burnett, a writer much admired by Taylor. Her critical study of Compton-Burnett’s novels was published by Vogue.

In 1954, Hester Lilly, and Twelve Short Stories was published, the first of four books of short stories. Taylor’s work in this genre produced further critical acclaim. She was called one of the greatest living short-story writers by a critic who, ironically, was not appreciative of her novels. Many of the stories originally appeared in The New Yorker. Her association with the magazine helped to increase her popularity, and it also indicated to some critics that she was more than a chronicler of domestic tranquillity. More recent promoters of her fiction include the famous novelists Angus Wilson, Kingsley Amis, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Anne Tyler.

The 1957 novel Angel is considered by many to be the high point of Taylor’s output. In 1984 the Book Marketing Council selected it as one of the “Best Novels of Our Time.” The work tells the story of Angelica Deverell, a popular author of romantic novels, who is not gifted enough to realize how bad her writing is. Taylor’s ability to make this “purveyor of twaddle” into a sympathetic character is an indication of her artistry.

In a Summer Season deals with a middle-aged woman who, to the disapproval of friends, neighbors, and relatives, marries a much younger man. The results are both funny and tragic and are revealed with great skill and elegance, something that can be said about most of Taylor’s works. Her subsequent books–The Soul of Kindness; A Dedicated Man, and Other Stories, The Wedding Group, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, The Devastating Boys, and Other Stories, and the posthumously published Blaming–appeared to much critical acclaim but were appreciated by only a small readership. This situation changed, however, in the 1980’s, when many of her books were reissued and won a new and much larger audience for Taylor.

BibliographyBaldwin, Dean. “The English Short Story in the Fifties.” In The English Short Story 1945-1980, edited by Dennis Vannata. New York: Twayne, 1985. 34-74. Argues that “shaming nature,” which is what the Matron does at the beginning of the story, is a good description of the theme of “A Red-Letter Day,” for Tory is unable to connect with her son; she is the prototype of the modern parent–alienated, awkward, divorced–unable to say where she has failed.Gillette, Jane Brown. “’Oh, What a Something Web We Weave’: The Novels of Elizabeth Taylor.” Twentieth Century Literature 35 (Spring, 1989): 94-112. Discusses Taylor’s fiction in three stages: the early period, in which she is critical of the distortion of the imagination; the middle period, in which she moderates her criticism; and the later years, when she celebrates the creative imagination. Argues that Taylor struggles with two major paradoxes: the novelist’s use of fiction to depict the real and the novelist’s condemnation of egotistical isolation.Grove, Robin. “From the Island: Elizabeth Taylor’s Novels.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 9 (1978): 79-95. Discusses the critical neglect of Taylor’s work. Argues that her books claim that watching the mind’s ironies and reflections on itself is a natural and nourishing activity. Says that she is the funniest and the most poignant writer of her generation. Discusses the comic nature of her work.Hicks, Granville. “Amour on the Thames.” Saturday Review 44 (January 21, 1961): 62. Hicks compares Taylor to Jane Austen. Brief comments about her work generally, with more extended comments on In a Summer Season.Kingham, Joanna. Introduction to A Dedicated Man and Other Stories. London: Virago Press, 1993. An article based on an interview with Taylor in 1971, in which she talks about when and why she started to write, her writing habits, her reactions to feminism, and the things that give her pleasure. Taylor’s daughter talks about her childhood and her relationship with her mother.Leclercq, Florence. Elizabeth Taylor. Boston: Twayne, 1985. In this general introduction to Taylor’s work, Leclercq devotes one chapter to Taylor’s short stories; says that what makes her stories so fascinating is her “crystallization of one particular ‘moment of being’.” Argues that her craft is more clearly defined in her stories than in her novels. Discusses her stories in three categories: small psychological dramas, social comedies, and anecdotes detached from social context.Taylor, Elizabeth. “England.” Kenyon Review, 1969, 469-73. In her contribution to this symposium on the short story, Taylor says some stories are nearer to poetry than the novel; others are like paintings, full of suggestion and atmosphere; the unity of the short story gives an impression of perfection, of being lifted into another world, instead of sinking into it, as one does with the novel.
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