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The Soul Of Kindness (VMC) by Elizabeth…
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The Soul Of Kindness (VMC) (original 1964; edition 2010)

by Elizabeth Taylor, Philip Hensher (Introduction)

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241747,848 (3.93)1 / 73
Member:alalba
Title:The Soul Of Kindness (VMC)
Authors:Elizabeth Taylor
Other authors:Philip Hensher (Introduction)
Info:Virago (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:2012, UK fiction, RG

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The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor (1964)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
This was originally published in 1964; the copy I read was the Virago Modern Classic with a 1983 introduction by Philip Hensher. This was my first sample of Taylor’s writing and I was slightly disappointed: the writing is beautiful but the story didn’t live up to the cover hype.

Yes, Flora is a spoiled brat masquerading as everyone’s golden girl,
“It’s so miserable of everybody. I thought it would please them to be asked. It would please me. And if I were in their place, I’d do anything rather than spoil my happiness.”

But the cover and the intro promised something almost sinister.

I’ll definitely try Taylor again, but I rate this 3½ stars.

Read this if: you feel you’re being manipulated by someone in your life – perhaps looking at an objective situation will help you gain perspective – and tools to snip the strings.

I read this as this month’s random pick from my TBR wish list spreadsheet of 2,323 items for the Random Reads Challenge hosted by I’m Loving Books. ( )
  ParadisePorch | Mar 20, 2013 |
Flora is a very British character in a very British novel. She is just married and surrounded by a group of characters that protect her and make her happy. She is willing to help others although her views are not very enlightened and she does not have a good understanding of their needs so she ends by damaging some of them. The rest of the characters in the novel are very lonely and mostly unhappy and seem to gravitate around Flora for company and support. The society and attitudes portrait in the book seem to be too old fashion for the times (the story develops during the sixties) and the characters do not seem to be able to fit the changing times that they had to live. It is a novel in which no much happens, but that manages to sustain the attention of the reader. ( )
  alalba | Dec 9, 2012 |
(1989?)

My customary sticky backed plastic and bookplate with ‘Elizabeth’ written on it date this to pre-1989. A portrait of a self-deluding monster, but a more subtle portrait of a monster than “Angel”, maybe because Flora here doesn’t have a ‘talent’ to share with the world, just an unwavering self-belief and a need to bestow herself on people. In this melancholic novel, there are unlikely pairings that will never work, and unlikely alliances that do, such as the invisible lines that put the marvellous painter, Liz, in secret cahoots with downtrodden Meg, and Flora’s husband helping her mother to escape her self- and Flora-created prison.

A novel with an empty heart and marvellous, rich minor characters – Richard’s father, Percy and his mistress, Ba, and Liz especially. I loved the housekeeper, Mrs Lodge, with her yearning for birds and the countryside (in fact, birds occur throughout). In the lost London souls and unrequited love, a bit reminiscent of Anita Brookner, with the piercing skewering of tiny moments of human interaction – especially the excruciating scenes between Mrs Secretan and her companion, Miss Folley – all Taylor’s own. ( )
  LyzzyBee | Oct 2, 2012 |
Flora Quatermaine, beautiful and oblivious, is the central character of [The Soul of Kindness] around which the 'story' such as it is, is organized. We see her on her wedding day to Richard, and learn all we need to know about her by her behaviour towards those around her, her best friend and his adoring younger brother Kit, her mother, and her new husband, Richard. She isn't a mean person,, but very much like Austen's Emma, she's been so indulged and adored that she is blithely ignorant of the hardships of others. She never stops to question her judgements or to listen and it certainly never occurs to her that she could hurt someone through good intentions. You cannot really like Flora, but you can't dismiss her either. Her sunny attitude is catching and her friends and husband, for the most part, value her naivete exactly for what it is and are willing to indulge it. Except for one woman, the painter, Liz Corbett. Liz is the 'real thing' -an uncompromising and unblinded artist, single-minded and driven. She is also very plain. While the beautiful Flora floats on the surface, plain old Liz digs and digs. She never meets Flora face-to-face but they share many friends, including the young man Kit. There is plenty of irony here, the pleasant appeal of superficiality versus the often 'difficult' and even ugly and certainly unromantic aspect of 'the truth'. And Liz, of course, is right on, but too harsh just as Flora is off the mark but too seductive. At the same time, Taylor is kind, demonstrating by the novel's resolution the idea that plenty of people simply are not equipped to deal with too much truth; it will break them. Except for marriage and children, the landscape for most of these middling to upper class women who don't need to work is a bleak one, filling days with 'something' - anything being the challenge. For Meg, Flora's friend who does have to work, for Mrs. Secretan's personal secretary, companion and for Mrs. Lodge, work is drudgery, keeping them from enjoying what they long for, from rural life, from love, from rest. Only Ba, mistress of Percy, Richard's father, seems to bridge the real and the superficial - although even she allows herself to be manipulated by Flora. The men are as interesting as the women, and as trapped. All but Richard who, like Ba, comes off as self-aware and down-to-earth and not easily fooled either way.
Here's the thing, the more I write now about the book, the more I see there is in it. So I am bumping it up to ****1/2. ( )
2 vote sibyx | Sep 14, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Taylorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hensher, PhilipIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Elizabeth Cameron
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Towards the end of the bridegroom's speech, the bride turned aside and began to throw crumbs of wedding cake through an opening in the marquee to the doves outside.
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The soul of kindness was what Flora believed herself to be, and made almost everyone else believe. Tall, blond, and as beautiful as a Botticelli girl, she appeared to have everything under control -- her household, her baby, her husband Richard; her all-too-loyal friend Meg; Meg's brother Kit, who has always adored Flora; and Patrick, the novelist and domestic pet. Only the painter, Liz, refuses to become a worshipper at the shrine. In this novel, Elizabeth Taylor gives us a study of deception, all the more telling for the deceptively gentle way in which it unfolds. The varied characters are delicately drawn; the irony is light as a feather; but only the Floras of this world will close the book without understanding more clearly the disease of self-love.

VIRAGO NEW EDITION: The soul of kindness is what Flora believes herself to be. Tall, blonde and beautiful, she appears to have everything under control: her home, her baby, her husband Richard; her friend Meg; Kit, Meg's brother, who has always adored Flora; and Patrick the novelist and domestic pet. Only the bohemian painter Liz refuses to become a worshipper at the shrine.

Flora entrances them all, dangling visions of happiness and success before their spellbound eyes. All are bewitched by this golden tyrant, all conspire to protect her from what she really is. All, that is, except the clear-eyed Liz: it is left to her to show them that Flora's kindness is the sweetest poison of them all.
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In 'The Soul of Kindness', Elizabeth Taylor skilfully and subtly demonstrates the terrible danger of self-love, most deadly to those who live within its shadow.

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