Welcome to the second month of the 2012 Elizabeth Taylor Centenary. The LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group launched this event last month, reading her debut novel, At Mrs Lippincote’s (read all about January’s events here). The celebration continues in February with Taylor’s second novel, Palladian. Rachel @ Booksnob is hosting this month’s readalong. If you’ve reviewed the book, be sure to share it via the “Mr. Linky” on my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page .
The description on the novel’s back cover reads:
Young Cassandra is alone in the world, her father had just died. When she goes to Cropthorne Manor as a governess, its weary facade and crumbling statues are all that she could hope for. And Marion Vanbrugh is the perfect employer – a widower, austere and distant, with a penchant for Greek. But this is not a ninteenth-century novel and Cassandra’s Mr. Rochester isn’t the only inhabitant of the Manor. There’s Tom, irascible and discontented, Margaret, pregnant and voracious, the ineffectual Tinty and the eccentric, domineering Nanny. Just as Jane Austen wittily contrasted real life with a girl’s Gothic fantasies in Northhanger Abbey, so Elizabeth Taylor subtly examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre in this sharply observed work, first published in 1946.
The title refers to the architectural style of the house in which the novel is set; it warns the reader that the background is the English literary tradition, and that the book is a romantic satire both on the classical tradition and on the Gothic novel — in fact a deliberate period piece. (p. 158)
Further, she says Taylor was borrowing from Jane Austen (through the protagonist’s name, Cassandra Dashwood), and paying homage to the style of Ivy Compton-Burnett, another Virago author. Beauman seems to believe Taylor has found her voice, saying, “It was to be her typical style: the sadness and pathos mixed with a unique feel for language — and humour” (p. 164).
This novel’s description led me to expect a fairly conventional “young governess falls for lord of the manor” story. I should have known better. Elizabeth Taylor does not write conventional novels; she writes deep studies of characters and relationships.
The setting was just as important as the characters; here’s a quote I thought was just beautiful:
The sky looked swollen, as if it held some darker, heavier substance than rain, as if at a finger’s pressure it would let down a stained syrup, like the blackberry juice dripping from the muslin net in the kitchen. (p. 124)
When I read it, I definitely did not “get” that it was satire. Not at all. I’ll be interested to see what others thought!
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