You’ll Enjoy It When You Get There: The Stories of Elizabeth Taylor

By Elizabeth Taylor

New York Review Books Classics, $17.95, 400 pages

Who is this author?

No, not that Elizabeth Taylor. This Elizabeth Taylor, who lived from 1912 to 1975, was a British author who published a dozen novels, five story collections and a book for children. Many of her stories appeared in such prestigious literary magazines as The New Yorker and Harper’s. Before becoming a writer, she worked as a governess and a librarian before marrying a businessman who later became mayor of their town. As private and unassuming as a writer as her namesake was flamboyant and theatrical as a superstar, this Elizabeth Taylor is known for her deft portrayals of life among the middle and upper classes in England following World War II. Her work is widely admired by other authors, and many have said her talent has never been fully appreciated. .American novelist Anne Tyler, for example, once compared Taylor to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Bowen – “soul sisters all.” Taylor’s  best-known novels include “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (2005), and “Angel” (2007), which, like some of her other  books, inspired film adaptations.

What is this book about?

Here are 29 stories, selected for this collection by novelist Margaret Drabble. They demonstrate Taylor’s quiet but powerful understanding of the emotional turbulence that often roils under the outward placidity of ordinary life. Taylor set her stories in domestic life, but the loneliness, self-doubt, awkward encounters and unfulfilled desires she so brilliantly depicts are anything but homey. Taylor employed a kind of double vision that allowed her to describe the surface and expose the depths at the same time.

Why you’ll like it:

Though these tales are set in England, the American reader will have no problem relating to her carefully drawn characters. Taylor’s work appeared so regularly in The New Yorker that you may well have read some of her stories there. No matter: having them collected in this fine book gives them a kind of cumulative power that will enhance their value whether they are familiar to you or serve as an entry point into Taylor’s work.

Here is what she once said about the art of writing:  “The whole point is that writing has a pattern and life hasn’t. Life is so untidy. Art is so short and life so long. It is not possible to have perfection in life but it is possible to have perfection in a novel.”


What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly in a starred review:  “This captivating collection of 29 stories by Taylor—a British novelist who wrote 11 novels and four story collections—includes an introduction by Margaret Drabble, who edited the book. Most of the stories revolve around female protagonists in unremarkable English settings. The title story is about a young girl named Rhoda, who attends a ball with her father. Her glamorous mother is sick and unable to attend, but she advises awkward Rhoda not to be shy. Their dynamic is emblematic of the tension between expectation and reality that affects many of Taylor’s characters. In “The Letter Writers,” spinster Emily finally meets a famous novelist she’s admired from afar through a decade of epistolary friendship. Unfortunately, the meeting is awkward and strained, leaving Emily feeling ashamed. In “The Prerogative of Love,” young, beautiful Arabella floats through her aunt’s lunch party, filling the elder guests with a longing for their youth and levity. In “Flesh,” a middle-aged pair on vacation strike up a brief adulterous romance, but are ultimately foiled. Taylor’s vulnerable characters are simultaneously touching and heartbreaking.”

“There is a deceptive smoothness in her tone, or tone of voice, as in that of Evelyn Waugh; not a far-fetched comparison, for in the work of both writers the funny and the appalling lie side by side in close amity,” says author Kingsley Amis.

Kirkus Reviews says:  “A newly selected volume of short fiction by a much-admired but not widely known English writer showcases her subtle insights. Taylor’s (1912-1975) reputation has ebbed and flowed in both her native England and in the U.S., where recent reissues of two of her 11 novels, Angel and A Game of Hide and Seek, have helped return her to the public eye. This book of 29 stories, edited and introduced by [Margaret] Drabble, reflects the breadth of her creative life as well as her nuanced grasp of human interactions. The tales are often located in a finely detailed, middle-class domestic setting where the tone and minutiae are very English: gardens, glasses of sherry, village pubs, marmalade, class differences, Austen-ish wit. Frequently noting the weather, the seasons, flora and fauna, Taylor considers, usually from a female perspective, questions of marriage, isolation, love and aging. The collection opens with a novella, Hester Lilly, which charts the strains imposed on an established marriage by the arrival of the husband’s young cousin. This theme of individuals struggling within an existing relationship recurs often, as in “Gravement Endommagé,” a glimpse of a couple that has survived wartime separation but is not at peace together. The title story, one of several featuring younger women outgrowing their youth, captures the exquisite discomfort of a daughter deputizing for her mother at a formal dinner. Among the most memorable is “The Letter-Writers,” a model of unarticulated intensity in which two long-term correspondents come together for the first time and fear their “eyes might meet and they would see in one another’s nakedness and total loss.” Sensitive souls are scrutinized with delicate English understatement.”

When is it available?

This Taylor-made collection can be found at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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