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Julie Fredericksen

I have tried to comment twice and lost both long comments right at the end when I tried to add my URL. I am not doing this a third time. Ultimatly, this book gets a thumbs down but unfortunately you won't know why.

(PS - and the URL is for a book blog in which I have not written a review for months so is practically useless anyway.)


There was a lot to like in this melancholy book; my highlights were the beautiful portraits of young people, dutiful wives and lives spoiled by disappointed hope. I particularly enjoyed the affected, tiresome, interfering mother-in-law.
I may have missed something at the end, but I thought it a bit neat rather than ambiguous. Harriet is saved from choosing between her love for/duty to her family and her affair by Vesey's illness and presumably death from TB (or whatever he's supposed to have contracted).
The writing is very accomplished; to have squeezed so much in to a short novel is no mean feat. And I liked the close examination of the domestic wife and her social mores, brought into focus against the experiences and expectations of her Suffragette mother.
The scene where the bookshelves are being weeded and the Brief Encounter analogy have already been commented on by Cornflower, they made me smile too.
Overall a thumbs up, it's stayed in my mind and grown into my thinking even after I finished reading.


Much the same! Harriet and Vesy are both unsympathetic characters, the humor in drawing the 'supporting characters' (Julia, especially) was something I enjoyed, and this was a great opportunity to be introduced to a writer I knew of but nothing about. Thanks!


definitely not my fgetting bored avourite E.T book.i found myself and irritated.anyway i dont regret persevering.harriets daughter was the one i fel really sorry for.what a mess.

Dark Puss

This novel certainly went into a lull in the middle and I was pleased that it picked up towards the end. The final "resolution" is far too much of a cop-out and rather reminded me of the way the film Brief Encounter ends which I also find unsatistactory.

There were a few moments of humour, and Cornflower has pinched the best ones as is her right and there were many "good lines" too, but the parts fitted together less than smoothly for me. I didn't like any of the characters and they were for the most part unsympathetic, but I saw that as a strength of the writing. I'm probably not emotionally intelligent but I would agree with Cornflower's comments in the main; not sure I found it informed by cynicism however.

As a scientist I did pick up on the expressed view, via Betsy in the Science Room":

"But here, in this room, she was the protagonist of no drama. The cold compiling of facts had so little emotional appeal. The search for truth was the bleakest pursuit."

A perfectly fair point for one of the characters to express of course, but oh how so very, very wrong Betsy is!

I'm not tempted to read any of her other works if this is supposed to be one of the best, but it was interesting, if depressing, to see what I assume is a not unrealistic description of women's lives once again being unreasonably constrained by convention - goodness me how I mentally kept shouting encouragement to Harriet to get away from the truly awful Charles and live a little.


I read this book about 25 years ago, when I actually found the characters a bit tiresome. However on rereading it for the CBG what I enjoyed mostly was the portraying of life in the 40's and 50's. I felt that there was more to the older women- the suffragettes Caroline and Lillian and wondered if Betsy would turn out like them. I'm not at all sure if Harriet would have had a happier or fulfilled life with the ineffectual Vesey. Like Oxslip I kept thinking of the end. A thumbs up for me.

Susie Vereker

Sorry, Cornflower, only received the book at lunch- time today. Will return mid week. Meanwhile have tried not to read above comments.


I thought maybe I wasn't in the mood for this one after having read two others In a Summer Season and A View of the Harbour both I enjoyed. This one I persevered but could not raise any sympathy for any body.The mother-in-law bought abit of ooph to it. I felt the were all very selfish people except maybe for Caroline.This won't stop me reading the rest of Elizabeth Taylor because I like the way she writes.


I thought Harriet was a selfish woman and didn't deserve her lovely husband, but Taylor's writing is always beautiful.

adele geras

The world Elizabeth Taylor creates in this and her other books I find completely compelling and fascinating. This is a book I like a bit less than some of her others but I wasn't as unsympathetic to everyone as others here! I loved the economical way she brought a whole small section of society to life and yes, it's strange to look back to a time when women's lives, in particular, were so circumscribed. And yes, you did want to shake Harriet but that was part of the pleasure. Didn't like Vesey as a person but he's a wonderfully-drawn character.

