Quotes by British Novelist Elizabeth Taylor on Love and Loneliness, Beauty and Marriage

At Mrs. Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor

A unique voice comes through in the following selection of quotes by British author Elizabeth Taylor (not to be confused with the actress of the same name) on love, loneliness, beauty, and marriage from her novels and short stories.

Elizabeth Taylor (1912 – 1975) knew from a young age that she wanted to be a novelist. She received high marks in English as a student and, after graduation, borrowed books through the Boots Library system which informed her natural storytelling abilities: works by of Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov, Henry Fielding, E.M. Forster, Samuel Richardson, Ivan Turgenev and Virginia Woolf.

She found inspiration for twelve novels and sixty-five short stories in the everyday lives of ordinary people. She described it like this to her American publisher:

“People are my only adventures and I hope never to have any others … to be ‘ordinary’ and live among ‘ordinary’ people (though no one is really that) is the only way that I can write, and I expect that this limits my range; but I have no gift for anything else.”

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Elizabeth Taylor, British novelist

Learn more about Elizabeth Taylor
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Relationships are at the heart of her fiction, long- and short-form. Some of her characters come together, while others fall apart, and others observe dramatic changes from the margins. Various themes resurface, in and between works, and Elizabeth Taylor devotees vicariously explore human contradictions as they explore her stories.

Not surprisingly, love is a common theme. Many of her more remarkable observations consider the aspects of love which are overlooked (or denied) in formulaic stories. Which is to say that they are occasionally celebratory but, more often, complicated—sometimes even melancholy.

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A game of hide and seek by elizabeth taylor

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Love

Although willing to acknowledge, even inhabit, the darker recesses of human experience, her novels and stories do not dwell in these environs. Many of her characters, however, as in the novels of Barbara Pym, do feel markedly alone. (Pym was an admirer of Taylor’s fiction too.)

“Don’t fuss, dear girl. At your age one has to be in love with someone, and Robert does very well for the time being. Perhaps at every age one has to be in love with someone, but when one is young it is difficult to decide whom. Later one becomes more stable. I fell in love with all sorts of unsuitable people—very worrying for one’s mother.” (“Hester Lilly”)

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“Seeing one face continually in crowds is one of the minor annoyances of being in love.” (A Game of Hide and Seek)

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“The story he could not have distinguished from many others so much the same – the humbling by love of a too rebellious young woman – and it was drawing towards its reassuring conclusion that, even if she triumphs over the rigours of the jungle, no woman escapes the doom of her sexuality: a satisfactory conclusion; no surprise to anyone.” (The Sleeping Beauty)

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The sleeping beauty by Elizabeth Taylor

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Loneliness

“When she saw the light swinging over the water she felt terror and desolation, the approach of the long evening through which she must coax herself with cups of tea, a letter to her brother in Canada or this piece of knitting she had dropped to the floor as she leant to the pane to watch Bertram, the harsh lace curtain against her cheek, the cottony, dusty smell of it setting her teeth on edge.”  (A View of the Harbour)

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“She could see then, with Etta’s eyes, their own dark, narrow house, and she thought of the lonely hours she spent there reading on days of imprisoning rain.”  (“Girl Reading”)

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“He imagined home having the same time as England. He would have felt quite lost to his loved ones if when he woke in the night, he could not be sure that they were lying in darkness too and, when his own London morning came, theirs also came, the sun streamed through the cracks of their hut in shanty-town, and the little girls began to chirp and skip about.” (“Tall Boy”)

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“When it was dark she pinned the curtains together again and sat down at the table, simply staring in front of her; at the back of her mind, listening. In the warm living-room of her sister’s house, the children in dressing-gowns would be eating their supper by the fire; Roy, home from a football match, would be lying back in his chair. Their faces would be turned intently to the blue-white shifting screen of a television.” (“The Thames Spread Out”)

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“’You’ll have the company of others like you,’ his neighbours had told him. This was not so. He found himself in a society, whose existence he had never, in his old egotism, contemplated and whose ways soon lowered his vitality. He had nothing in common with these faded seamstresses; the prophet-like lay-preacher; an old piano-tuner who believed he was the reincarnation of Beethoven; elderly people who had lived more than half a dim life-time in dark drapers’ shops in country towns.” (“Spry Old Character”)

