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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971)

by Elizabeth Taylor

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,2295815,601 (4.11)2 / 365
"On a rainy Sunday afternoon in January the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moves to the Claremont Hotel in South Kensington. "If it's not nice, I needn't stay," she promises herself, as she settles into this haven for the genteel and the decayed. "Three elderly widows and one old man who seemed to dislike female company and seldom got any other kind" serve for her fellow residents, and there is the staff, too, and they are one and all lonely. What is Mrs. Palfrey to do with herself now that she has all the time in the world? Go for a walk. Go to the museum. Go to the end of the block. Well, she does have her grandson who works at the British Museum, and he is sure to visit any day. Mrs Palfrey prides herself on having always known "the right thing to do," but in this new situation she discovers that resource is much reduced. Before she knows it, in fact, she tries something else. Elizabeth Taylor's final and most popular novel is as unsparing as it is, ultimately, heartbreaking"--… (more)
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English (57)  Catalan (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Very poignant & well-observed. ( )
  sjflp | Jun 18, 2023 |
Mrs. Palfrey is an admirable woman who does the best she can in her circumstances: she is now a widow, after a perfect marriage, with enough money and mobility to stay at a residential hotel in South Kensington. A handful of other aged residents also live there.The comparison of the author to Jane Austen is spot on. Even Mrs. Palfrey, admirable as she is, is also deceitful, and claims that Ludo, a stranger who helped her, is her grandson come to dine. (He is a better choice.) Ludo is an aspiring writer who writes at Harrod's---in a room that no longer exists---so that he doesn't have to heat his small apartment.

I felt distant from the characters; I don't know if this was a decision by Ms. Taylor or a failing on her part or mine. The hotel's long-term residents work at keeping a sense of distance from each other; perhaps it's the British stiff-upper-lip attitude of this part of society. But even family relationships are awkward and strained. I think Mrs. Palfrey makes the widower of their group a better person; growth is always possible.

I read the reviews on IMDB of the Joan Plowright movie; it was widely described as lovely. People who adapt Jane Austen's stories frequently make them sweeter. The book is not lovely; it is sometimes humorous, sometimes brutally honest but sympathetic, sometimes sad. My first reaction to the ending was outrage; I calmed down and now feel the ending is perfect. It's not only that we don't truly know anybody; we don't really want to know anybody.

(My family used to vacation at a residential hotel in Lakewood, NJ, in the 1960s.I remember the older women would sit by the deep end of the swimming pool and complain that the children splashed too much when they jumped into the water. And that they insisted the hotel's television show The Lawrence Welk Show on Sunday nights.) ( )
  raizel | Jun 12, 2023 |
Not your typical heroine, then. Mrs. Palfrey is a refined widow who needs a place to live but is not welcome or opposed to living with her daughter in Scotland. She settles up at the Claremont Hotel on London's Cromwell Road, where she joins a select group of senior citizens. On this group, Mrs. Palfrey used deception. A young writer named Ludo saves her when she tumbles to the ground in the street. Desmond, her grandson, has not come to see her at the Claremont. Ludo, who is also lonely and drawn to the excitement of pretending to be someone else, volunteers to portray Mrs. Palfrey's grandson. He can also use the chance to conduct some study. Mrs. Palfrey gains a grandson, receives a guest, and gains respect from the locals. How Mrs. Palfrey and Ludo handle the dangers and challenges that this deceit brings about, including a visit from le vrai Desmond, is one of the novel's charming elements. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 13, 2023 |
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. ( )
  BibliophageOnCoffee | 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (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)
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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 afternoon in January the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moves to the Claremont Hotel in South Kensington. "If it's not nice, I needn't stay," she promises herself, as she settles into this haven for the genteel and the decayed. "Three elderly widows and one old man who seemed to dislike female company and seldom got any other kind" serve for her fellow residents, and there is the staff, too, and they are one and all lonely. What is Mrs. Palfrey to do with herself now that she has all the time in the world? Go for a walk. Go to the museum. Go to the end of the block. Well, she does have her grandson who works at the British Museum, and he is sure to visit any day. Mrs Palfrey prides herself on having always known "the right thing to do," but in this new situation she discovers that resource is much reduced. Before she knows it, in fact, she tries something else. Elizabeth Taylor's final and most popular novel is as unsparing as it is, ultimately, heartbreaking"--

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