Bereavement and Self-Blame in Elizabeth Taylor’s Blaming

I’m pleased to welcome Dee again this Sunday, with her third post about our Elizabeth Taylor Centenary.  This time she’s talking about bereavement, one of the novel’s central themes.  And we’re also pleased to announce the winner of last week’s giveaway!

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If you’ve read any Elizabeth Taylor novels at all, you’ll have noticed the emotional depth behind the domestic details and cool comments. I found Blaming utterly convincing in its portrayal of a bereaved woman suffering intense grief but from a time, class and culture when one just didn’t show one’s feelings.

Amy is, it seems, doubly bereaved as it is soon revealed that she has not only lost her husband but, also fairly recently, her closest female friend, Anna. This, in typical Taylor fashion, isn’t dwelt on but it must have surely had an impact on Amy. She may still have been mourning her friend. Even if not, she had lost the one person she might have shared her grief with after Nick’s death. It could even have added to her irritation with her new friend, Martha. Maybe one reason why Martha seemed lacking to Amy was because she wasn’t Anna.

Martha is keen to be Amy’s confidante in her time of need but Amy is never really comfortable with the relationship. The more Martha does for Amy, the more Amy’s sense of obligation and guilt increases but it doesn’t lead to any real sense of affection.

Amy had never warmed to Martha when they first met on holiday. Perhaps any young woman without an obvious connection to them would have been unwelcome on this trip which seemed an attempt for Amy and Nick to reconnect after Nick’s illness. Martha helps Amy through the practicalities of dealing with the first days after Nick’s death but this will not be a time that Amy will enjoy looking back at. It is possible that Martha’s association with this time makes her even less welcome to Amy.

Amy grieves quietly, does not share the pain she is feeling but appears to see no end to it. When Ernie Pounce advises that “time will heal”, Amy thinks, “It will take more than whatever years I have left to me.”

Eventually Amy is able to follow Gareth’s recommendation and “let the days go by, one by one, to look at every hour as an achievement.”

Martha becomes part of this passing of time and possibly plays a part in Amy’s healing process but if so, Amy is not in a position to appreciate it. The only feelings she manages for Martha continue to be a sense of obligation and a sense of guilt.

Later on, Amy’s grand-daughter Dora does provide some comfort. Amy takes Dora to Nick’s studio to look for paper and also to “lay a few ghosts” as she has not been there since Nick’s death. It seems that Dora gives her the strength to do so. “Time hangs heavily. But not so bad when Dora’s here.”

The moment when Dora says she has “forgotten Grandpa” feels even more poignant when we read in the afterword written by Taylor’s daughter Joanna Kingham, that Taylor herself, writing when terminally ill, was afraid of being forgotten.

Amy does not miss Martha when she leaves the country and we are told that, “there were longer gaps between Amy’s letters to Martha, than Martha’s to her. Sometimes Martha did not wait for the gap to be closed and wrote another.”

When Martha returns, Amy avoids seeing her but finds this increases her feelings of self-blame. When tragedy strikes, Amy first tries to defend herself saying, “I did try” but then admits, “but I didn’t do my best”.

Amy’s feelings of self-blame are exacerbated in an intense scene with Martha’s husband, Simon. This is a scene that manages to combine tragedy and farce in a way that not many could pull off. It’s a horribly painful scenario with feelings of blame and guilt piling up, yet results in a darkly comic moment when Simon starts to find Martha’s grandmother responsible in some way and Amy snaps:

“Oh, surely there’s been enough blaming without dragging in poor old Grannie.”

Finally, she reflects with Ernie:

“Too much blame.”

“Never a thing to be encouraged. Quite useless. Quite unproductive.”

“I agree,” she said “but all the same, I know what it feels like.”

The book ends with the line.

“What else could I have done?” she asked the rain.

I thought this a perfect last line to Taylor’s final book, a book which I found faultless in its structure and where not one word was out of place.

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Congratulations to Kaggsy who won last week’s giveaway prize: A View of The Harbour!  I’ve sent you a message, Karen. I used www.random.org to find a winner.

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5 thoughts on “Bereavement and Self-Blame in Elizabeth Taylor’s Blaming

  1. Lovely post Dee. I think you have it spot on. The writing is quite masterly in Blaming isn’t it? There is a real poignant quality to the whole book and I somethimes felt I could sense Elizabeth Taylor’s own thought processes about her own life and approaching death in this novel.

  2. I haven’t re-read Blaming as I’d already read it quite recently, but it stayed very much in my mind as I thought it was an excellent novel and a fitting end to Taylor’s wonderful career.Your review really reminded of what’s so good about it, and also the sadness one can’t help feeling with the knowledge that ET herself was aware of her own mortality. Thanks so much Dee — and Laura for hosting!

  3. Thank you Ali and Harriet. I agree Blaming is a poignant read, made even more so by knowing what Taylor was going through at the time.

    I hope you enjoy Blaming, Laurel.

  4. Thank you Dee – I’m very excited to win the book!

    Your posts are spot on and I loved Blaming – the sadness was less grinding than in Mrs. Palfrey and it had all the wonderful touches I’d expect from Taylor. She handles guilt and blame brilliantly doesn’t she?

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