Elizabeth Taylor Stories (4)

Continued from https://etepsed.wordpress.com/1370-2/


My previous reviews of older or classic fictions:  https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

When I review this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

17 responses to “*


    “‘I really love London,’ she said. ‘All that panorama, at night, and yet it’s so quiet. I sat out there this afternoon for a bit, and it was so peaceful, like being in the country. It’s been like a lovely holiday here.’”

    This is a truly great story, a sadly simmering story. Also it is the slowly, but seemingly happy fermenting, silent roofed London, and cushion dust, story of Hilda and her visit from an unsatisfactory Nottingham milieu to help her needy daughter move into a new flat in London. And Hilda’s figure is better than her own daughter’s, and I did find suspicious the daughter’s woman friend’s cursory behaviour as future flatmate of the daughter, and the description given to Hilda by her daughter of her daughter’s late-lunching ‘Masonic golfer’ boss at work called Mr Wharton did not chime well with me.
    Before the story’s point of view shifts suddenly upon Hilda’s departure back to Nottingham, she had visited alone the pub near where her daughter’s new flat in London happened to be… and somehow a variety of pointlessness, even then, seemed purposefully poignant.

    “A stale beery smell pervaded the room, as if everything – the heavy curtains, the varnished furniture, even perhaps the old man by the fire – was gently fermenting.”

  2. Mice and Birds and Boy

    “He examined a dish of stewed fruit which had a greenish-grey mantling of mould.
    ‘Pooh! It smells like beer,’ he said.
    ‘I meant to throw it away, but it seemed such a criminal waste when the natives are starving everywhere.’”

    A six year old boy called William visits the local ‘witch’ in what used to be the gardener’s lodge to the large building and stables, now demolished, where she lived as a pretty girl. And later a ‘vague marriage’ and a ‘flat chest’. Now friends with mice and mouldy chocolate that he eats worried that it is poison. And her talk of ‘death duties’… and her saying “want must be your master.” At first, he sees it as his own duty to visit, against his mother’s scolding, his sister’s ballet lessons as irrelevant backdrop and whatever else. A mix of motives. Seeing what the old woman’s past is in photos etc. And the workmen working around the lands where she once lived within a respected family. Now she traipses, under frowning looks by others, to the shops with William. Until she doesn’t. There is a sense, for me, of presage and of present age. One of the workmen said: “And what is your considered opinion of the present emergency?”

  3. A Nice Little Actress

    “The outskirts of a town are nothing at all, neither town nor village.”

    This story, amidst post war humdrum architecture and unfinished building, falls between stools, too, a very sad, deadpan tale of a seeming attraction between a married woman and a man, via the catalyst of classical music, particularly the Archduke, and his eventual felt need to destroy the woman’s husband. But the ending tells it all, what she had been all long or wanted to be, and anything else from me here would be spoiler. So I cut myself off at this point, for the sake of the story, one that would have stayed with me forever, otherwise. If only I’d realised the title had already given it all away.


    “Some buildings looked familiar from other similarly aimless wanderings, but she could form no pattern from them.”

    Laura has gone on holiday to Athens, persuaded, I guess, she needed a break after…. after what? Her heart is not in holidaying, and she only vaguely visits places, as quoted above, and is somewhat satisfied instead by the thin inner walls of the hotel, listening to two English Ladies in the next room, keeping quiet herself, just the undemanding company she needed, anonymous voices, but with Laura vicariously building up a gestalt of their lives back home and their characters from the pattern of their voiced words and the picture postcards she hears them writing to whomsoever. Till, towards the end, Laura herself sneezes, and then they whisper next door, before going home…
    Stories are like that, vicarious voices, till they become static entities in the past, never to speak again, except in whispers.

    “Funny that that smile looks so beautiful on a statue, and is simply infuriating on a real person.”


    “…how strange it seemed that the scarecrows in the fields should be dressed as Arabs,…”

    A seemingly ordinary but evocative story of English people holidaying in Morocco in 1964. The satire of most of these within the shell of Englishness, sun-burning their joints of meat called bodies. One of them reading a thriller paperback by the pool.
    Told from various points of view of couples, with a sense of non-omniscience that is paid off by the surprising and confusing ending about one of them being the famous who?…Deirdre and Bunny Wallace, the main points of view, though, are displeased with this white hotel, not Arab enough, but at the back of the hotel she glimpses poor Arab kids rifling a refuse truck for food.
    I need to re-read to see if I, too, missed something.

    “…a mosque topped with a stork’s nest.”

  6. Vron and Willie

    “‘I dote on sardines,’ said Vron. ‘I feel I could never have enough of them. Even when they make me sick, the minute after, I’m ready for them again.’”

