Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The author of more than a dozen novels and short-story collections, Elizabeth Taylor was recognized in her lifetime as a distinguished writer. In her sense of irony, her humor, her interest in human relationships, her careful plot structure, and especially in the grace and precision of her style, Taylor is one of the few writers who can be seen as directly descended from Jane Austen. Like the earlier writer, Taylor is perhaps not universally appealing, one critic having called her “a pastel stylist.” She does not, however, ignore the violence that pervades life; the artist Frances is particularly affected by this realization, but dramatic action is limited to a murder that took place before the book begins and to ambiguous, symbolic suicides in the first and final chapters.

It is continuous introspection combined with pointed, concise dialogue that constitutes Taylor’s narrative form rather than more direct conflict and confrontation. This somewhat oblique and restrained form has led some critics to find the characters in Taylor’s novels lacking in full-blooded reality; one critic called them “interior creations.” Undeniably they are that, but many critics admire Taylor’s stylistic grace, analytical mind, and profound understanding of people. When A Wreath of Roses was published in 1949, Taylor had already written three widely admired novels and had a devoted group of readers, one of whom spoke of her as “a real novelist . . . with the kind of unfoolable mind that invented the novel in the first place.”