The Soul of Kindness

The Soul of KindnessAfter just reading Taylor s early work At Mrs Lippincote s and Mrs Palfry at the Claremont I was disappointed in The Soul of Kindness The earlier books had an edge to them, some real anger at the limitations of women s lives, which broke through the veneer of politeness or kindness Illusions about marriage and relationships could be dispelled even though the result would be harsh and painful In The Soul of Kindness, however, characters soldier on, resigning themselves to lives of quiet desperation. Hab a intentado era as de buena introducir reformas de manera gradual, pero Flora las ignor , porque no sab a que hubiera necesidad alguna de valerse por s misma, ni siquiera era consciente de que no lo estuviera haciendo. Un alma c ndida, novela de Elizabeth Taylor publicada originalmente en 1964, es la confirmaci n de un talento narrativo sobrenatural Tal y como hiciera en la fabulosa Una vista del puerto, la escritora brit nica demuestra en esta novela poseer una incomparable habilidad para desgranar las secretas complejidades de sus personajes, una apasionante galer a de individuos que orbitan, esclavizados por la gravedad de su car cter bondadoso e inocente, en torno a la figura de una joven llamada Flora Incapaz de conceder importancia ni a los problemas propios ni a los ajenos, la angelical protagonista de Un alma c ndida pasa como de puntillas por los encontronazos propios de cualquier matrimonio, repartiendo all por donde pasa consejos beat ficos y derroches de buenas intenciones Complementan el maravilloso y prol fico elenco de personajes su marido Richard, un diligente empresario que en el fondo desprecia a los amigos de su mujer, Kit, un actor aspirante cuya ferviente admiraci n por Flora acabar convirti ndose en su perdici n, y Patrick, un escritor que no destaca precisamente por su capacidad de observaci n Haciendo gala de un delicioso sentido del humor y una din mica narrativa fundamentada en la prolija observaci n de lo cotidiano, Elizabeth Taylor nos sumerge en un mundo de trivialidades dom sticas que alcanzan en Un alma c ndida el esplendor de lo excepcional. Here I Am Flora Called To Richard As She Went Downstairs For A Second, Meg Felt Disloyalty It Occurred To Her Of A Sudden That Flora Was Always Saying That, And That It Was In The Tone Of One Giving A Lovely Present She Was Bestowing Herself The Soul Of Kindness Is What Flora Believes Herself To Be Tall, Blonde And Beautiful, She Appears To Have Everything Under Control Her Home, Her Baby, Her Husband Richard, Her Friend Meg, Kit, Meg S Brother, Who Has Always Adored Flora, And Patrick The Novelist And Domestic Pet Only The Bohemian Painter Liz Refuses To Become A Worshipper At The Shrine Flora Entrances Them All, Dangling Visions Of Happiness And Success Before Their Spellbound Eyes All Are Bewitched By This Golden Tyrant, All Conspire To Protect Her From What She Really Is All, That Is, Except The Clear Eyed Liz It Is Left To Her To Show Them That Flora S Kindness Is The Sweetest Poison Of Them All 3.5 I m wavering between four and five stars with this novel Flora is a beautiful, needy woman who expects adoration at all times from her close knit group Liz is separate from this group and has no need to soften her opinions about Flora s unconsciously bad behaviour I loved the subtle humour throughout the novel The characters in the novel were written with great depth and compassion I loved the unspoken chafing between Mrs Secretan and her eccentric housekeeper Miss Folley A sensitive and sophisticated novel. I ve been itching to get back to reading Elizabeth Taylor for a while now, an author whose work I adore First published in 1964, The Soul of Kindness was one of Taylor s later novels, and I think it shows There is a sense of precision in both the writing and the characterisation that suggests it is the work of an accomplished writer, one in full control of her material Much as I loved the last Taylor I read her first, At Mrs Lippincote s The Soul of Kindness seems a rounded novel, possibly up there with Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont as my favourite so far.The storyline in The Soul of Kindness revolves around Flora Quartermaine, a beautiful young woman who seems to have the perfect life She is married to Richard, her loving husband and hard working businessman, manager of the family owned factory passed down from his father, Percy In addition to Richard, Flora has a close circle of friends upon whom she lavishes her own unique brand of kindness there is the long suffering Meg, her closest friend from school Patrick, the writer who looks forward to Flora s company as a respite from his work and Kit, Meg s younger brother, who quite literally worships Flora, looking up to her as a sort of benefactor or mentor.While Flora considers herself to be the very soul of kindness, in reality this is far from the truth, her good intentions often causing harm than good Kit, an aspiring actor, has very little real talent, but Flora encourages him terribly, building up his hopes and dreams with the best of intentions even though everyone else can see how futile and potentially damaging this is proving to be Flora, however, always thinks she knows