One From the Archive: ‘A View of the Harbour’ by Elizabeth Taylor ****

Elizabeth Taylor’s A View of the Harbour is another of the gorgeous books which I received for Christmas.  I very much adored Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, and heartily enjoyed A Game of Hide and Seek, and so it was only natural that I would have high hopes for the novel.  Sarah Waters’ introduction in this volume is clearly sympathetic towards the author, and is very nicely written.  It is always refreshing, I think, to have an author who is so enthused about the book which they are introducing, and for that vivacity to come across on the page. 

A View of the Harbour was first published in 1947, and was Taylor’s third novel.  The premise is most interesting, centering as it does around a small seaside town named Newby.  A delicious slice of small town life has been presented.  The plot is not grand and sweeping, but it is beautifully worked, and so nicely embroidered with the little details of mid-1940s post-war life in a community which, like thousands of others around the country, is trying to get back on its feet.

The characters in their entirety worked well as a cast.  Each one was so different from another, and every personality stood out for a different reason.  Rather than rely upon everyday conventions to describe her characters, whether protagonists or not, Taylor always seems to notice something refreshing about them, and she portrays these details in the most vivid of words.  Whilst each of the characters intrigued me, I became so fond of two in particular – Lily Wilson and Prudence Cazabon, whose name alone I found rather endearing.  Ridiculous as it may sound to those who have not yet encountered any of Taylor’s remarkable characters, they are built up so realistically that one often comes to believe that those like the aforementioned Lily and Prudence would make the most wonderful friends.

I greatly admire Taylor’s writing, and in this novel particularly, it is unfailingly beautiful.  Each scene is so vivid, and she is certainly one of the best authors on the Virago list.  With each and every book of hers which I read, I am further convinced that she deserves a place upon my treasured authors list.  Her writing and the overarching understanding which she weaves in at every chance never fails to amaze me.  Her turns of phrase are deft and marvellously utilised, and her stories are splendid in their quietude.

I shall leave you with one of the most striking and intriguing quotes within the novel:

“She [Maisie Bracey] knew what she wanted and in the end it was only two things: she wanted to get married and she wanted her mother to die.”

Next stop: re-reading Taylor’s short stories.

Purchase from the Book Depository

2 thoughts on “One From the Archive: ‘A View of the Harbour’ by Elizabeth Taylor ****

  1. I only discovered Elizabeth Taylor last year, and I’m so glad I did. ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont’ is on the Guardian’s 100 best novels list, which I’m working my way through, and as soon as I’d read it I knew i’d discovered a new favourite author. I read ‘The View of the Harbour’ a couple of months ago and you’re absolutely right about how her vividly drawn characters seem to step off the page, they’re so believable.

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