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Elizabeth Taylor (novelist)

Elizabeth Taylor (née Coles; 3 July 1912 – 19 November 1975) was an English novelist and short-story writer. Kingsley Amis described her as "one of the best English novelists born in this century". Antonia Fraser called her "one of the most underrated writers of the 20th century", while Hilary Mantel said she was "deft, accomplished and somewhat underrated".

Life and writings

Born in Reading, Berkshire, the daughter of Oliver Coles, an insurance inspector, and his wife Elsie May Fewtrell, Elizabeth was educated at The Abbey School, Reading and then worked as a governess, tutor and librarian. She married John Taylor, owner of a confectionery company, in 1936, after which they lived in Penn, Buckinghamshire for almost all their married life. She was briefly a member of the British Communist Party, then a consistent Labour Party supporter.

Taylor's first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote's, was published in 1945. It was followed by eleven more. Her short stories were published in magazines and collected in four volumes. She also wrote a children's book. The English critic Philip Hensher called The Soul of Kindness a novel "so expert that it seems effortless. As it progresses, it seems as if the cast are so fully rounded that all the novelist had to do was place them, successively, in one setting after another and observe how they reacted to each other.... The plot... never feels as if it were organised in advance; it feels as if it arises from her characters' mutual responses."

Taylor's work is mainly concerned with the nuances of everyday life and situations. Her shrewd but affectionate portrayals of middle-class and upper middle-class English life won her an audience of discriminating readers, as well as loyal friends in the world of letters. She was a friend of the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett and of the novelist and critic Robert Liddell. Her long correspondence with the latter forms the subject of one of her short stories, "The Letter Writers" (published in The Blush, 1951), but the letters were destroyed, in line with her general policy of keeping her private life private. A horror of publicity is the subject of another celebrated short story, "Sisters", written in 1969.

Anne Tyler once compared Taylor to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Bowen – "soul sisters all," in Tyler's words.

Taylor was also a close friend of Elizabeth Jane Howard, who was asked by Taylor's widower to write a biography following Elizabeth Taylor's death. Howard refused due to what she felt was a lack of incident in Taylor's life. See Slipstream, Elizabeth Jane Howard's memoir, for more details on their friendship. Taylor's editor at the UK publisher Chatto & Windus was the poet D. J. Enright.

Elizabeth Taylor died of cancer in Penn, Buckinghamshire, at the age of 63.

In the 21st century a new interest in her work was kindled by film-makers. During the 1970s, Ruth Sacks Caplin had written an film screenplay based on Taylor's novel Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Caplin's screenplay languished for decades, until her son, Lee Caplin, purchased the rights to the film in 1999. Ruth Sacks Caplin's film adaptation, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, directed by Dan Ireland, was finally released in 2005 with British actress Joan Plowright in the title role.

French director François Ozon made a 2007 film of The Real Life of Angel Deverell entitled Angel, with Romola Garai.



  • At Mrs. Lippincote's (1945)
  • Palladian (1946) shows most clearly the influence of Jane Austen.
  • 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) is her most sex-infused work, telling the story of a rich woman who marries a man ten years her junior.
  • The Soul of Kindness (1964)
  • The Wedding Group (1968)
  • Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971). The actress Elizabeth Taylor is probably implied when it is announced that "the blousy Mrs Burton" is coming to stay at the hotel. It was included in Robert McCrum's 100 Best Novels In English. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
  • Blaming (1976), posthumous.

Short story collections

  • Hester Lilly (1954)
  • The Blush and Other Stories (1958)
  • A Dedicated Man and Other Stories (1965)
  • The Devastating Boys (1972). Includes "Sisters" and "Flesh"
  • Dangerous Calm (1995). A selection of her stories and two previously unpublished short stories
  • Complete Short Stories (2012). Collects all of the works in the first five short story collections
  • Elizabeth Taylor: A Centenary Celebration (2012). Short stories uncollected in "Complete Short Stories" including unpublished and incomplete stories, and essays and letters
  • You'll Enjoy It When You Get There: The Stories of Elizabeth Taylor (2014). A selection of her stories.

Short stories

Children's book

  • Mossy Trotter (1967)


  • "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."


Further reading

  • Nicola Beauman, The Other Elizabeth Taylor (Persephone Books 2009)
  • Elizabeth and Ivy, ed. Robert Liddell (1986). Memoir of Elizabeth Taylor and Ivy Compton-Burnett with correspondence

External links

  • Elizabeth Taylor on IMDb

  • From England, A Belated Gift: Elizabeth Taylor's Fiction at Rain Taxi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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