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Angel (Virago Modern Classics) by Elizabeth…

Angel (Virago Modern Classics) (original 1957; edition 1984)

by Elizabeth Taylor

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4991720,441 (4.03)1 / 128
Title:Angel (Virago Modern Classics)
Authors:Elizabeth Taylor
Info:London Virago 1984, c1957 ix,252p 20cm pbk
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, 20th century, women, Britain, Virago, VMC

Work details

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (1957)

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Angel Deverell begins writing to escape her prosaic life as a teenager, and to everyone's surprise but her own, becomes a best selling author. Taylor has some fun suggesting just how terrible Angel's novels are, but the focus of the novel is on the character of Angel herself and her small circle of family and friends who veer between oddly protective love of her and exasperation and despair at just how awful she is.

Angel would likely see her circle as minor supporting characters in the grand drama that is her life, but Taylor quietly goes about filling in their details: Theo, her publisher; Esmé her husband; Nora, Esmé's sister and Angel's companion till death; Angel's chauffeur and foil, Marvell; even the dogs and cats of the household are beautifully filled in.

A wonderful book, and the intro by Hilary Mantel in the NYRB edition is also lovely. ( )
  ipsoivan | Apr 19, 2014 |
What an engrossing novel! Taylor has created a protagonist who has no redeeming points for me and yet I was fascinated to follow this woman's life from adolescence to old age. Angel Deverell is a highly successful popular novelist who wrote fantastic, silly fiction aimed at imaginative shop girls yearning for romance. The crux of the novel is that Angel herself is her target readership and she firmly believes that what she is creating is real life. In one amusing scene Angel expresses her deep disappointment in Greece because it bears no resemblance to descriptions in her books which are the correct descriptions.

The reader first meets Angel at school. Her mother who owns a little shop and her aunt who is in domestic service sacrifice to send her to a decent girl's school where Angel dumbfounds her teachers with huge amounts of purple prose. Unable to believe that a mere schoolgirl could write such tripe, the English teacher searches through bad authors to find Angel's source. When accused of plagerism, Angel rightfully denies it (she is not a reader; reading bores her). Unappreciated, she takes to her bed and, even though the doctor sees right through her sick pose, she persists in fooling her mother that she is too ill to return to school. As a teen 'invalid' she writes her first novel.

So begins her long career. Her book is accepted because the canny publisher realizes her fiction will fill a hole in the market. Bad reviews only fuel interest in her novels. She and her adoring fans see the reviews as a conspiracy by the reviewers who are just jealous of her talent! In the coming years she gains a worshipping secretary/companion, the companion's handsome twin brother as a husband, and a cranky and loyal chauffeur /handyman. She buys her fantasy home Paradise House complete with white peacocks.

But bad writers go out of fashion and Angel's overblown style and dubious idea of history could not withstand the realities of World War I. As her income declines the house begins to fall apart, the gardens overgrow, and the peacocks molt and leave droppings on the terrace for no groundsmen remain to clean up. Angel floats from dusty room to decaying fruit orchard wearing evening gowns with torn straps and frazzled hems. Her automobile is kept together with the 1920's equivalent of duct tape. Still, in her head, she is the queen of fiction..

Taylor's Angel is a cuckoo, a strange bird thrust into the nest of a working-class shopkeeper where she is allowed to indulge her fantasies I loved laughing at her because I really saw her as a harmless eccentric so full of herself that she was not even aware of her downfall. I did not pity her or dislike her. After all, whom did she hurt? She made lots of money for her publishers who knew quite well they were printing garbage. Her bad reviews sold newspapers. She allowed Nora her companion to adore her and provided Nora with a reason for living. Her husband was too lazy to be a painter, even if at one time he may have showed a small talent. He would not have amounted to much, with or without Angel.

Only one person in the novel is truly to be pitied. Angel's hardworking mum loves her daughter and sacrifices her life for the cuckoo. She clings to her roots, even when Angel moves her to the fancy new house full of servants. Poor Mrs Deverell sees nothing wrong with telling a reporter that Angel was raised above a shop and showing him treasured pictures of a naked baby Angel and an awkward little girl. She still mourns a hardly remembered young husband and is hurt when Angel puts out the story (which Angel may even believe) that Angel's father was a nobleman who loved and abandoned Angel's mother for the good of his country. Think Student Prince. Mrs. Deverell is so cowed and in awe of her daughter that she downplays her final illness and Angel is too self-centered to recognize her mother's sufferings from the cancer that killed her.

