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!