    This is the story of two orphan siblings brought up by their brandy-prone Aunt, the latter indulgent and gullible. She takes them to London to start their working lives, away from the hometown where everyone knew each other and looked out for the Aunt. Full of period detail, “Every now and then, the coffee-machine gave out a dreadful gasp, like a giant’s death-rattle”, also including a local policeman — and a landlady who looks after the digs where they stay in adjoining rooms. To the landlady’s annoyance, they relapse into cooking smelly leeks and, unbeknownst to her, into…what else? I do not wish to steal from your enjoyment of this story by divulging the answer to that. I just remember acorns as a child and selling them in a pretend shop. “Their mother was just like the Princess with a pea in her bed.” — the Aunt once said. And the siblings danced “a kind of very slow twist to the last movement of Brahms’ Symphony Number One.”

  7. The Devastating Boys

    “The country station was almost spellbound in silence, and there was, to Laura, a dreadful sense of self-absorption – in herself – in the stillness of the only porter standing on the platform, staring down the line: even – perhaps especially – in inanimate things; all were menacingly intent on being themselves, and separately themselves – the slanting shadow of railings across the platform, the glossiness of leaves, and the closed door of the office looking more closed, she thought, than any door she had ever seen.”

    From that truly perfect sentence in literature, there emerge, out of a train from the poorer side of London, two ‘coloured’ boys (one half caste) to spend a two week summer holiday, as part of a worthy national scheme, in the countryside, a clash of cultures, and there is a well-characterised hosting couple with grown-up children elsewhere, grappling with this situation, but rather self-conscious references of the times to the N word and ‘monkey-face’, and a sense of shallow positive discrimination. The clash of an animal smelly countryside and the city whence they come with a telling inclusion of a game of “snakes and ladders”. Not one of my favourite Taylor stories.

  8. I reviewed the next story recently as below, here: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/1366-2/#comment-1692


    The Excursion to the Source

    “Through an open window she could hear the solid ticking of a grandfather-clock and on the terrace, the peacocks squawked with a sound of rusty shears being forced open. Here there was only the busy noise of the cicadas in the grass.
    At the bottom of the orchard, she saw Jean. He was beckoning to her eagerly, and she hurried forward, with a wading motion, through the long grass.”

    This Zeno time-wading story of two women, Gwenda and Polly (27), the former, as once guardian, fifteen years older than the other, travelling by car in France towards the source of the river in Dordogne where Gwenda’s last holiday with her then ill, and now dead, husband was spent. They are well-characterised and the nature of the auberge where they stay for six days by chance with a broken down (or deliberately tampered-with?) car, and the fellow guests and the “oafish” mute called Jean and the landscape itself are all also well-characterised, surrounded by images of a trout-trap, pâté, worms, mosquitoes, gentians and wild flowers. A sort of Aickman ‘Hospice’ audit trail where the Aickman strangeness is conjured inside you and not in the story itself, while summoning climaxes and outer and inner landscape edges such as those in Lindsay’s ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ and Forster’s ‘Passage to India.’

    My ongoing review of this author’s collected stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/27/complete-short-stories-elizabeth-taylor/


    ‘Sister’s very nice. She’s not a bit cruel. She lets me mind that little baby in the corner. If it falls on its back, I ring the bell. Now can I read to you?’

Sister, in this vignette, is the Sister nurse in a hospital when a mother — unsure of her young role as woman and mother — visits her sick son, who reads aloud to her, and she leaves a parcel for him to untie after she left him there again, for him to untie with some perceived difficulty, even though it is a simple bow not a knot. A hospital that comes to a tranche of life, and, inter alia, with mention of spilt saucepan burns of a girl patient nearby,
    The boy is unsure of his role, too, just as the readers are unsure of their roles too, in untying the bow of this story.

  10. TALL BOY

The poignant and historically telling tale of a West Indian called Jasper Jones, aka Tall Boy, in London during the era when people regularly watched Sunday Night at the Palladium. He even sends a birthday card to himself, because nobody, not even his family, does, but he awakens his co-workers to his birthday with a loud tie, while earlier dreaming of his three sisters back home who are named after jewels.


    “The building had lately seemed to be demolishing itself, or at least not hindering its happening.”

The ‘millinery’ ‘shop’ was on its last legs, and Miss Smythe the last recipient of a farewell speech in her department, the nature of praise, too little or too much was never as good as the optimum level (“Perhaps, she thought, she had had too much praise all her life, and nothing else. Or might have been praised so much, because she had nothing else.”) And, on this her last day after many years working, she goes home early on a different train, where her regular gentlemen co-travellers, ostensible admirers, were missing, and it was a stopping train, each stop with a new film set township, and she herself had stopped, too, but hopefully she had now only just started…

  12. I earlier read and reviewed the next story here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/1207-2/#comment-2519, as follows…


    ELIZABETH TAYLOR: In and Out the Houses

    “He held a tea-towel to the door-handle, because his fingers were sticky.”

