The Sleeping Beauty: Book Chat, Week Four, the spoiler edition!

This month, we’ve been talking about Elizabeth Taylor’s sixth novel, The Sleeping Beauty.  I hope you enjoyed the spoiler-free chat during weeks one and two.  Last week, I published my review but wasn’t especially “chatty”.  This week, the gloves come off!  It’s time to talk spoilers, and endings, and all the details that aren’t really spoilers but could still spoil the fun.

If you haven’t finished the book yet, you’ll want to stop reading this now, and visit the book chat posts for week one or week two.  And before we move on, just a reminder: if you’ve written a review of The Sleeping Beauty, be sure to add it to the Mr. Linky on the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.

So, here’s the most obvious spoiler: Vinny is a married man!  Taylor casually drops this little bombshell very early on (page 20).  A bit later, on page 26, Laurence says something about Vinny never having married, and Vinny doesn’t respond.  Rather, he gets in a snit over being called “sir.”  That stopped me in my tracks. Wait, didn’t Taylor say he was married?  What’s going on here?  I had to flip back and re-read the first passage and confirm that yes, he’s married.  Oh, Ms. T., you’re so clever.  I have to read your books so carefully, so I don’t miss a single detail.  And apparently I’m not the only one — there was a discussion about this in the comments to last week’s post.

And what about Rita, Vinny’s estranged wife?  Wasn’t she was an interesting character?  Taylor describes her as having “a distaste for the truth and was forever tidying it up or turning her back on it.” Rather than admit to a failed marriage, Rita moved to a new town, retained her maiden name and opened a school of dance, while Vinny paid the rent on her flat.  She introduced herself as the widow of a fighter pilot, which put her in somewhat of a social cul-de-sac:

‘But I can’t divorce you. Everybody thinks you’re dead.  I couldn’t bear the disgrace.  Why must I? Why change at our time of life? It seems so silly and unkind.  Surely you haven’t fallen in love with someone else — with someone, I mean?  At your age?’  (p. 120)

Vinny and Rita’s predicament was sufficiently maddening to send me off on a small research project about UK divorce law c. 1950.  It’s fascinating stuff (really!), especially when viewed through my 21st Century American lens.  Why did Vinny keep asking Rita to divorce him?  Why didn’t he take matters into his own hands?  Well, it seems the law didn’t allow it.  Under the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937, men could divorce women on the basis of adultery.  Women had it even worse — they had to prove their male partners had committed both adultery and other specified offenses.  In the case of Vinny and Rita, Vinny had no evidence of Rita’s adultery (although one wonders if a private detective could have helped him out there), but Rita had plenty of evidence: Vinny’s adultery with Emily, and the extra offense of desertion.  So Vinny had to keep badgering Rita, and as we all know, she had reasons for resistance.  Stupid reasons, but reasons nonetheless.  It wasn’t until the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 that it became possible to divorce based on the couple living apart for a specified period of time.  Poor Vinny.

Finally, how about that ending?  I thought Taylor was heading towards a very dark place, but she left it all rather open-ended didn’t she?  Isabella and Evalie conspire to expose Vinny’s secret, and Emily is surprisingly accepting.  A bit too much so, I thought.  I suppose Vinny will end up going to jail, but she will be there for him when he is released.  Is that your take on it?  Why doesn’t Emily get up in arms about his deceit?  She struck me as a very passive character, but I suppose her drive to escape from Rose could be quite strong.  Well, I just didn’t know what to make of it all.

Now it’s your turn: let fly your spoiler-ish thoughts on The Sleeping Beauty!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ REMINDER ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On July 2, I will be hosting a giveaway. Thanks to the generous team at Virago Press, one lucky person will receive a copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s Complete Short Stories. This new volume will be published June 21, and includes 65 stories with a beautiful cover. More details here.

Be sure to stop by on July 2 to enter the drawing!

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4 thoughts on “The Sleeping Beauty: Book Chat, Week Four, the spoiler edition!

  1. Like you, Laura, I was expecting a bad ending to this. I was actually quite surprised that ET let Vinny and Emily off so lightly! I was sure that Emily would disown him and it would all be horrible and sad, but the fact that she stuck by him so strongly was, well – unusual, based on what ET I have read so far. I imagine that sex might be rearing its head here again – Emily seems to have had a *fulfilled* life, shall we say, before her accident and has found in Vinny someone who loves her and finds her attractive and brings her to life. If that is the case, she would stick with him through thick and thin.

    I rather liked the open-endedness of the ending here – because I did feel that whether or not Vinny went to prison was irrelevant. Emily and Vinny had faced up to this as a possibility and it seemed to me that it didn’t matter to them whether he was imprisoned or not, they would still stay together.

    And I did feel sorry for Vinny. The society in which he and Rita lived in effect trapped them both into a marriage which was in name only and which he couldn’t get out of because of the archaic divorce laws. From our enlightened viewpoint the whole thing seems bizarre and I think this is why Vinny is probably a more sympathetic character to modern readers than he might have been to contemporary ones. Having said that, nowadays I think young people would ask why Vinny and Emily don’t just live together!

    I did enjoy this book very much and find that I don’t necessarily agree with the view that ET’s later books are not as good as her earlier ones. Her cleverness with plot and detail seems to me to improve as you progress through her books, and her “bombshell moments” discussed on the other posts are wonderful!

    Thanks for starting off (and hosting!) the Centenary celebrations Laura – looking forward to Angel next month!

  2. I was also stopped in my tracks by the way Taylor casually lets slip that Vinny is married – I had to go back and re-read that too. I find she does that sort of thing a lot – I love it – she’s so clever – but not in a “look how clever I am” way. Thank you for explaining our 1950’s divorce laws – I had known they were different back then to now – but didn’t know details – that helps to understand vinny’s frustration and how he’d allowed himself to become trapped by the ridiculous situation.
    In Emily i did feel she was rather passive – however in no way is she a little innocent – she knew what she wanted – and Vinny is as much of an escape for her, as she is for him, in that respect they are well matched. She is surprisingly calm about Vinny’s revelation – probably because she doesn’t feel it is as important as society did at the time that they were in fact “living in Sin” The older women are very hypocritical – they present themselves in one way – and yet they are lying and gossiping and gambling behind the scenes. Emily is honest at least – there is as they say over here – no side to her.
    I enjoyed the book too Laura – not my favourite – but still great. I just love her writing and her characters.

  3. I’ve done a little review, Laura, and added it to Mr. Linky – thanks again for hosting!

  4. kaggsy and Ali, thanks for your comments. I thought the societal aspects of this book were so interesting — understanding more about the time period helped me understand the characters’ predicament, and the overall feeling of repression.

    Bring on July and “Angel” !

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