At Mrs Lippincote's

At Mrs Lippincote'sThis was Elizabeth Taylor s first novel, and it is a very accomplished and enjoyable debut This was my third Taylor novel after Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont and A Wreath of Roses, and I look forward to reading.Set during the Second World War, it centres on Julia, the wife of RAF officer Roddy They are lodged in the house of the widow Mrs Lippincote in an unnamed provincial town They share the house with their 7 year old son Oliver and Roddy s spinster cousin Eleanor.Julia is frustrated by the social expectations of her role as an officer s wife, and much of the book is a comedy of manners The writing is sharp and perceptive throughout, making this a pleasure to read. In the beginning I expected this book to be like Pym s Jane and Prudence, as both take place in English villages in basically the same time period and employ two female characters who are very different from each other one an unsatisfactory wife, according to the standards of the time the other a spinster Each work also references famous British literature here, it is that of the Brontes.But despite these surface similarities, there is something very different in their tones that makes them very different books Taylor s is not as cozy, acerbic, and much political in her personal, probably even daring for the time, I would think This, Taylor s first book appeared in 1945, while Pym s J P her 3rd novel was published in 1953.While both are well written and I m giving them the same rating, there is a dreariness in Taylor s novel that isn t in Pym s book since I started with that comparison, I ll continue , making Pym s appealing But, then again, in Taylor s there is a complexity that I enjoyed that I don t remember finding in the Pym I plan on reading by both of them. Lucky for us Emily Bronte was not a man, said Julia, or she might have drank herself to death at the Black Bull It was better to write Wuthering Heights, but she really had no choice Men are not forced to turn their desolation to advantage as women are It s easier for them to despise their passion, quell their restlessness in other ways The Bronte girls just couldn t slip down to the pub So they had to take to writing After reading The End on the last page of this little gem, I m tempted to turn right back to the beginning and reread itmaking sure to note this detail and that one I think it s safe to say that Elizabeth Taylor is now a favorite author of mine All of her wit, sarcasm, and humor are just so well written into her books I can just see her sitting in a corner at a lively party jotting down sly observations about the guests, and wishing than ever to be at home curled up by the fire with a book Julia, the protagonist of At Mrs Lippincote s, is an intelligent, outgoing woman who can t live up to her RAF husband s idea of a quiet, mild tempered woman She s extremely well read, can see all his flaws and still love him, but refuses to idolize him She s not particularly handy with an iron, doesn t mind serving tinned sardines and two day old egg sandwiches to her husband after a hard day s work, and has never really got the upper hand on dirty dishes It doesn t help that her husband s single cousin Eleanor lives with them, and seems all too eager to take on Julia s role.I have yet to read a book where the mother and son relationship is explored so quietly and brilliantly Julia s seven year old son, Oliver, is a delight to read about Julia s instilled a love of reading in him, and together they explore her favorite childhood authors like Robert Lewis Stevens, the Bronte sisters, and Johann David Wyss Written in 1945, I loved the detail she gave to the rental house the Davenant s live in It s a time capsule of a bygone era Of course there are copious amounts of tea, bread and butter fingers, gingerbread and literary references My favorite is the following conversation over a lackadaisical dinner Julia s prepared for her husband s boss These baked apples are very good, said the Wing Commander I had the recipe from Villette. I like to get my recipes from good literature, Julia explained It takes a woman novelist to describe a dish of food If we invert that, what a prodigious novelist Mrs Beeton would have been, said Roddy Oh, I agree, said Julia, but it isn t often true Remember how it is always mutton in Jane Austen I can t recall them eating anything else Oh, gruel, of course One of the best meals I ever ate in my imagination was the Boeuf en daube in To the Lighthouse, said Julia I see it now and smell it the great earthenware dish and its she closed her eyes and breathed slowly its confusion of savory brown and yellow meats, and its bayleaves and its wine. I ve had mixed success with Taylor before I liked The Blush, a volume of short stories, and was less enthralled by In a Summer Season I wasn t sure whether I would like this, Taylor s first novel, in which a military family comes to live in a rented house during World War II.Married to a proper officer, Julia Davenant tries to behave as a proper officer s wife ought, yet she has a basic directness and disregard for social convention which trip her up She forms a friendship with Roddy s commanding officer which begins with their mutual love of the Brontes, and she persists in seeing Mr Taylor, a former restaurateur now dying slowly of a cause I never quite caught , both relationships which make straitlaced Roddy uncomfortable Yet in the end, her honest, sensitive character is the admirable one.In the book s foreword, Taylor admits to rewriting a great deal, so that sometimes a sentence in its evolution takes a whole page of scratching out But all this labor doesn t show in her prose, which is elegant and lucid, precise and thoughtful It s a quiet book, with a quiet plot, yet the characterization and writing are so deft that it s absorbing. Rating 2.5Society necessarily has a great many little rules, especially relating to the behaviour of women One