I have to say I am very much enjoying reading from my Virago Modern Classics selections. I only wish this had been a vacation week for me and I could be spending long uninterrupted hours reading my books rather than picking them up and squeezing in my reading at odd moments. Still, I'm making good progress and loving what I've been reading, so that's what counts. I wanted to write a little bit about Elizabeth Taylor today, but to be honest I've been spending so much time reading E.M. Delafield's Thank Heaven Fasting that I didn't get as far into Taylor's A View of the Harbour as I would have liked. More about the Delafield tomorrow (I should easily finish the book tonight--it's hard to put down!), and let me share a little of what I've been reading about Elizabeth Taylor.
I read my first Elizabeth Taylor novel, The Sleeping Beauty, back in 2007 and knew I was well and truly hooked. Since then I've managed several more novels as well as a few short stories (she is equally as good at writing short stories as full length novels by the way). Taylor's friend and fellow author, Elizabeth Jane Howard (who wrote the wonderful Cazalet Chronicle, I should mention), called Taylor one of the most "unfairly underread and underappreciated" authors of the twentieth century. There was an excellent article in the Atlantic, which I urge you to read if you've not yet come across it. The article notes her work is often condescended to as "high-class 'women's novels'."
"But, of course, the English novel was born and perfected as a means to explore women’s interiority and bourgeois domesticity, and these remain subjects at the heart of the modern experience, to which the novel as a form is ideally suited. [Kingsley] Amis responded to a critic who submitted 'importance' as a criterion of Taylor’s worth: 'Importance isn’t important. Good writing is'. Her prose was at once effervescent and smooth, and its clarity and precision sprang from the astringency of her vision."
Rachel at Book Snob just wrote about this subject--women's writings and the domestic sphere--do click on through and read what she has to say as it is this very marginalization of women's fiction that brought about Virago Press in the first place.
My edition of A View of the Harbour has an afterword by Robert Liddell, but the more recent edition is introduced by Sarah Waters. As my library has this newer edition I had to take a quick peek at it. Waters is another proponent of Taylor's work, so I look forward to reading her intro in full when I finish the book. She does say, and I've heard this before, that Taylor is often compared to Jane Austen (an author Taylor also admired). "...her fascination is with the collision of personalities and the deceptions and self-deceptions practiced between them." A View of the Harbour is set in a small seaside town where the residents more or less know each other. This is a novel of infidelity--and perhaps of the worst kind--between a woman and the spouse of her best friend. I thought I'd share a couple short teasers that describe Tory, the unfaithful friend.
"Tory Foyle unwound the black chenille scarf from her hair. She was what was once held to be the typical English beauty, her pink face, bright hair and really violet eyes."
"She let herself out of the large, untidy house and into her own beautiful, hyacinth-scented one. She sat down in the bay-window of her bedroom and combed her hair before the mirror. She took it all down and built it up again, but there was no one there to see what she had done."
I expect this story is going to be devastating, and as someone mentioned in the comment section of a previous post, not at all light or sunny despite its sandy beach setting!
By the way, do pop on over to Book Snob and A Few of My Favourite Books as both Rachel and Carolyn are not only writing about their own Virago reading experiences, but are kindly doing daily wrap up posts and gathering together links from everyone who is participating in the readalong. It's really heartening to see so many people reading and writing about these lovely Viragos!