Letters and Letter Writing in Elizabeth Taylor’s Blaming

Hasn’t Dee done a wonderful job this month with our Elizabeth Taylor Centenary?  Let’s have a round of applause, shall we?  For her last post, Dee draws on an interesting book she acquired this year, that shed further insight on the life and work of this fine author.

I am so grateful to Dee for her well-researched and thoughtful commentary.  It’s a fitting way to end our celebration.  I’ve had a great time hosting this event and am pleased at the many people who have discovered Elizabeth Taylor this year.  I couldn’t have done it without Dee and all the other monthly hosts.  Thank you!

And now let’s read Dee’s closing thoughts on Blaming

One of the ways I celebrated Elizabeth Taylor’s Centenary this year was by treating myself to a copy of Elizabeth Taylor: A Centenary Celebration, edited by N.H. Reeve. The book includes some short stories, two fragments which never made it to full novel or story form (though one seems a possible precursor to Mrs Palfrey as it also had the scene featuring Ludo in the launderette), some essays by Taylor, some letters and a few articles about Taylor’s writing.

In this month of increased communications, I thought I’d talk about what William May says, in his article in the book, about letters in Taylor’s work in general and in Blaming, in particular. He seems to me to be spot on about how Taylor uses letters as a way of both engaging us with and distancing us from her characters. There is a major spoiler, so don’t read on if you’re still reading Blaming.

May writes that “the letter is a means of bringing something closer and holding it at bay…it stretches time and distance, deferring conflict or interaction” and that “Taylor’s work makes full use of a letter’s ambiguities and contradictions. In Taylor’s plots writing letters both encode her characters and condemn them.”

In Blaming, Amy writes letters “grudgingly” and receives letters “ambivalently.” The passage which describes how the gaps between Amy’s letters to Martha were wider than with Martha’s letters to Amy, is also talking about the disparity in how each views their relationship. I liked the way May describes the friendship as “almost one-sided” and “nearly illusory”.

The formal and prescribed nature of traditional letter writing does give Amy a chance to fulfil her sense of duty and obligation, and to play out the role of a friend without having to undergo any actual human contact. But as Martha’s letters become sadder, Amy finds it increasingly difficult to respond to their “dreariness”. I think that as a newly bereaved widow, she probably wasn’t the ideal person to share disappointments with regarding newly married life.

May writes in his article:

The final wounds of the novel are also performed via letter, one inflicted by the ‘sweet and long letter’, Martha writes to her husband. It is in fact a suicide note, although he is not able to read it as such.

May also refers to the “stuffed envelope” which Simon hands to Amy after Martha’s death, saying:

The ‘crammed’ and the ‘stuffed’ suggest a correspondence that is full to bursting but one that contains less information or news than guilt and failure. There is always the sense that the recipient has not done their part and must be to blame for something.

I will leave May’s thoughts there but would love to hear what you think of this, or any other aspect of Blaming. If you’ve written a review, please do add it to Laura’s Mr Linky page. The reviews I’m aware of are:

We’ve now reached the end of Elizabeth Taylor’s Centenary year. It won’t be goodbye for me though, as I still have most of Taylor’s short stories to read and they are definitely not a second best option. When I read The Blush and Other Stories earlier this year, I realised the short story is a form that suits Taylor’s style perfectly. I also (confession time) never got past the first few pages of A Game of Hide and Seek so will try that one again before too long. And I know that Taylor’s books more than stand up to re-reading. In fact, I enjoyed Blaming and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont considerably more second time round. They were the first Taylors I read and whilst I warmed to Mrs Palfrey who reminded me of my grandmother who had recently passed away, I didn’t really “get” Blaming. I would certainly have been very surprised to know that five years later, I’d be discussing the book at length on a blog! I’m sure I will reading and re-reading Taylor for some time to come.

Thank you so much Laura, for organising this year-long event. I know it has raised awareness and appreciation of this talented author for many of us.

I was quoting from William May’s article Reporting Back, or The Difficulty of Addressing Elizabeth Taylor in Elizabeth Taylor: A Centenary Celebration, edited by N.H. Reeve.

For more about our centenary activities, check out Dee’s year in review post, Ali’s reflections on the year, and my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page which includes links to all the monthly posts and reviews.

2 thoughts on “Letters and Letter Writing in Elizabeth Taylor’s Blaming

  1. Thank you so much for your centenary hosting Laura it has been such a joy.

    Wonderful piece you’ve written there too. I hadn’t picked up on the importance of the letters really – but of course they are – that is very interesting.
    I am sure we will all continue to read and re-read Elizabeth Taylor – how could we not, she feels very much like an old friend now.

  2. I’d like to echo Ali’s comments here – it’s been wonderful being involved in the celebrations. I think there is so much depth in Taylor’s work and I’m sure I will get even more from her on re-reading. Thanks also to Dee for her excellent hosting this month!

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