accepted them and life ran smoothly and without embarrassment, or as far as that is possible where there are two sexes Without the little rules, everything became queer and unsafe It is unclear precisely where and when Taylor s first novel is set, but the reader knows it is somewhere in England and just before the end of World War II, as Roddy, the military officer husband of 30 ish Julia Davenant the central character is apparently at no risk of being posted Nevertheless, the war has had some impact Julia and Roddy, their coddled and somewhat sickly son, Oliver, and Roddy s 4O year old cousin, Eleanor, have had to move house It s a damp and gloomy place they ve come to, apparently near a military base or headquarters, and it belongs to a Mrs Lippincote Julia is quite displeased with the situation There is no home of one s own, no servant, no soup tureen, no solid phalanx of sisters merely an envious and critical cousin in law We are led to believe from the start that Julia is generally restless, dissatisfied, impulsive, and possibly spoiled Eleanor gets almost as much attention from the author as Julia, and makes an effective contrast The Davenants apparently took her in when she had a breakdown, which first involved the losing of her voice and then alopecia one s hair falling out in great patches she tells someone, who d probably prefer not to know Eleanor is dissatisfied, too, but for different reasons than Julia She s a lonely spinster in love with her cousin, for whom, as they say, she would have laid down her life with every satisfaction She s certain that she would have made Rodney a far superior wife to the lightweight, capricious Julia Before Eleanor meets Mr Aldridge, a man who does carpentry lessons at the Montessori school where she teaches, she spends her evenings writing letters to a POW She s never met him, but represents him to others as a dear friend and in her correspondence addresses him as a lover Once Mr Aldridge, a communist party member, is on the scene, however, Eleanor attempts to find community among the odd assortment of characters who regularly and informally meet above a grocer s shop She doesn t, of course, have any commitment to the cause.Like many other of Taylor s female characters I ve come to learn Julia s ideas about what life should deliver have come from novels Ruined by reading, no wonder she s dissatisfied and inclined to flirtation with her husband s wing commander, coquettishly suggesting to the older man who takes an unusual interest in her that he s a sort of Mr Rochester figure She also rears her precocious seven year old son on the literature she grew up on, much to the irritation of her husband, who pronounces You and Oliver both read too much In addition, Julia has rather unusual friendships, one with an ailing waiter another with a clergyman a nephew of Mrs Lippincote herself, and a third with a young corporal Mrs Lippincote and her slightly mad daughter, Miss Phyllis, mostly hover in the background of the story The latter sneaks into the house while the Davenants live there and climbs the stairs to a tower room, where she fondles her mother s ancient wedding dress and handles other fashion accessories from years gone byJane Eyreis a touchstone text in this book and there are other gothic effects There are also references to Freud and Virginia Woolf The mix of these elements is a bit messy Among the topics Taylor concerns herself with in this piece are the double standard in marriage and women s roles in general She s also interested in the question of what people are prepared to put up with in close relationships Often what they think they ve kept hidden from others is not hidden after all.Not surprisingly, Taylor s protagonist can t cook She struggles with the upkeep of the large house, doesn t compile lists to stay organized, and possibly likes to drink too much or so says a concerned Eleanor to Julia s husband When he married Julia, Roddy, believed her woefully ignorant of the world and had looked forward, indeed, to assisting in her development But she had been grown up all the time or, at least, she had not changed The root of all the trouble was not ignorance at all, but the refusal to accept all the little rules pertaining to the behaviour of women Taylor is perhaps too staid a writer to create mid twentieth century Nora Helmer Julia might chafe at the constraints of her marriage, but she s neither sufficiently troubled nor dynamic enough to leave it She s pragmatic No Ibsenesque epiphany and dramatic departure for her it s quite enough of an escape to take a solitary evening walk away from her dull and predictable existence Nora Helmer probably returned to her Doll s House the next day anyway, Julia reasons, before she herself goes home to a husband exasperated by her late night cavorting about the countryside, going into pubs alone Taylor wrote that she was always disconcerted when asked for her life story as nothing sensational had ever happened She disliked travel and change of environment and apparently preferred reading books in which practically nothing ever happens At Mrs Lippincote s does not lack for small scale incident While there s no truly dramatic action, there is a surprising twist a revelation at the end Overall, the book is a study of a small group of people and an exploration of a marriage than a plot driven piece per se There is some quality writing, but also some surprisingly gory descriptions of butcher shops, and some muddy, confusing paragraphs that I didn t know what to make of Had I not committed to reading the book as part of a project, it s possible I might not have completed it Taylor was clearly still finding her way with this piece. New tenants arrive at Mrs Lippincote s home Julia, Roddy and their young son Oliver breathe fresh life into rooms cluttered with past memories Roddy is conscientious and with a recent RAF posting he is anxious to impress Julia struggles with the restrictions placed upon her life