Vulpes Revisited: A Palladian Wreath of Hide and Seek

Having undertaken to write about her for VL, I tried to find some way to explain the extraordinary nature of her work and especially the queasy magnetism of her more or less monstrous characters (Angel Deverell, Vesey Macmillan, Flora Quartermaine, Richard Elton, etc.): people you would never willingly deal with in real life, but whose dreadful progress is so fascinating to watch. I accost young women in trains and criticise their reading matter. She was painfully conscious of her inability to eat a sandwich discreetly, without getting bits of egg stuck to her lipstick—for it was always egg—and crumbs in the lap of her dress. I shall be in his arms before long, and the readers will shout and rail and beg me to change my mind, but they too will be in thrall. “All that damn head-hopping. A Game of Hide and Seek, In a Summer Season, A Wreath of Roses and The Soul of Kindness are my favourites: what about yours? “You ought to be eating sandwiches discreetly from a damask napkin in your lap as you read.”
He had intended to wound her, and had found his mark. “It is Elizabeth Taylor,” she said, and braced herself for his critique. “What are you reading?”
The man who had spoken was not of the kind she considered attractive. “And you would prefer me to be in filthy digs somewhere, or perhaps a bleak seafront terrace next door to my lover?”
“Anything would be an improvement,” she said, thinking of her sterile spinster’s room, with its gas fire and Pliny. “You are going about it all wrong, anyway,” he observed. I can hardly stand it.”
“It is the convention of the time. “It is my stop,” he cried. At any rate, he was not her type, nor she his. “I suppose you are going to launch into one of those expository monologues,” she said spitefully. They will follow me to the end, and it will be bitter; and, reeling from the shock of it, they will turn back and begin to read again. Taylor did that sort of thing better than anyone, and I’ve murdered her style quite enough as it is. What would become of me if I did not self-dramatise, but loved quietly and steadily? You have listened too much to your creative writing teacher.”
Her tone struck him as insufferably cool. It was, she felt, her great failing. I cannot do otherwise.” He cast down his newspaper with the cryptic crossword half-done, flinging his pencil away and catching an elderly businessman in the left ear. It is because I cannot love—I cannot love normally—so I must rant and carp and say wild strange things, and I do it again and again because, you see, it is compelling. “Women’s fiction!” he said. “I wish you would not make a scene.”
“I must make a scene. I should no longer be worthy of notice.”
It is compelling, she thought, and I scarcely know why. “I suppose you live in some great and dying place, with a malevolent beetle-woman keeping house and ivy thrusting its fingers through the cracks in the window frames.”
He picked up his case. “I only hope it’s internal.”
“I do so far too often. Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestEmailPrintGoogleLike this:Like Loading… You’ll have to imagine the introductory paragraph(s), describing the southern English countryside as seen from the train window, for yourself. Too chiselled, with the wrong kind of jaw; or perhaps he was too slim and fair, the sort of man who might wear a velvet jacket without irony. Related (That was traumatic, you think: is there any more?)
Of course it was an impossible task, so I fell back on pastiche. Vulpes Revisited: A Palladian Wreath of Hide and Seek
As sometimes happens in the busy lives of the Book Foxes, life and technology have ganged up on Kirsty to scupper her scheduled review of In a Summer Season. As the train slowed and the station, with its sunstruck white paint and red geraniums, came into view, she thought she could hear the distant cries of the readers. Surely nobody talks like this, not in real life; and yet he does, and it draws me to him. Elizabeth Taylor’s novels have been reissued by Virago Modern Classics. “Well, come on, then.”
He went to the door, and she rose and followed him as if in a dream. They are all available for e-reader. (First published May 2014.)
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Elizabeth Taylor is one of my very favourite writers. Instead, here is a cheeky little piece she wrote three years ago for our Parody Week.