    And our observer this time a young lady still at school who picks up a knife to slice oranges to help the vicar make marmalade.
    “The village was short of babies…”
    She is on holiday from school — otherwise busy writing a novel — and she regularly transfers gossip about recipes for this and that commodity, thus creating rivalries between the houses, and she spreads gossip about deaths and babies, in fact the death of someone she fears at the start of her holiday’s visit-mongering is consummated by the time it comes to an end.

    ‘Jam Fart and Custard’.

    Her own novel turns out to be quite unexpected but, still, this charming Elizabeth Taylor work reminded me of Beatrix Potter anyway


    This is one of the most exquisite stories you shall ever read, featuring the ‘beauty’ of a wartime urban ruin of a house, a man with a split personality between wife at home and a woman he sees in a church, not sure I understood it all properly, as I was creatively fazed by its richness of prose, a prose that rivalled some of the richest of Walter de La Mare stories that I am currently reading. So much to quote, I can not quote anything by plenitude of choice. Simply read it.

  14. There will now be a delay in continuing these reviews….

  15. FLESH

    “What the sun had done for her was to burn her brick-red, and offer her this nice holiday friend. Stanley Archard, retired widower from Hove.”

    Brought together by alcohol, on a holiday amongst a group of others from the same plane, this is merely a ludicrous, now dated, if well-written, account of a widower and a middle-aged lady (she having been allowed abroad to an island resort by her husband after her hysterectomy), a well-busted lady who wanted to be proud of her brick-red tan but the shadows in bed made it look burnt black, that, after an earlier reference to ‘colour-bar’, made her look like a black woman when in bed, with pillowcases in a double bed belonging to a tawdry hotel on a different island for privacy from the others in the group, pillowcases bearing the words HERS and HERS, as they clumsily attempt sex together, she with her burnt skin, he with his toe-gout! Don’t go there!

    “As if she had forgotten him, she would look about her critically, judging the setup, sternly drawing attention to a sticky ring on the counter where she wanted to rest her elbow, keeping a professional eye on the prices.”

  16. I reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/05/09/penguin-modern-stories/#comment-24902 , as follows:


    SISTERS: Elizabeth Taylor

    “He gave a name, which meant nothing to her, and she invited him in, thinking he was about insurance,…”

    A man tries to land the salmon of a literary scoop, or to scoop up a seemingly grounded lady called Mrs Mason, with bland habits and only reading light historical fiction, and with low-key feminine sociability that she values and wants to remained unspoilt. He tries to land her from the backdrop of her sister, a famous writer of arguably outrageous fiction, one who mixed in the free-love set. An interesting portrait, merely that. Deeper down, though, I wonder if Mrs Mason was indeed the sister who wrote the words that described her. All women writers are in a secret sisterhood after all. Or all sisters being in the same head of a conflicted Taylor? These sisters involuntarily kill their own fathers, by rote, here a rector. And, in disguise, they daringly create a man here in this story who nearly destroys them, until he is somehow trapped by the itemised sororal words that created them ironically as the rooted flowers that the sisters are not!
    But gossip and doubt remain naggingly.
    Was Taylor the daughter of an insurance inspector, as I once heard?

    I worked for an insurance company 1970-1992!

    “Even going down the path to the gate, he seemed to be glancing from side to side, as if memorizing the names of flowers.”

    Cf my review of this author’s IN AND OUT THE HOUSES, a telling portrait of a woman writer when younger: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/1207-2/#comment-2519

  17. Hôtel du Commerce

    “Level with her shoulder-blades, the corsets stopped and the massive flesh moved gently with each step she took, as if it had a life of its own.
    In Room Eight was a small double bed and wallpaper with a paisley pattern, on which what looked like curled-up blood-red embryos were repeated every two inches upon a sage-green background.”

    A depressing hotel in France for our honeymooning couple, when even one stray flake of confetti falling from the luggage seems depressing in itself. They are too late to see the stain glass cathedral in best conditions of daylight, the spire of which they can see from their tawdry room. She is impatient with how she always has to wait for him – while he smokes? We get the impression she is impatient with his impatience, or is it vice versa?

    “On their way south, the sudden, and far-away sight of Chartres Cathedral across the plain, crouched on the horizon, with its lop-sided spires, like a giant hare, had meant much more to her than the close-up details of it. Again, for that, they had been too late.”

    Cardboard-thin walls between rooms, they are later kept awake by a loud repetitive uncouth argument of the years’ grudges between an older couple. But in the morning, when glimpsed coming out of the next room, they seem better suited than our honeymooners, about whom we tellingly and subtly read…

    “She was spreading apricot jam on a piece of bread and he leant over and gently touched her hand. She laid down the knife, and put her hand in her lap. Then picked up the bread with her left hand and began to eat.”

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