32 thoughts on “Complete Short Stories — Elizabeth Taylor


    “So many brackets scattered about gave the look of her eyelashes having been shed upon the pages.”

    I bought this book so that I could real-time review all ET’s short stories, but this is not a story but her famous powerful novella, about Hester who is cousin to a boy’s school headmaster called Robert (old enough to be her father), with her having to live with him and his wife Muriel, and Hester thus changing from a Bowen-like ‘shadowy third’ through letters she and Robert had been writing to each other to, now, a physical catalyst in the household itself and the repercussions of this to the marriage of Muriel and Robert, and to the young male teachers who fancy her, and to the woman drunk called Despenser who fancies her, too, after losing someone called Linda. And much else. With beautiful descriptions of Hester’s fearful relationship with the world of nature outside the school and there is a sense of graveyard darkness and social history and an Austen-like dance ….

    And there are, following mention of the above eyelash brackets, at least six ELizabeth BOWen ‘elbow’ triggers in the text, culminating in the whole work’s crucial china elbow when Hester breaks Muriel’s cherished Dresden ornament!!

    A work with a sense of stoical destiny from which none of us can escape, but should we do so, even if we could?

    “‘What they want is to have us all equal,’ Miss Despenser said, ‘and the only way to do that is to level everyone down. Not to raise everyone up. No, it’s down, down, down all the time. When we’re finally in the gutter, then we shall have true democracy.’”

  2. Pingback: Hester Lilly by Elizabeth Bowen | Bowen KÔRner (The Circumflexing Elbow)

  3. ‘Taking Mother Out’

    “We did not know.
    We did not know, we said.”

    Well, this the perfect vignette to follow the novella. Where eels take the random deliberate course they will as a gestalt of elvers, giving us a perfect audit trail of people portraits, viz. a mother of 80 who acts younger than she is, and her son of whom she is proud and who boasts that he has ever done something better than anyone else, and a boring birdwatcher, and us observing them, and we are able to summon estuary landscapes in words better than anyone else could, little knowing that someone else, perhaps a rare bird, had created us from her words in the first place!

  4. Spry Old Character

    “‘You all got white dresses on?’

    The choir that came to the Home for the Blind, virgins all, no doubt, he thinks. This is a most darkly brilliant story that will ever haunt me now that I have been privileged to read of its fair’s roundabouts and haunted house. But fundamentally it will haunt me about the old sprynonymous character called Harry who plays on his perhaps concocted clumsiness in rolling cigarettes, though he is clumsy and cuts his finger amid the withies and osiers of basket-making — Harry as a man blinded by a horse’s kick in the head three years before, a man who still fancies gambling at race meetings, and still fancies the fair sex as well as the fair, as he wanders more and more on his own from the Blind Home where he fights at the bit to escape the Matron and a co-patient called Miss Arbuthnot (blinded by her own needlework?) — and to escape his own all-round horse-blinkers, I guess. He follows the brick wall outside till befriended by bus people who take him eventually to the fair and the coconut shy where he ends up blindly throwing at the canvas backing to win coconuts (nuts as hairy as his own, because blind men still have urges?) for the woman he’s with, or thinks he’s with. The Haunted House is just how I remember it in my own boyhood when I squeezed my eyes shut in fright feeling things brush past my face. But above all, I relished, in this story, Harry’s stalking of himself, as he becomes his own ‘shadowy third’, a stalking of his own younger sighted self, when he entered, as a boy accompanied by another boy, a dark shed of carousel roundabout horses where their manufacture was almost or actually prehensile … “Now, outside the scene, as if a third person, he walked behind the boys along the path;…”
    A new vicarious vision!
    And then, there is, of course, the ‘elbow’ that poignantly triggers the final coconut shy …
    “With ostentatious care, Vi guided him through the crowds, her arm in his, so closely that he could feel her bosom against his elbow.”
    And earlier, this pang of prose …
    “He missed his sight when he needed to feel pain. Blood, crawling between his thumb and fingers, put him into a panic and he imagined the bone laid bare, and his head swam. Pain, coming through slowly, reassured him more than Matron could.”