Barbara MacLeod

I had never heard of this author and was glad to be introduced her writing. I thought she gave a good picture of the period, of the choices open for women. I liked her gentle touch, her observation of people. "She [Harriet] watched him [Vesey] with her love in abeyance." Yes, there were some good lines, clever observations e.g. in the theatre watching Hamlet "You could not have heard a pin drop."

I noticed the author often used the image of dead leaves. I liked that. I wonder if it reflected the characters, often feeling they were emotional husks drifting through life unfulfilled.

I feel that this is a good book for an all-women book group. Lots of topics for discussion. I enjoyed being introduced to it but probably wouldn't explore her other writing.

Susan in TX

Well, this was my first Elizabeth Taylor novel. As much as I think I like stories focused on character development, this one made me realize that I also like a little more resolution in the plot as well. ;) I would probably try another of her books, but I found myself very frustrated with the characters. I was constantly wanting to shake them -- ALL of them.


Second time of reading and enjoyed it more this time around. For me it benefited from a slow and careful read. Much to enjoy in her writing whether or not you warm to the characters. I think 'Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont' is her best. I would also recommend the Persephone life of Elizabeth Taylor.

Mr Cornflower

The more I read this brilliant but rather bleak novel, the more I thought of Philip Larkin, and of the line in "This be the Verse" - no, not the over-quoted opening - about how

"man hands on misery to man
it deepens like a coastal shelf..."

Larkin famously remarked that depression was for him what daffodils were for Wordsworth and I see Taylor very much in the same light, as someone whose true creative genius lies in the remorseless unpicking of how we are both unhappy in ourselves and the source of unhappiness in others. It is done with great style and I noted some very sharp lines, such as:

"She thought: 'I married Tiny for better, for worse; but I thought "worse" was just Tiny himself; not any added calamity.'"

"Her cooking is s sort of curse she brings down on the food."

From a technical point of view there is much to admire, but like poison (which can I believe be medically useful in minute doses) I prefer my misery in sixteen line sonnets rather than three hundred page novels.

Rose Harding

I enjoyed the book very much indeed. I don't have my copy by my side as my daughter is reading it now, so can't delve in to find those bon mots....whilst reading the book I was thinking back to my own Mum who said that she had read the books in the 1950s and what must she have thought of the observations and social mores, it was very much 'of its time' and a 'period piece'. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes in the shop - absolutely marvellous and I thought Vesey's own very real knowledge of how lazy, lethargic and ineffectual he was - from memory I think he even suggests that he just couldn't be bothered to better himself in the full knowledge that he was a wastrel and profligate with his laziness (if one can be profligate with laziness!). Flicking through my other daughter's book of the moment, Revolutionary Road, I came across the description of Shep Mallet - not dissimilar - overbearing mother at the root of it all! (possibly!?) - and the implied reference to extra-marital affairs and groping and meeting 'married men in their lunch breaks' - I suppose divorce wasn't quite such an option in those days so men and women were busy on the 'secret rendezvous' approach - all on the 'hush-hush' keeping out of the Divorce Courts. I write in haste, but 'yes' loved the book, great choice and I hadn't heard of Elizabeth Taylor so a great find. On to the 'Housekeeping' now.....the book I mean, in no way am I referring to real housekeeping - far too busy!

Susie Vereker

It was indeed an elongated and apparently unconsummated Brief Encounter. I think Harriet's behaviour is understandable in that she always loved Vesey, but alone in the world aged 19 or so she was swept up by the competent Henry. Any young woman in those days might have married in desperation - we're told she isn't academic. Lost love returning to tempt the hero or heroine is quite a common plot in fiction (eg Gatsby) and in real life, I dare say. But Vesey is so ghastly it's hard to see his attraction, except in the end he does pretend to go to S Africa and so acts unselfishly at last. Agree about the excellent writing and period flavour. I liked In a Summer Season more, but ET often seems to choose unsympathetic characters as main protagonists - maybe that's why she isn't more popular. (By the way, I didn't find the shop scenes by any means as hilarious as EJ Howard did, nor did they advance the plot much. And Betsy was rather tiresome.)

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