A View of the Harbour
by Elizabeth Taylor, introduction by Roxana Robinson
Blindness and betrayal are Elizabeth Taylor’s great subjects, and in A View of the Harbour she turns her unsparing gaze on the emotional and sexual politics of a seedy seaside town that’s been left behind by modernity. Tory, recently divorced, depends more and more on the company of her neighbors Robert, a doctor, and Beth, a busy author of melodramatic novels. Prudence, Robert and Beth’s daughter, disapproves of the intimacy that has grown between her parents and Tory and the gossip it has awakened in their little community. As the novel proceeds, Taylor’s view widens to take in a range of characters from bawdy, nosey Mrs. Bracey; to a widowed young proprietor of the local waxworks, Lily Wilson; to the would-be artist Bertram—while the book as a whole offers a beautifully observed and written examination of the fictions around which we construct our lives and manage our losses.
Download the Reading Group Guide for A View of the Harbour.by Elizabeth Taylor, introduction by Roxana Robinson
Like her stories, [Elizabeth Taylor’s] novels are stitched together out of a series of fragmented scenes. They are remarkable…for their implacable evenness of sympathy and lack of a unifying consciousness…A View of the Harbour may be Taylor’s most nuanced study of the push and pull between domestic and artistic labor.
—Namara Smith, The New Yorker
Gently raining. Camellias are blooming, it’s cold. . . . A new Elizabeth Taylor to read!
—Eudora Welty to William Maxwell
A View of the Harbour is Taylor’s lightest novel, and by that I mean that it’s done with an exquisite lightness of touch. It has a large cast, a musical rondo-like structure, and it’s her happiest novel, too, but happy in the way of, say, Così fan tutte or Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, where the infelicities of life are shown through the prism of an exquisitely aesthetic sensibility. There is no dodging of dark themes and no escape, but only a filtering.
—Neel Mukherjee, Boston Review
There is certainly little melodrama in Taylor’s novels; there are no heroes, and no improbable villains, only flawed, likeable characters negotiating the ordinary small crises of marriage, family and friendship.
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen—soul sisters all.
Her best novels—At Mrs. Lippincote's (1945), A View of the Harbour (1947), A Game of Hide and Seek (1951)—are, in spite of their prim titles, funny, savage and full of loneliness and suppressed emotion. For her characters, as for their author, propriety is a survival mechanism, a way of keeping the show on the road.
—Rachel Cooke, The Guardian