Actually, now that I think of it, a few other characters in the book were injured by Angel. As Lady Bountiful, she stalked her poor neighbors, provided them with inferior jam and insisted on reading to the sick. One irate woman demanded that Angel leave her husband to die in peace because she scared him with her visits! ( )
2 vote Liz1564 | Aug 13, 2012 |
I absolutely loved this book about a character who, almost from the first, I couldn't help loving to hate, and yet, also from the first, couldn't help liking a little bit too. Angel (for Angelica) Deverell has always lived in a fantasy world of her own making, and while some would have called her a liar as a young girl, she would have retorted that she was simply imagining a better living for herself, well within her reach. In the earliest years of the 20th century, we find Angel at fifteen being taken to task for using vocabulary in a composition which is much too sophisticated for her, smacking of plagiarism. Though she lives above the grocery shop owned and operated by her mother, Angel likes to imagine herself living at Paradise House and being waited upon by an army of hired help, though she's never laid her eyes on the place, nor does she wish to—and risk diluting her perfect fantasy of it—and the only real information she has on the great house is provided by her aunt Lottie, who has worked there as lady's maid for eighteen years, since "Madam" herself arrived there as a young bride. When word gets around she’s telling lies to her schoolmates, Angel decides her schooling is over and resolves to become a successful writer, in spite of the many protestations and outrage this decision causes her mother and aunt, this latter having paid for her niece to attend a private school so she can have better chances in life. When it becomes clear Angel will not budge from her decision, aunt Lottie comes back with a job offer from the great house as a lady's maid to the young lady Angel has been named after. Angel is outraged and in characteristic fashion, thoroughly insults her aunt for making such a suggestion. Feigning sickness to buy herself time, Angel pens her first masterwork, The Lady Irania, which in reality is a farce of a novel, florid and utterly lacking in sophistication, albeit it tells a story set among the highest strata of English society. Determined to find a publisher, she sends the manuscript around, undeterred by rejection, until one publisher, Theo Gilbright of Gilbright & Brace, sees a potential moneymaker in what might become a party-piece and face utter ridicule or become a runaway bestseller; his letter suggests a generous advance and invites Angel to a meeting in London. The partners expect to meet a doddering old maid smelling of camphor, and are confronted instead with the humourless young girl, who categorically refuses to make any changes whatsoever to her book, even though she has someone opening a bottle of champagne with a corkscrew as one of many glaring mistakes. The gamble pays off, and Angel becomes the fabulously wealthy author she had determined to become, which only encourages her to continue indulging her every whim and vanity. This was my second novel by Elizabeth Taylor, and it made me want to get my hands on everything else she's ever written, although I'm assured by various readers that this novel is not typical of her work. All the same, this is a wickedly entertaining little book which I have no doubt I'll be reading again. My NYRB edition features an introduction by Hilary Mantel; I wisely kept it for the end which definitely helped to prolong the pleasure. ( )
8 vote Smiler69 | Jul 24, 2012 |
Angelica Deverell, otherwise known as Angel, is one of those characters you love to hate and I think Elizabeth Taylor must have had a lot of fun writing this book. Unusually for one of Taylor's novels, the story covers Angel's life from when she starts to write her first book at 15 all the way through to old age. Unlike Taylor, Angel is a terrible writer yet, also unlike Taylor, her books are remarkably popular.

This is Angel's publishers' reaction to her first book:

Gilbright and Brace had been divided, as their readers' reports had been. Willie Brace had worn his guts thin with laughing, he said. The Lady Irania was his favourite party-piece and he mocked at his partner's defence of it in his own version of Angel's language.

"Kindly raise your coruscating beard from those iridescent pages of shimmering tosh and permit your mordant thoughts to dwell for one mordant moment on us perishing in the coruscating workhouse, which is where we shall without a doubt find ourselves, among the so-called denizens of deep-fraught penury. Ask yourself - nay, go so far as to enquire of yourself - how do we stand by such brilliant balderdash and live, nay, not only live, but exist too..."

"You overdo those 'nays'," said Theo Gilbright. "She does not."

"There's a 'nay' on every page. M'wife counted them."

Angel's character matches her writing: she's vain, completely without empathy or humour, unable to accept any criticism or to see criticism as anything other than a personal attack, a self-proclaimed lover of animals and yet she doesn't properly care for or control the pets she owns. Angel is a bit of a monster and seems to live mostly in the world she has created inside her head.