what s best for her friends, even if they can t see this for themselves Here s a typical example of Flora in action in this scene, she is talking to Ba, Percy s level headed lady friend and prospective partner in life Why don t you have a cat Flora asked I don t want a cat But it would be lovely for you Percy likes cats Well, Percy s got a cat, Flora, in fact, had given it to him and he had been obliged to take it in In four years, he had found that Flora was not biddable at all Although as good as gold, she had inconvenient plans for other people s pleasure, and ideas differing from her own she was not able to imagine p 18 Right from the start, Flora s mother, the well intentioned Mrs Secretan, encouraged her daughter an only child to adopt only the rosiest view of human nature and none of Flora s experiences since then have succeeded in altering this mindset To a certain extent, Flora has been shielded from the harsh realities of life by those around her First by her mother in those early years, then by Meg who recognised that the protective environment nurtured by Mrs Secretan could not be broken down without consequences Now the bulk of the responsibility for preserving Flora s happiness has passed to Richard, a task he clearly acknowledges as presenting difficulties from time to time In this scene, Richard is wondering why he has not told Flora about a chance encounter with one of his neighbours, the rather lonely Elinor Pringle, a woman with whom he has developed a close friendship While Elinor is not in love with Richard, she values his companionship, someone to talk to and have a drink with every now and again while her busy politician husband is caught up in his own world.To have kept quiet about it, had given it the significance of a secret arrangement Now it was too late, and if Flora came to hear of it, as than likely she might, a little puzzled frown would come between her brows the expression she wore when she was bewildered by other standards of behaviour than her own But we ve preserved the face pretty well, between us, Richard thought not fearing ageing lines, but the loss of innocence So far, and by the skin of his teeth, he felt The face was his responsibility now and it would surely be his fault if it were altered, if the Botticelli calm were broken, or the appealing gaze veiled p 71 72 Slowly but surely over the course of the novel, Elizabeth Taylor reveals the true extent of Flora s lack of self awareness and her rather blinkered view of the lives of those around her Flora has very little understanding of the real impact of her acts of kindness on her closest friends and family, a point that hits home to Mrs Secretan when she finds this letter from her daughter at the end of the wedding.Mrs Secretan took the letter and opened it You have been the most wonderful mother, she read I had a beautiful childhood So it was to be regarded as finished The words were the kind which might be spoken from a deathbed or to someone lying on one If only, Mrs Secretan thought yearningly, if only Flora had written You are such a wonderful mother That would have made all the difference, she thought would have made it seem that there was still a place for me p 13 She read the letter through again, telling herself that Flora had meant well, meant very well, poor girl In fact she had always meant well That intention had been seen clearly, lying behind some of her biggest mistakes p 15 Mrs Secretan is a typical Elizabeth Taylor character There is a sense of despondency about her, knowing as she does that a life of loneliness almost certainly lies ahead now that Flora has flown the nest There are some priceless scenes between Mrs Secretan and her slightly dotty housekeeper, Miss Folley, a woman whose pride is wounded when she discovers she is the source of some amusement and frustration in the Secretan household.To read the rest of my review, please click here I found these characters a bit bland The ending was abrupt and found this book dissapointing in comparison with some of the great Elizabeth Taylor books I have read in recent months. From time to time I mentally compile a list of those writers whose work I believe is unfairly neglected or under appreciated Top of my list is someone whom I consider to be a marvellous novelist Barbara Pym Others on the list include EF Benson, Ellery Queen, Patrick Hamilton and Michael Gilbert I feel I must now add another name to the list Elizabeth Taylor Perhaps her writing is better known than I realise But before recently picking up a copy of her novel The Soul of Kindness in a charity bookshop I had never heard of Elizabeth Taylor the writer Until then, the only Elizabeth Taylor of whom I was aware was the late great British film actress What a discovery I seem to have made This is a simply wonderful novel.Set in London and the Thames Valley during the early 1960s, The Soul of Kindness is a comedy of manners Its principal character is Flora who reminds me of Jane Austen s Emma Flora is beautiful, sweet natured and seemingly in control of everything and everyone around her As the book opens, she is about to marry Richard, who owns a factory Other characters include Meg, Flora s best friend and bridesmaid Kit, Meg s brother, who