Elizabeth Taylor’s tenth novel has all the characteristics that I’ve come to appreciate in her work: superb characterizations, attention to detail, biting wit, and careful dissection of marital relationships. Marriage is pedestrian and tolerable at best, and destructive at its worst.
In The Wedding Group, Cressida (nicknamed Cressy) escapes a stifling family environment by moving to a flat in the village and taking a job in an antique shop. There she meets David, a journalist, who is much older but not necessarily wiser, as his mother still exercises a strong hold on him. He’s attracted by Cressy’s naiveté, and impulsively discards a relationship with a woman his own age to marry Cressy. Not surprisingly, Cressy is ill-prepared for the responsibilities of adult life, and David does little to help her through that transition. Both become too dependent on David’s mother, Midge, quite a character in her own right:
Some sons may have a picture of their mother knitting by the fireside — but David’s was of Midge with glass in hand, railing against something. The railing was hardly ever seriously meant. It was intended to interest, or amuse, or fill in a gap in the conversation, which was something Midge deplored. (p. 12)
Midge is secretly pleased with all the attention, and subtly reinforces the couple’s dependence on her. When she discovers real estate brochures and realizes David and Cressy are considering a move to London, she feels threatened. Rather than express her fears, she manipulates the situation to stall their move indefinitely. I admired the way Taylor revealed this part of the story by dropping tiny details instead of explicitly telling you what Midge is up to (for those who’ve read it, I’m referring here to the disappearance of Midge’s jewels).
I found the story mildly interesting, but not compelling. I was more interested in the characterizations and humor that are Taylor’s trademarks. I also found it interesting to consider the social context in which The Wedding Group was published. The social changes of the 1960s appear here through fine detail. Feminism is beginning to take hold, and Taylor shows us how men reacted to women’s emerging power. The young women in the novel are more aware of their sexuality. Religion is openly questioned. And yet there is still much of post-war Britain still evident, especially the pub culture. I wonder how much Taylor herself may have struggled with the changing times, and tried to work through those thoughts in her writing?
Because the plot is not as strong as some of Taylor’s earlier books, The Wedding Group would be of most interest to those who have already developed an appreciation for her craft. If you haven’t experienced Taylor yet, I recommend reading one of her early novels (At Mrs. Lippincote’s, or A View of the Harbour) before moving on to her later work.