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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971)

by Elizabeth Taylor

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,0755316,281 (4.09)2 / 339
On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies--boredom and the Grim Reaper. Then one day Mrs. Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that even the old can fall in love.… (more)

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» See also 339 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
I'll hold on to this book to re-read in my golden years. It will probably be a 5 star read at that time. ( )
  SarahMac314 | Aug 12, 2022 |
They Weren't Allowed to Die There
Review of the Virago Modern Classics paperback (1982) of the Chatto & Windus hardcover original (1971)
Ludo leaned back easily, but his eyes were darting to and fro, noting everything, noting Mrs Arbuthnot noting him, and Mrs Post, in her sad pot-pourri colours, fussing over her knitting.
‘Over there is Mrs Arbuthnot,’ Mrs Palfrey said, in a low voice to Ludo. ‘With the sticks.’
‘I thought so. I shouldn’t be afraid of her, you know. Although you seem very much the new girl around here.’
‘Of course. Mrs Arbuthnot has been at the Claremont for years.’
‘It has entered her soul.’
‘But we aren’t allowed to die here.’
He threw back his head and laughed.
‘But isn’t that sad?’ she asked doubtfully.
‘I don’t see anything sad about you,’ he said. He thought, I mayn’t write it down; but please God may I remember it. We Aren’t Allowed to Die Here. By Ludovic Myers.
- Excerpt from "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont." Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a moving and sympathetic portrayal of seniors who are at the edge of moving into nursing homes, but who are still physically independent enough to manage at a residential hotel or senior residence. The lead character Mrs. Palfrey is widowed and somewhat distanced from her daughter and son-in-law, who live in Scotland, and her grandson Desmond who lives in London and works in the British Museum. She moves into the Claremont Hotel which caters to both tourists and to its senior residents. Few of the residents have visitors and although Mrs. Palfrey talks up future visits by her grandson to the others, it becomes apparent that Desmond has no interest in dropping in.

See cover at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/39/1st_Chatto_and_Windus_edition_cov...
Cover image of the original hardcover of "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" (1971). Image sourced from Wikipedia.

A symbiotic relationship transpires when Mrs. Palfrey has a falling accident on her way back to the Claremont from the library. The accident occurs in front of the basement apartment of Ludo, a penniless young aspiring writer who rushes out to assist her. To return the favour she invites Ludo to dinner at the Claremont and when she mentions a future guest, the other residents immediately assume that it is the grandson making an appearance at last. Embarrassed, Mrs Palfrey neglects to correct them in their assumption and goes back to Ludo to ask him to agree to the impersonation. Ludo happily agrees and also realises that this entre to the world of the elderly can become source material for a future novel.

This setup makes for various comic turns as Mrs Palfrey and Ludo continue their friendship to the envy of the rest of the Claremont. There is of course further confusion as the reluctant Desmond finally does make an appearance and the other residents refuse to believe he is an actual true relation. There are also the bittersweet and insightful portraits of the extended cast of characters who are each dealing with their aging and accompanying health and family issues in their own way.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont was a delightful and empathetic story which captures both the insight of the sometimes parasitic nature of an artist/writer drawing on their real-life experiences for fiction but also a symbiotic view of the elderly and youth being together for each other's benefit. My warm thanks to friend Tony Souza for the loan of this charming book!

Trivia and Links
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont was adapted as a television film in 1973 and as a theatrical film in 2005.

The 1973 television film was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg and starred Joseph Blatchley as Ludo Myers and Celia Johnson as Mrs. Palfrey. I could not find an online posting of a trailer or of the film itself.

The 2005 theatrical film was directed by Dan Ireland and starred Rupert Friend as Ludo and Joan Plowright as Mrs. Palfrey. You can watch a trailer for the film on YouTube here and see the entire film on YouTube here. ( )
  alanteder | Jul 30, 2022 |
Wonderful book. I enjoyed the way Elizabeth Taylor paints her characters through their conversations, and she is great writer too. I agree with the opinion of Ames who classified this book as one of the top 100 books.
I amlooking forward to reading more of her books. ( )
  xieouyang | Apr 17, 2022 |
Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel to live out the final months of her life. She is a reserved, dignified English woman whose husband has passed away. We meet the other residents of the Claremont, and because of Taylor's use of internal dialogue, learn much about them, and about Mrs. Claremont. Mrs. Palfrey has a daughter living in Scotland, and who doesn't have time for her mother. Her son, Desmond, Mrs. Palfrey's grandson, lives close to the Claremont, but also cannot be bothered to visit his grandmother. One day, on a walk, Mrs. Palfrey falls and is rescued by a young man, Ludo. They develop a friendship, and in a clever plot twist, he acts as Mrs. Palfrey's grandson when he visits her at the Claremont. The book's strength is its ability to tap into the loneliness of the elderly, and the indifference of society towards them. A sad book, but I loved it. Loved the movie version, also. ( )
  peggybr | Apr 16, 2022 |
This hit a bit close to home for me—caring for my father with Alzheimer’s. So sad. ( )
  Lahoori | Jan 8, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
First published in 1971, in a period setting perfectly depicted -- a cheap London residential hotel where a few widowed old people pass their later, solitary years. The pitiful circumstances of the ageing residents, and heartlessness of their remaining families and friends, are beautifully observed and portrayed, though, as universal themes. The hotel residents encounter helplessness, humiliation, increasing forgetfulness, loneliness, boredom -- the daily chore of passing the time, knitting as a social duty, with prospects only of increasing bodily feebleness, perhaps a nursing home, and death. Their few visitors `did their duty occasionally ... and went relievedly away'; the hotel manager resents these permanent guests, `cluttering up the place and boring everybody'.
Mrs Palfrey has one child, a daughter, now married and living in Scotland, who waits there until her weekend houseparty is over before travelling to her mother's hospital bed when she breaks her hip; her grandson, learning of the accident, feels that it `suited him admirably', having had some fear that she might remarry and change her will. Thus we rejoice when someone does appear to be showing Mrs Palfrey human kindness and friendship -- but young Ludovic is in fact deliberately observing her and her fellow Claremont-residents for a book he is writing on old age. Eager for copy, he makes notes after every meeting with Mrs Palfrey, whom he sees as `doting on him, to his embarrassed boredom'. He is `banking on her being dead -- or out of his life -- before [his book] saw the light of day'.
Nevertheless, Ludovic brings Mrs Palfrey her only happiness in her last months, and despite the pity and pain, the book is pleasurable to read. Taylor writes with delicacy and subtlety, and shrewd, witty observation of the characters she exposes. There is much humour in the depiction of rivalry and one-up-manship in the hotel. Certainly the book also offers much subject for group discussion. Is Ludovic wholly to be condemned? What could or should have been done to ameliorate the fates of the elderly residents? How different would their situation and the events have been today?
added by KayCliff | editNew BooksMag, Hazel K. Bell (May 28, 2016)

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Taylorprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bailey, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoffman, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mrs. Palfrey first came to the Claremont Hotel on a Sunday afternoon in January.
I have to begin this appreciation of Elizabeth Taylor's penultimate novel on a personal note. (Introduction)
As one gets older life becomes all take and no give. One relies on other people for the treats and things. It's like being an infant again...Of course, it's nice to be given a treat, but not if it's ALWAYS that way round.
Every day for an infant means some new little thing learned; every day for the old means some little thing lost. {...} Both infancy and age are tiring times.
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On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies--boredom and the Grim Reaper. Then one day Mrs. Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that even the old can fall in love.

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Average: (4.09)
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