Elizabeth Taylor (novelist)

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Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor (née Coles; 3 July 1912 – 19 November 1975) was a British 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," and Hilary Mantel said she was "deft, accomplished and somewhat underrated."[1]

Life and writings[edit]

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. They lived in Penn, Buckinghamshire for almost all their married life. She was briefly a member of the British Communist Party, then a lifelong Labour Party supporter.[2]

Taylor's first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote's, was published in 1945 and 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 British 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."[3]

Taylor's work is mainly concerned with the nuances of everyday life and situations, which she writes about with dexterity. 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 unfortunately 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.[4]

Anne Tyler once compared Taylor to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Bowen – "soul sisters all," in Tyler's words.[5]

Elizabeth Taylor was also a close friend of Elizabeth Jane Howard, who was asked by Elizabeth Taylor's widower to write a biography following Elizabeth Taylor's death. Elizabeth Jane Howard refused due to what she felt was a lack of incident in Elizabeth Taylor's life.[6] 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.[7]

Elizabeth Taylor died of cancer in Penn, Buckinghamshire, at the age of 63.[7]

In the 21st century a new interest in her work was kindled by film-makers. During the 1970s, Ruth Sacks Caplin had authored an adapted screenplay based on Taylor's novel.[8] Caplin's screenplay languished for decades, until her son, Lee Caplin, purchased the rights to the film in 1999.[8] 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.[8]

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

Bibliography of her works[edit]


Short story collections

Children's book


  • "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."


  1. ^ Jordison, Sam (11 May 2012). "Rediscovering Elizabeth Taylor – the brilliant novelist". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Paul Bailey: Taylor, Elizabeth (1912–1975) in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2004 Retrieved 13 March 2011. Subscription required.
  3. ^ Philip Hensher "The Other Liz Taylor", The Daily Telegraph (London), 9 April 2006. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  4. ^ Publisher's copy for a reissue of The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  5. ^ "Anne Tyler recommends". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Edmund Gordon "Elizabeth Taylor's last secret", Times Literary Supplement, 22 April 2009, as reproduced on the timesonline website
  7. ^ a b c ODNB entry.
  8. ^ a b c Langer, Emily (2014-08-09). "Ruth Sacks Caplin, screenwriter of 'Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,' dies at 93". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-09-02. 

Further reading[edit]

  • N. Beauman, The Other Elizabeth Taylor (Persephone Books 2009)

External links[edit]