is a budding actor Patrick, a writer Liz, an artist Elinor, an unhappily married neighbour of Flora and Richard, who strikes up a friendship with the latter Percy, Richard s father Barbara, who is Percy s other half and who eventually marries him and Mrs Secretan, Flora s widowed mother Flora is quite unaware of the impact that her innocently selfish behaviour has on the lives of these various characters She subtly pressurises her father in law Percy into marrying Barbara but they were, in fact, much happier before tying the knot She fails to realise that Kit dotes on her and that her encouragement of his pursuit of a career as an actor is completely misguided In fact, it has near fatal consequences And Flora is quite comically unaware of Patrick s homosexuality and cannot understand why he does not get together with Meg, who is looking for love The Soul of Kindness is beautifully written Its prose is precise and elegant and its characterisation is excellent and deadly accurate The interweaving plot is engaging and very entertaining This is a superb novel about loneliness and about ordinary middle class life of the time in which it is set I cannot recommend it too highly and I now fully intend to make every effort to get hold of some of Elizabeth Taylor s other novels 9 10 One sub editing point I should make there is a reference on page 172 of my 2010 paperback version of the novel to West Indians as coloured people That may have been acceptable in the 1960s, but it is, I think, a term that causes offence these days Its use adds little or nothing to the plot and it could therefore have been removed I accept that, given the period in which The Soul of Kindness is set, it might not be possible simply to amend it I suspect that, given the often woeful quality of sub editing in modern publishing, its inclusion can be ascribed to an oversight rather than to a conscious decision I imagine that anyone who picks up this novel will know someone like Flora, the soul of kindness of the title Someone who is attractive, charming and accomplished, but without insight, self awareness or a great deal of empathy someone who is popular but can drive her friends and family to distraction.She is the woman that Jane Austen s Emma Woodhouse might have become albeit in another age had she not been guided by, and desirous of the high regard, of Mrs Weston and Mr Knightley.The story opens on Flora s wedding day, and from the very first paragraph Elizabeth Taylor draws her wonderfully wellTowards the end of the bridegroom s speech, the bride turned aside and began to throw crumbs of the wedding cake through an opening in the marquee to the doves outside She did so with gentle absorption, and doves came down from their wooden house above the stables Although she caused a little rustle of amusement among the guests, she did not know it her husband was embarrassed by her behaviour and thought it early in their married life to be so but she did not know that either Flora was the carefully protected only child of widowed mother, and almost everyone she knew would follow that example, would love and protect her too It was to her great credit that she hadn t been irredeemably spoiled, that she realised she had been blessed and that she wanted to do everything that she could with the people she loved.Her intentions were always good, she always charmed the recipient of her kindness into accepting her ideas, but she never saw that they were never as happy as she thought they would be.Take the letter that she wrote to her mother on her wedding dayMrs Secretan took the letter and opened it You have been the most wonderful mother, she read I had a beautiful childhood So it was to be regarded as finished The words were the kind which might be spoken from a deathbed or to someone lying on one If only, Mrs Secretan thought yearningly, if only Flora had written You are such a wonderful mother That would have made all the difference, she thought would have made it seem that there was still a place for meWhen she read the letter through again, her mother realised that Flora had meant well she knew that she always meant well, even when she made terrible mistakes.That insensitive choice of words had no serious consequences, but other acts of kindness would.Flora encouraged her widowed father in law to marry his lady friend, not realising that they were both quite fond of their own homes and that the set up they had suited them very well indeed.She said quite firmly that her friend Meg s younger brother, Kit, who had always idolised her, must pursue his dream of becoming an actor even though his sister and everyone who had seen his efforts saw that he did not have the necessary talent.Flora decided that her mother should find a housekeeper companion so that she wouldn t be lonely without her daughter She failed to understand that her mother needed than that, and that she should be than a guest in her home.It didn t help that nobody told her the their real feelings that accepted that her intentions were good and carried on.Richard, her husband, is guilty of this but he sees the consequences of his wife s kindnesses and he is often able to smooth over some of the damage that they do But as he seeks to protect her he