Sunday, 19 May 2013

Short Story Sunday - Elizabeth Taylor

The Blush and Other Stories - Elizabeth Taylor

This collection of stories has been my first experience of Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975). I know she is quite popular with book bloggers (I first heard about her through Jane at Fleur Fisher who is a big fan) so I had high expectations for this week's Short Story Sunday.

I haven't been overly enamoured by most of the short story collections I've read, which focus on the lives of women (Truman Capote, Julie Orringer, William Trevor, A.S. Byatt), but Elizabeth Taylor's stories have been my favourite so far. In common with the other collections, The Blush and Other Stories contains tales of women: trapped, suffering growing pains, grieving, disappointed with how life has turned out and other slightly depressing themes. However, the stories often feature a lightness and sense of hope which, combined with the author's sympathetic development of her characters, renders the tales less lugubrious than they might otherwise be. Perhaps the age of this collection (the stories were first published in 1951) makes them rather genteel and less gritty than modern writing.

The collection contains twelve tales:

  • The Ambush
  • The Blush
  • The Letter-Writers
  • A Troubled State of Mind
  • The True Primitive
  • The Rose, The Mauve, The White
  • Summer Schools
  • Perhaps a Family Failing
  • Good-Bye, Good-Bye
  • Poor Girl
  • Hare Park
  • You'll Enjoy it When You Get There

The Letter-Writers, which tells the tale of two friends - whose decade-long friendship has developed through correspondence only - meeting for the first time, was one of the most pathetic stories in the collection (as in arousing pathos, not contemptible or worthless). It seems that this story was inspired by the epistolary friendship Elizabeth Taylor shared with the novelist, critic and biographer, Robert Liddell. In addition to his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Liddell also became friends with Barbara Pym whilst at Oxford. I have not heard of this writer before and I am rather intrigued by his choice of friends - I have read that both of these ladies are considered the best and most underrated female authors of the twentieth century. Please comment if you have read anything by Robert Liddell.

It's quite difficult to choose my favourite story from this collection, as I enjoyed so many of the stories. However, the final story, You'll Enjoy it When You Get There, keeps making me smile to myself days after I finished reading it. This story tells the tale of eighteen year old Rhoda who has to attend a business party with her father as her mother is in bed suffering from jaundice. Rhoda is painfully shy, which her mother finds a terrible failing,
"Self-consciousness it was always called when I was young, and that is what it is. To imagine that it shows a sense of modesty is absurd. Modesty. Why, I have never known a truly modest person to be the least bit shy."
Rhoda responds that it is alright for her, "You can drink. Then anyone can talk."

Rhoda's determined attempts at small-talk (about how her cat is from the same area as the location of the party) during the business dinner are amusing and result in the final hilarious scene on the dance floor.

This is not the only story with comic or light-hearted touches in the collection. I also found parts of: The Blush, The True Primitive and The Rose, The Mauve, The White amusing or outright funny.

I intend to try more of Elizabeth Taylor's writing in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment