I spend a lot of time talking about under-read and underrated mid century women writers. There is a great deal of injustice in the literary world, and sadly women have borne the brunt of it. The magnificent writing of the likes of Dorothy Whipple, Dorothy Canfield, E M Delafield, Elizabeth Taylor, Enid Bagnold, Winifred Holtby, Elizabeth Bowen, Marghanita Laski and Rosamund Lehmann, just to name a few, has been largely forgotten, despite acclaim and popularity during their lifetimes. Most of them went out of print until the advent of specialist feminist publishers Virago and Persephone, who quite rightly have brought many of their novels back into the light of day. It is easy for those of us who read off the beaten path to assume that these novelists are widely known, but unfortunately the vast majority of average readers would respond with a puzzled look at the mention of their names, and their books are not exactly flying off the shelves.
Only Elizabeth Taylor would probably get a nod of recognition, followed by confusion over just what sort of books Elizabeth Taylor managed to write in between making her films. Nicola Beauman didn’t call her biography of this remarkable, stylish and rather viciously honest portrayer of ordinary humanity The Other Elizabeth Taylor for nothing; sharing a name with someone so stratospherically famous can be rather a curse. I only discovered Elizabeth Taylor through stumbling upon the world of book blogs while googling the title of an old book I had bought; otherwise, I am sure I would never have independently come across her writing and if I’d seen a book by her in the shops I’d have assumed it was by the film star. She was never mentioned in any of my English lessons at school, nor was she in any of the academic texts I read for university. I consider myself to be well and widely read, but the vast swathes of middle class women writers who were producing beautifully wrought works of art during the early to middle years of the 20th century just hadn’t ever crossed my path until I found the book blogging community. So, when I read my first Elizabeth Taylor, Angel, which I found in a charity shop, I was blown away. So much elegance, so much finesse, so much malicious, poisonous rage seething under the surface of such controlled, polished writing. Who was this woman, and why wasn’t she celebrated as the genius she most certainly was?
I’ve since read more of her books, though Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is the only one I’ve read since starting blogging, and each has been as phenomenal as the last. This year would have been her 100th birthday, and to mark the occasion, the Virago Modern Classics group on Librarything are reading all of her books in order of publication over the course of the year. Laura of Laura’s Musings has brought this readalong into the blogosphere by asking bloggers to ‘host’ one of the books, and I am delighted to say that I shall be hosting the reading of Palladian next month. If you’ve never read any Taylor and I’ve managed to pique your interest, please do consider joining in. Palladian is in print and it’s also available for the Kindle for those of you who have embraced the digital age. I won’t be posting about it until mid to late February so there’s plenty of time to get yourselves ready – no excuses!!