Elizabeth Taylor Taylor, Elizabeth (Vol. 4) - Essay

Elizabeth Coles

Taylor, Elizabeth (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Taylor, Elizabeth 1912–

An English novelist and short story writer, Ms Taylor is a quietly elegant stylist whose principal themes are loneliness and isolation. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14.)

Elizabeth Taylor is a pastel stylist, a celebrant of delicately-drawn losers….

In Miss Taylor's epiphanies, pitiful frauds are exposed, and old wounds laid bare. Yet the tone of her fiction is urbane rather than morbid. Her characters have enough vitality to be interesting, but not enough to be tragic.

Martin Levin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 23, 1972, p. 41.

Elizabeth Taylor must surely now be among the four or five most distinguished living practitioners of the art of the short story in the English-speaking world. Some have reservations—this reviewer among them—about her range as a novelist; there is an assumption of English middle-class habits, preoccupations, and woes which, however accurately and indeed sometimes waspishly documented, excludes perhaps too much of modern experience to give her broader canvases the significance she herself might intend. And harking back to Jane Austen is not, in the media-influenced society we now have, a relevant rejoinder.

But when it comes to the isolation—in the symbolic as well as technical sense—of a particular relationship, a particular incident in which the apparently ordinary, stock individual is momentarily exposed, then there is no writer so skilled at imprinting forever on the reader's mind how significant that moment can be….

[The] gentle reminder, implied even in Mrs Taylor's most sardonic descriptive details [in The Devastating Boys and Other Stories] that we are all as ludicrously self-seeking, as blind and petty, as … faded snapshot figures…. Perhaps it is the humble wisdom of experience that all story-tellers need to focus the moment against the insignificant wastes of time that lie around.

"Escape Into Irony," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), June 9, 1972, p. 649.

Elizabeth Taylor's fifteenth book [The Devastating Boys and Other Stories] contains eleven elegant stories that decisively demonstrate her mastery of the techniques of traditional fiction. And yet, the reader wonders, so what?

Miss Taylor evokes middle-class Englishmen and English-women at home and abroad…. All the characters function in realistic settings and obey the laws of psychological verisimilitude. They press flowers, have black children to the country, or risk a middle-life sex affair while on Mediterranean holidays. The stories have tension, suggestion, mood, irony, insight, humor, compassion, and complete believability. The book is flawless—and totally unmemorable….

The techniques she employs here were developed to reflect the realities and sensibilities of another era; they do not reflect our own. In 1972 one does not write fiction under the banner of Guy de Maupassant. These stories about and for the upper middle class do little more than provide minor insights and provoke minor questions. The accepted language and form correspond to the accepted society they describe, and, like it, resist acknowledgment of change or even the need for change.

William Beauchamp, in Saturday Review of Science (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), June 10, 1972, p. 69.