cannot tell her of his growing friendship with a near neighbour.Flora is a wonderful creation, an utterly believable, fallible human being and it says much for Elizabeth Taylor s skill as novelist that she can draw readers into her story even as she is revealing her flaws and the unhappy consequences of her many kindnesses.Her writing is beautiful, it is subtle and it has a lovely clarity She has the insight and understanding of people and their relationships that Flora lacks in abundance, and she knows exactly which details are worthy of notice and will illuminate her story.That story has a serious theme but it there is a smattering of wit and humour.The dialogue is particularly fine there are some memorable quick exchanges and longer conversations that really ring true.Every character and every relationship is distinctive, and as is almost always the case with Elizabeth Taylor the supporting cast is wonderfully well done.I particularly liked Mrs Secretan s housekeeper companion, Miss FolleyThe next day, there was church in the morning Social church, with hats Richard was left with Miss Folley, whom he watched with a wary eye, tried to avoid She kept offering him things a mince pie, a glass of her sloe gin, a dish of marzipan strawberries.He did not quite like to get out his briefcase and set to work again on Christmas morning, so he looked about for a book to read No newspapers no market prices Mrs Secretan was reading Elizabeth and her German Garden for the umpteenth time, she said Such a beautiful book How much one would have liked to have known her.Richard thought that for his part we would have tried to run a mile in the other direction, if such a risk had risen He had picked at the book once, as he put it and had been vaguely repelled, but because he could never justify his reactions to art and literature, he kept quiet I m a businessman, he thought This bolstering up reflection he also kept to himself Ageing ladies books filled the shelves My Life as This or That he skipped the title The English Rock Garden, Rosemary for Remembrance, Down the Garden Path, The Herbaceous Border Under Three Reigns If you re looking for a nice, pulling book, Miss Folley began, coming in to bully him with Elvas plums No, no, he said, straightening quickly, backing away from the shelves I never read He would have his little joke, she thought and laughed accordingly This is such an accomplished novel, but it hasn t left as strong an impression on me as I thought it would I can t quite explain why, but I think it might be because the characters were quite scattered this book feels less whole than others.It was love again though, I appreciate that all of Elizabeth Taylor s novels are distinctive and yet they have enough in common to sit together as siblings.I m looking forward to picking up another one soon, to read or to re read. she had always meant well That intention had been seen clearly, lying behind some of her biggest mistakes I ve never done anything to harm anyone in all my life No of course not, darling No one is kinder Other people have to live with the truth about themselves Kindness is a virtue Generally speaking, to be called the soul of kindness is high praise However, Elizabeth Taylor isn t dealing in generalities in her ninth novel,The Soul of KindnessHere she explores kindness as blindness, presenting us with a young, newly married protagonist, Flora Quartermaine nee Secretan , whose compassion and seeming goodwill cause all sorts of trouble In the early pages of the book, Flora is a character straight out of Disney a beautiful and saccharine young woman, on whose fingers doves gently alight Before long, she s setting up her orphaned and unlucky friend, Meg, with a gay writer acquaintance, Patrick Barlow Flora is apparently oblivious of his sexual orientation, in spite of the innuendo of others and his evident preoccupation with his friend Frankie Equally unaware that Meg s brother, Kit, is hopelessly untalented, Flora encourages and inspires him to pursue a stillborn acting career, when his sister is clearly in need of his financial contribution to the household Meanwhile, Flora s father in law, Percy, is given a cat as a companion he doesn t want, and he is urged to marry his long time mistress, even though the two clearly prefer living apart.Why does Flora meddle in this way The author writes Flora s worries were other people s worries With these she tirelessly concerned herself She believes herself kind and desirous of the best for her friends and relations, while everyone else finds her na ve, obtuse, and even stupid Someone always has to look after Flora and let her think she s looking after them, observes one character She is certainly high maintenance Mrs Secretan, Flora s mother, regards her daughter s wedding day as a sort of ritualistic handing over from mother to husband of a precious burden Best friend Meg is a nannie to her While Meg disapproves of cosseting, she recognizes that it would be dangerous for it to be discontinued like putting an orchid out into the frosty air As for Flora s husband, Richard he has the responsibility of preserving her face from any signs of stress due to the loss of innocence it would surely be his fault if it were altered, if