This book is filled with dark humour so although I don't think this was Elizabeth Taylor's best novel, for me, it was certainly her funniest. As Hilary Mantel writes in the introduction of the new Virago edition: "Angel is a book in which an accomplished, deft and somewhat underrated writer has a great deal of fun at the expense of a crass, graceless and wildly overpaid one." ( )
6 vote souloftherose | Jul 24, 2012 |
Here is how Theo, her publisher, sees Angel: "Once he saw a large cactus-plant in a flower-shop window. From one unpromising, barbed shoot had sprung a huge, glowering bloom. It looked solitary and incongruous, a freakish accident; and he was reminded of Angel." Angel Deverell is different from the start: bright, rude, odd - she doesn't fit her humble social background..... At 15 she has an awakening and begins to write...... she writes and writes and becomes a celebrated authoress of steamy Edwardian novels: all of it comes from out of own imagination. Tall and bony, she has huge green eyes, fabulous black hair and a kind of intensity that stuns people into doing her bidding. She becomes wildly successful, fulfills many of her dreams, such as buying the country house where her aunt once worked as a lady's maid. She even marries the man of her dreams, although "Like many romantic, narcissistic women she shied away from the final act of love-making.... Sex seemed to have nothing to do with her.... She had to become a different person before she could endure it, and she was not always able, even for love of Esme, to make the change."Times change and her work goes out of fashion and the money ebbs, and Angel can only sustain her vision by ruthlessly ignoring reality - there is a heartbreaking moment near the end when a revelation about her husband, repressed for decades, emerges, and her two people most loyal to her (I hesitate to use the word 'friend') understand if her belief is shattered, so will she shatter..... Another story also lurks behind this one: of the price one pays to live a fully imagined life. As she finishes one of her late novels, after staying in bed the months it took to write it, "The end of her work, to which she had advanced so determinedly, so eagerly, came with a sense of anti-climax. She had emerged from it at last, to a perfectly dull evening, with nothing exceptional in the least likely to happen, no fanfare of trumpets, not a glass lifted in salutation, or even any sensation within herself other than tiredness and a certain shrinking from the world." At the very end of her life, the last night, as she wanders the halls of her deteriorating house, to let in a cat outside in a snowstorm, she looks out the door and sees: "Snow had stopped falling. The sky was shabby like rubbed suede, with stars scattered untidily...." It is Taylor writing, but she is writing inside Angel's head, this is how Angel herself really sees things. Her publisher knows all along that there is, in fact, a real artist, the real thing, in there, if only she could have dared to let it out, if she could have understood what she was capable of.

Really quite an astonishing portrait of a complex woman. ****1/2 ( )
6 vote sibyx | Jul 19, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Taylorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boldini, GiovanniCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mantel, HilaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Patience Ross
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"'into the vast vacuity of the empyrean,'" Miss Dawson read.
Gilbright and Brace had been divided, as their readers' reports had been. Willie Brace had worn his guts thin with laughing, he said. The Lady Irania was his favourite party-piece and he mocked at his partner's defence of it in his own version of Angel's language.

"Kindly raise your coruscating beard from those iridescent pages of shimmering tosh and permit your mordant thoughts to dwell for one mordant moment on us perishing in the coruscating workhouse, which is where we shall without a doubt find ourselves, among the so-called denizens of deep-fraught penury. Ask yourself - nay, go so far as to enquire of yourself - how do we stand by such brilliant balderdash and live, nay, not only live, but exist too..."

"You overdo those 'nays'," said Theo Gilbright. "She does not."

"There's a 'nay' on every page. M'wife counted them."
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From the book cover:
"'I am writing a novel.' Under the bedclothes her fists were clenched and pressing against her thighs. She felt ferocity towards him, as if he had already laughed at her. 'I am going to be a novelist,' she said"

Angelica Deverell is fifteen years old at the turn of the century. She is the daughter of a widow who keeps a grocery shop in a dreary provincial backstreet, working hard to pay for Angel's education so she can "better herself". But Angel rejects the drabness of her daily life and, retreating into a world of romantic dreams, she begins to write stories remarkable for their extravagance and fantasy. To those around her it is simply folie de grandeur, but Angel knows better. She knows she is different, that she will grow up to be a fêted authoress, owner of great riches and of the mysterious Paradise House. . .
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860683559, Paperback)

At the turn of the century, 15-year-old Angelica escapes her life in a grocer's shop in a dreary provincial backstreet by retreating into a world of romantic dreams. She knows sheis different - destined to become a feted author, owner of great riches and the mysterious Paradise House.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:32 -0400)

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Writing stories that are extravagant and fanciful, fifteen-year old Angel retreats to a world of romance, escaping the drabness of provincial life. She knows she is different, that she is destined to become a feted authoress, owner of great riches and of Paradise House.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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