and she becomes gently antagonistic and rebellious.Elizabeth Taylor manages to convey the very soul of a person with a deft, sensitive flair Her writing illuminates so much in its thoughtful simplicity.Oliver imagines his world coloured with both fact and fiction Taylor has a gift for writing children as they encounter and try to understand Delightful references to novels and authors throughout the book add a lovely charm A beautifully written story. To enter into Elizabeth Taylor s world is always unsettling I ve written a bit about some of her work especially A View of the Harbour after reading some of the bigger hits of her writing career However, as I m making my way through some of the other novels of hers that I haven t yet gotten to, I m continually astonished at her unique vision of England, of marriage, and of especially female subjectivity Taylor s vision is comedic but also bleak and often dark here, in her first novel, she is as assured with her subject matter and her own voice as Elizabeth Bowen was in her own debut, The Hotel , which I also just recently read While Taylor uses numerous intertextual elements in At Mrs Lippincote s to situate her own thematic concerns as well as her characters reactions to World War II e.g., allusions to the Bront s abound her voice is all her own Forced to live in a home that is not her own, Julia Davenant tries to maintain order in her life as mother to an ill, book obsessed seven year old son, Oliver as wife to the egotistical, career driven RAF officer, Roddy and as surrogate sister in law to Roddy s spinster cousin, Eleanor, who lives with them Yet order is difficult to maintain when one is resistance to conformity and when one balks at the constraints of life as they become apparent we witness Julia s difficulty balancing her own independence with her various roles, juxtaposed darkly and comedically in a way that only Taylor can pull off with men straying from their wives, with those who have come down in the world due to the war, and with the pull toward different kinds of affinities in a world made somehow smaller and scarier by the threat of bombs, even though Roddy s post is in part an attempt to get his family out of the danger zone of London Brutal and honest in its portrayal of marriage and wartime disappointment, At Mrs Lippincote s takes a subtle pacifist stance to question notions of patriotism, the allure of socialism some of the novel s finest scenes see Eleanor s seduction by the socialist ideal, as much out of politics as out of loneliness , and the trappings and cruelties of daily life that war intensifies just as it magnifies Those new to Taylor would do well to start here, and perhaps then build their way up to her magnum opus A Wreath of Roses. Mrs Lippincote S House, With Its Mahogany Furniture And Yellowing Photographs, Stands As A Reminder Of All The Certainties That Have Vanished With The Advent Of War Temporarily, This Is Home For Julia, Who Has Joined Her Husband Roddy At The Behest Of The RAF Although She Can Accept The Pomposities Of Service Life, Julia S Honesty And Sense Of Humor Prevent Her From Taking Her Role As Seriously As Her Husband, That Leader Of Men, Might Wish For Roddy, Merely Love Cannot Suffice He Needs Homage As Well As Admiration And Julia, While She May Be A Most Unsatisfactory Officer S Wife, Is Certainly No HypocriteAn Alternate Cover For This Edition Can Be Found Here Betty Coles became Elizabeth Taylor upon her marriage in 1936 when she was 23.After writing for well over 15 years, At Mrs Lippincote s was published in 1945 Elizabeth aged 32.In the same year , the actress Elizabeth Taylor was appearing in National Velvet and began her ascent to stardom.Meanwhile, over the next 30 years, the other Elizabeth Taylor lived and worked in Buckinghamshire and published eleven novels and four volumes of short stories At Mrs Lippincote s set in WW2, tells the story of Julia, who has joined her husband Roddy , who is in the Royal Air Force , with her son Oliver and Roddy s cousin Eleanor ,to live in Mrs Lippincote s house in the country.Mrs Lippincote recently becoming a widow ,is temporarily living with her daughter at a local hotel, while Julia and her family rent her home.Julia having left her home in London , hopes that by being with her husband ,her marriage to Roddy will be better.Julia seems trapped in domestic life and entertaining her husband s R.A.F friends, while secretly wanting something different.This novel is sharp and witty and reads like scenes, rather than a novel.Great debut and i m looking forward to reading all her novels for my Elizabeth Taylor Reading Project. This book reminded me of my time living in a village in England with my children while my husband served in the Navy I remember living among other people s furniture possessions, trying to keep them intact with small children I remember taking the kids to school, teaching my daughter to tie a double Windsor knot in her school tie, finding places to shop, attending social events with my husband s fellow officers, going to social events with other wives The writing is splendid, the observations of daily life keen and clear eyed Just what I needed in a fraught period of life I thoroughly enjoyed this first entry in the ElizabethTaylorReadingProject Highly recommended

Elizabeth Taylor n e Coles was a popular English novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Coles was born in Reading, Berkshire in 1912 She was educated at The Abbey School, Reading, and worked as a governess, as a tutor and as a librarian.In 1936, she married John William Kendall Taylor, a businessman She lived in Penn, Buckinghamshire, for almost all her married life.Her first novel, At Mrs

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  • Paperback
  • 215 pages
  • At Mrs Lippincote's
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • English
  • 07 December 2018
  • 9781844083091

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