    “Morale was very high, as it so often is in a community where tragedy is present.”

  5. Pingback: Spry Old Character — Elizabeth Taylor | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  6. Pingback: BICYCLES, MUSCLES, CIGARETTES: Raymond Carver | Bowen KÔRner (The Circumflexing Elbow)


    “Her thoughts came to her in words, as if her mind spoke them first, understood them later.”

    … as I do in reading and reviewing such poignant literature, and this brief work thus revealed it to me. This is her mother’s death, though, and it is more than just poignant. Memories, while framing in her mind a letter to her employer that she can’t go to work because her mother had just died, and her father pedalling in the snow on his bike to receive the same sad news, and the recent library book she had obtained for her mother, expecting her to read it. And, disarmingly, a white lilac floating on a glass of champagne as a thread to keep life and soul together, as all sadnesses have their inexplicable moments, I guess.

  8. Gravement Endommagé

    “‘After wars, when there is so little time for patching up before the next explosion, what hope is there?’ he began.”

    A heady, haunty, dust-strewn, mysterious Kôr of a luna-cratered story, but here post-war and in France where even the damage of the-war-previous-to-that-one remains unrepaired, as a couple from England are on the way to their own marital war’s patch-up holiday in Paris, but without sufficient time for the husband to reach there in a single day nor for the ‘outré’ wife (who dresses not for men but to compete with other women) to ‘settle’ a hotel room with her make-up jars and dresses, so as to distinguish it from the gestalt hotel-room that all hotel rooms often become.
    She goes off in a godforsaken place to buy some picture-postcards for their children back home, postcards to lay with ink from her own somehow ‘illiterate’ pen while in this godforsaken place where her husband has chosen to stay over night…and while she is away he drinks in the hotel bar with an inevitable elbow trigger (“Rather clouded with drink, Richard leant on his elbow…”), a trigger that later acts as a prelude to the story’s meaningful or meaningless ending as lacuna…

    “‘You planned this delay without consulting me. You planned to spend this night in some god-forsaken place and sink into your private nostalgia while my frocks crease and crease …’ Her voice mounted up like a wave, trembled, broke.”

    “The drive seemed endless, because it was so monotonous. War had exhaled a vapour of despair over all the scene. Grass grew over grief, trying to hide collapse, to cover some of the wounds. One generation hoped to contend with the failure of another.”

    “– dust has the connotation of despair. In the end, shall we go up in a great swirl of it? He imagined something like the moon’s surface, pock-marked, cratered, dry, deserted.”

    “…forgetting the lacuna in both years and buildings, the gap over which the nun, the cat had picked their way…”

  9. The Idea of Age

    “…she turned on the wireless and fixed the headphones over my ears (pieces of sponge lessened the pressure), and very far off, through a tinkling, scuffling, crackling atmosphere, I heard Edith Sitwell reciting through a megaphone.”

    Possibly even more rarefied than the most rarefied stories of Bowen! With two separate elbow triggers that outdo any such triggers of the other Elizabeth, too, such elbows resting on chairs, the girl’s viewpoint (as narrator feeling protective of her absent mother) is of her own elbows being ungainly amid the undersides of furniture in a guest-house, while the older woman called Mrs Vivaldi had a “white elbow.”
    The dubiety of age. And who is in charge of whom. The art of vicariousness made precious. To the sound of croquet mallets and the later unconscious hide and seek with a buddleia.
    “I could see myself – with her eyes – hunched up over my book, my frock crumpled under me,…”
    I can see myself with your eyes writing this about a fiction that cannot be written about.

  10. Pingback: White Elbow | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  11. Nods & Becks & Wreathèd Smiles

    “….from whose conversation she often retracted painfully, to whose behaviour she usually reacted absurdly.”

    …being the core of this potentially lengthier generic version, as a vignette in an alternate world, of a Katherine Mansfield work. It tells of various women who meet gradually with their shopping baskets in a cafe, within earshot of one man. Among them is a woman who turns up conjunctively eyeshot like Oedipus while the others are comparing the severity of womanly pains — and where pains are concerned, men would not even get a look in! But Mrs Graham, though, might differ, of course, because she is like those who have lateral thinking as clarity in the country of the otherwise dim-sighted or blind.
    The ring of truth.