the Botticelli calm were broken, or the appealing gaze veiled In short, everyone around Flora is or less complicit in ensuring that she not be presented with a glimpse of herself as someone she could never bear to live with In all the novels I ve read by Taylor, she shows herself to be keenly interested in the matter of self deception Her characters often tell themselves comforting stories about their own motivations, actions, and lives They work to hide unpleasant truths from themselves as much as from others In her seventh and ninth novels,AngelandThe Soul of Kindness,Taylor appears to be interested in the role nurture plays in the development of unusually imperceptive, egotistical personalities At the heart of both narratives, there is an indulgent, overprotective mother and a willful, pathologically oblivious daughter The daughters, Angel and Flora, are extreme cases even for Taylor bordering on untenable and unconvincing, they are almost caricatures Angel, a writer of third rate potboilers, fancies herself a literary giant Fate strangely treats her kindly for a time, and she becomes enormously wealthy from her novel writing Flora, on the other hand, is blind to otherness Though reasonably capable socially, she is self centred and incapable of perceiving that the needs, wants, and goals of other people differ from her own Taylor s novel, published in 1964, has an interesting resonance over fifty years later in this age of helicopter parents , who wish to spare their children every discomfort and distress The sheltering and coddling we see from Mrs Secretan and from many modern parents ensure that young people remain childlike and emotionally immature into adulthood The untalented Kit s unrealistic aspirations are in part due to the excessive praise he received as a child for his roles in school plays Such praise, Taylor intimates, is a disservice to the young Meg speculates about the damage of parental indulgence, wondering what, if anything at all, Flora knew about people Her mother had encouraged only the prettiest view of human nature and no later aspects she may have come across seemed to have made an impression Taylor also makes clear that too much investment in a child s life leaves a mother without an identity when the child leaves Mrs Secretan, we are told, planned everything down to the last detail But, in doing so, she realizes, I forgot myself and the future Taylor often likes to provide her protagonists with foils In this book, we have Flora happy in domesticity, young motherhood, and innocence or obliviousness and Elinor Pringle, who lives just down from Flora s crescent in affluent St John s Wood About the same age as Flora, Elinor is the lonely wife of an MP, who doesn t give a damn about what she does and who prefers to spend his limited spare time writing dull plays peopled with male characters Lonely, childless, and bitter about her marriage, Elinor spends many of her days tracking down rare and costly pieces of furniture and objets d art She goes on solo trips, eats alone in guest house dining rooms with a book as her only companion, and walks deserted esplanades during the off season Having run into her several times in Mayfair, Flora s husband, Richard, becomes quite friendly with Elinor, keeping the relationship from his wife His suppers with his new female friend, especially those that occur when Flora is in the nursing home after the birth of their daughter, lead him to compare the two women On one occasion he thinks that loyal Flora, unlike Elinor, would be the ideal political wife, but after another visit with the intelligent, opinionated Elinor, he is troubled to have disloyal thoughts about Flora When his wife later rushes to the door to greet him, he uncharacteristically observes that she s far too tall to be speaking in such a little girl voice Taylor provides an even dramatic contrast to Flora in the person of Liz Corbett, a fattish young woman with untidy hair Slatternly Liz is Patrick Barlow s friend and an artist She lives in a squalid flat with all of her painting materials in disarray about her, but in spite of the mess, even filth, of her surroundings, she produces paintings of great delicacy and increasing originality Unlike the other female characters in the novel, and in spite of Taylor s unappealing portrait of her, Liz is the only one to have an independent purpose, a vision of what she wants to accomplish I don t want to enchant people I want to shake them up People under spells are half dead, she tells Patrick I ve a lifetime s work in my head Some explorations to be made Liz also happens to be the only character in the novel with the guts, the toughness, to confront Flora.I found Taylor sThe Soul of Kindness,a far unified, mature, and accomplished piece than the many other novels by her I ve recently read Characters and plot are better controlled by the author, and all work well to develop, serve, and amplify a central theme Reading this book was a rewarding experience.

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
  • 219 pages
  • The Soul of Kindness
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • English
  • 01 November 2017
  • 9780860683452

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