Sunday, July 27, 2008
Elizabeth Taylor: Hide and Seek
My social circle used to comprise people who read Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, and Elizabeth von Armin. We would roam around at political parties, eating ghastly food and trying to think of something to discuss besides politics. When we discovered similar tastes in literature, we argued for our favorite Elizabeths: Elizabeth Taylor seemed to get the most votes, though her characters always seemed a little too ladylike to me. (How do they get so ladylike?) Elizabeth von Armin’s novels also have their fans, particularly for The Enchanted April. Elizabeth Bowen, with her elegant prose and sometimes dark point of view, appeals most to me, though she's the dark horse.
Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek certainly has its merits (such as being a delight). Her deceptively simple style offsets a complicated narrative about young and middle-aged love. Harriet, the central character, believes she is not good at anything. At 18, she fails her exams and disappoints her mother, a former suffragist whose politics Harriet despises. Harriet falls in love with Vesey, the cynical nephew of her mother's best friend, and Vesey upsets the family (for instance, he takes Caroline's children out to eat meat, which they are not allowed), causing Caroline to make an excuse to send him home to his mother. Because he is only able to get attention by pseudo-sophisitcation, he is willing to hang around in his frivolous mother's boudoir and watch her apply beauty treatments while he cracks cynical jokes. He is eventally sent down from Oxford for the turmoil he causes and for his lackadisical attitude toward work.. Harriet's and Vesey's failure is a bond.
When they meet in their 30s, Harriet ismuch more confident: she has married Charles, a successful businessman and is the mother of an intelligent child who loves Greek; Vesey is a bad actor who works in regional theater, and is still cynical, still charming when he wants to be. Vesey's disruption of the household irritates Charles, furious at the reappearnce Harriet's formerr lover (even if the love was not consummated). One can't help but think it's silly for Harriet and Vesey to become involved, but Harriet has a spark that has been smothered by Charles. On the other hand, Charles and Harriet are very well-suited in conservatism: Charles's has rejected his mother, a former actor, whose dramatic ways still irritate him , just as Harriet disliked her mother's politics.
Charles reads Persuasion, his favorite book, and wonders what marriage is about.
The novel isn’t perfect, however: some of the really interesing characters die, or become cardboard walk-ons: Harriet's mother dies; Caroline, Vesey’s vegetarian aunt dies, the two young children, with whom Harriet and Vesey play Hide and Seek, show up at their mother's funeral in dreary military uniform.
Elizabeth Bowen (yes, my Elizabeth!) reviewed it, “Soberly speaking, however, it is not too much to say that A Game of Hide-and-Seek has something of the lucid delicacies of Persuasion, together with, at moments, more than a touch of the fiery-icy strangeness of Wuthering Heights.”
Posted by Frisbee at 1:12 PM