    “There you go.”

    Sybil in a garden of rotting pears, her husband dead, her son also dead, visited by her sister-in-law Kathy and Kathy’s daughter Audrey, the only ones to visit her.
    Initials carved in a seat: A.K.R.
    Adam once smacked for putting his name on the seat. He was always doing that, it seems.
    Kathy goes to get basket for the pears that she can find use for. And Sybil pushes Audrey on her late son’s swing, until the child ‘flies up in wild agony’ with cumulatively violent pushes, with the recurrently shouted ”There you go“ quoted above, a saying that a (now dead) sports commentator called Ron Pickering somehow picked up for his ancient children’s TV programme when setting the kids free at the end of each programme.
    Ralph was Sybil’s husband and Adam was Sybil’s son’s name, I recall.

    This brief story I had not read before reminded me obliquely of my own equally brief story, THE SWING, first published in the 1990s… now shown here — https://etepsed.wordpress.com/1212-2/

  13. Pingback: A SAD GARDEN by Elizabeth Taylor | Bowen KÔRner (The Circumflexing Elbow)

  14. Shadows of the World

    “Virginia pressed her elbows to her sides. The oppressive evening menaced her with thunder and lightning, now with the horror of birth.”

    Kitten birth! Black like shadows except the cat Moira’s final drop. Watched by Laurie, while his mother, the conscientiously idle Ida, knows that her son Laurie is elsewhere in the house thus attending the births, a house wherefrom Ida, in her Lady of Shalott rôle, can spot her friends passing by in cars with what men and for what assumed purpose… As Ida herself is with alcohol and a male friend laughably called George Eliot and the backstory about that is a potential frontstory in itself, Ida awaiting her husband Leonard to come home, and who will be eating with whom? — and her daughter Virginia (later when naked we spot her appendix-scar) is currently feeding linen into a sewing machine with friend Nancy, and who is coming, who is going, what different varieties of bird-life outside as poetically adumbrated by what this, by what that, by Elizabeth Taylor outdoing Elizabeth Bowen, while outdoing herself! Making kitten drops with each word or phrase, from “utter darkness” to witty light — in this miracle of an endless story that is only a few pages long, with the best pair of elbow-triggers imaginable. Two winged elbows like shadows of the world awaiting a third (if not a bird).

    “She dropped her nightgown over her head and stood, legs apart, elbows up like wings, trying to do up buttons at the back. Outside, the sky seemed to congeal cruelly, charged with lead.”

  15. The Light of Day

    “…the six pink roses all lolling to one side of the wrong sort of vase.”

    The arrival of a baby boy in a household, having been “borne” there, her mother dying to ‘stream away’ into sleep or ‘swimming into darkness’ while awaiting her husband to come… he is downstairs with the doctor who had delivered him, delayed perhaps by rocking cups in their saucers, the small girl down there upset at the arrival of a brother, assuming she knows it’s a brother, by his sudden cry, something about ‘mauve fists” and cod-liver oil for the older children of the house.
    It is “vile” to ‘bear’ the birth process as a baby, too, she speculates … vile to live at all?
    A possible match for Elizabeth Bowen’s Anti-Natalism themes that I discovered in my recent reviews of her fiction?
    natation (n.): art or act of swimming,

  16. Pingback: Light and Night | Shadows & Elbows


    “This village lacked even the knowledge of its own ugliness and nothing was done consciously in any direction.”

    …until a swan arrived circling the rubbish of “the biggest pond”, a swan-moving as a catalyst for better, even though that ‘better’ involved clumsily applied colours to blander things by dyeing. Such a beautiful style is this fable couched in, it needed no moral to complete it, other than what swans naturally do. The fact an even bigger pond provided itself during the drying by drought …. makes me think as a reader I am equivalent to the local ‘dipsomaniac’, and I raise my glass to the pure un-didactic nature of this work. So much other detail in this work for you to scry. The scene of the swan with the vicar in a car as bride and groom, though, is one to dye for, if not dry or die for.