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“Once he saw a large cactus-plant in a flower-shop window. From one unpromising, barbed shoot had sprung a huge, glowering bloom. It looked solitary and incongruous, a freakish accident; and he was reminded of Angel.” (Angel)

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“It is seldom safe to confide in lonely people. Their very loneliness requires the importance of making known the confidence, at hinting at its existence and source, if not actually divulging it; better to trust in busy, popular people, who have no time for betraying one and no personal need to do so.” (At Mrs. Lippincote’s)

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A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor

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Beauty

Even while describing or musing on the idea of beauty, Elizabeth Taylor often considers relationships between concepts, as though they are relationships between people.

Beauty is an illusion, a boon, a risk: a complex way of examining the concept. Some characters reap benefits from their beauty, others struggle to reorient themselves with their beauty having worked into an equation that they hadn’t recognized as part of an exchange system.

“Ugliness has the extra power of making beauty seem unreal, a service beauty seems rarely able to return.” (A Wreath of Roses)

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“She would know then that she was in her own setting and had no reason for ever finding herself elsewhere; know moreover that she was bereft of the power to rescue herself, the brains or the beauty by which other young women made their escape.” (Angel)

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Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

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Marriage

As another system of exchange, marriage is a key element of many characters’ lives in Elizabeth Taylor’s fiction. Whether the bond between wife and husband is a desirable or undesirable state, be it cinched or slack, marriage is under the microscope in her long and short tales.

This sequence of quotations about marriage illustrates the kind of gradient that readers can expect from Elizabeth Taylor’s fiction. In some cases, marriage is a source of joy; in other instances, marriage is a destructive force.

To complicate matters further, her characters’ experience of marriage alters depending on access to varying levels of privilege and how realistic their expectations are. In every instance, however, there is an element of risk.

Take Vinny, in The Sleeping Beauty, for instance: “We can afford to be undignified only when we are young,” he thought, waiting in the street, staring at his dusty shoes. “And, love, alas, has so much indignity attached to it.”

Elizabeth Taylor’s characters are often undignified, either in their own eyes or another’s: that’s what makes them relatable. That’s what makes these grand overarching themes—of love and loneliness, beauty and marriage—so accessible in her fiction.

“It makes very little difference to me. I am a parasite. I follow my man around like a piece of luggage or part of a traveling harem. He is under contract to provide for me, but where he does so is for him to decide.” (At Mrs. Lippincote’s)

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“And marriage changes us quite. How can we enter marriage and remain the same? The circles of our existences become concentric.” (A Wreath of Roses)

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“They became more and more to one another and, in the end, the perfect marriage they had created was like a work of art. People are sorry for brides who lose their husbands early, from some accident or war. And they should be sorry, Mrs Palfrey thought. But the other thing is worse.” (Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont)

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“Without discussing where they should sit, they [the married couple] moved apart from the others and spread towels out on the sand. Bunny removed his hat and shirt, and went trotting down to the sea, his crooked arms jerking back and forth like a long-distance runner’s.” (“In the Sun”)

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He was a man utterly, bewilderedly at sea. His married life had been too much for him, with so much in it that he could not understand.” (“The Blush”)

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“‘Marriage does not solve mysteries,’ she thought. ‘It creates and deepens them.’ The two of them being shut up physically in this dark space, yet locked away for ever from one another, was oppressive. Both were edgy.”  (A Game of Hide and Seek)

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“Just imagine, as a child, being told that some day one will have to belong to some other person, so finally that only death could put an end to it. You couldn’t blame the child for bursting into tears at the idea. To be under the same roof till kingdom come.” (The Soul of Kindness)

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In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor page on Amazon*
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Contributed by Marcie McCauley, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and the Humber College Creative Writing Program. She writes and reads (mostly women writers!) in Toronto, Canada. And she chats about it on Buried In Print and @buriedinprint

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