  18. Pingback: SWAN-MOVING by Elizabeth Taylor | Shadows & Elbows


    “It was as if she kindled in men a little flicker of interest and admiration which her son must keep fanned, for she would not.”

    The story of a the woman called Tory with a son, her only child, and she takes him out for the day from his boarding school and she asks him about his father’s wife. She seems flighty but kind. Envious of the ‘teeming womb’ of another woman (large enough to have eaten her husband), a woman called Mrs Hay-Hardy with her ‘mother-bag’ of goodies and her brood of boys also taken from school for a day out. We also learn of the Matron at the school and the headmaster and his wife, and pebbles that measure out life.

    Tory has a thing for many pretty hats, and ashamed of looking at saucy seaside postcards, and then she takes him to the Museum Room where she flirts with the security man in order to smoke a cigarette there. With the telling wave goodbye at the end when her son returns to school, we learn that she has bought for him what he most wanted: a ‘puncture outfit.’
    Flighty in itself as a story, the Story of Tory.

    “She could not drink tea from riveted china, however prettily painted.”

  20. Pingback: The Puncture Outfit | Shadows & Elbows


    “Her mouth, without teeth, was a grey cavern. Except for the breathing, she might have been dead.”

    “…the beautiful, shocking air of the night.”

    “…a smell of stuffiness seemed to drift out through the letter slot in the door.”

    “…the dark and eyeless cliffs of the houses.”

    If all that — together with the soaping of armpits, the shunting of goods trains, the flowing past of streets like black rivers, the opening out of a future by a young man’s torch and more — represents the beginning of the story, the rest of it must be you and me on this lonely planet ever-beginning, never ending.
    Here represented by young Marian (earlier “her fingers in her ears as she read”, later “ her fingers stuck in her ears, or going about with a blank immunity”) and a young man called Ronny, she a lodger, he the landlord’s son, as she reads a book by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in the near darkness and he thinks of his Grandmother’s empty cavern of a mouth in the next room and his own mother easing her into death, while his beery father leers at the ill-fastened blouse of Marian…
    Meantime, at the point of death, these young people, almost ‘children’, are sent off to fetch the lady layer-out of corpses, whose letter-slot holds a certain stuffiness, as their romantic future, we assume, opens up with the same torch as earlier dispersed the blackness of the streets. Beautiful fiction for its own sake, as our own shocking, ill-fastened future today closes in?

  22. Pingback: THE BEGINNING OF A STORY | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  23. Oasis of Gaiety by Elizabeth Taylor

    “In some of the less remote parts of Surrey, where the nineteen-twenties are perpetuated, such pockets of stale and elderly gaiety remain.”

    This is a marvellous atmosphere of postwar bathos, whereby well-characterised women and men play games like roulette and snakes-and-ladders for money in the middle of the day, with champagne and whiskey. A woman often called ‘Auntie’ and her grown-up daughter Dosie who’s already had two husbands and Auntie’s 15 year old son as afterthought called Thomas who is on khaki leave from Aldershot to which he returns after this so-called oasis of gaiety, meeting someone called Syd on the train also returning there. Dosie having earlier thrown her mother’s loved gnome into the goldfish pond! Much exquisitely Bowenesque detail of furnishings and accoutrements in Auntie’s ‘domestic imbroglio’, atmospheric lilies, too, and a live marmoset, and Auntie’s ‘cardigans and shawls that had nicknames and personalities’, and to which named objects some of the others sent Christmas presents!

    Auntie “drinking her whisky, switching the radio away from the news to something gayer, and fortifying her against the dreary post-war world her son so typified.”

    “Yet only Thomas, the symbol of the post-war world, was really an affront.”

    “‘Follow me!’ she willed ‘them’ – a succession of them, all shadowy.”


    “…glass domes over the museum-pieces of pork pie.” – in the station cafe.
    Syd “broke open the pie to examine the inside – the pink gristle and tough grey jelly” and tells Thomas that he had seen someone called Viv, during his leave who had “put her elbow in a cow-pat. Laugh!”

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