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A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor

A View of the Harbour (1947)

by Elizabeth Taylor

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3942640,551 (4.01)1 / 205



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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Rating: 3.5

”not the scene itself but the crystallization or essence of it”

This quiet but engaging and quickly-read mosaic of a novel, set shortly after World War II, focuses on seven characters (and touches on half a dozen secondary others) who reside in Newby, a dying English seaside town. The characters range in age and perspective: a retired sailor in his sixties who takes a room at the local pub, pretends to have painterly aspirations, and insinuates himself into the lives of a number of Newby’s women; a married, middle-aged doctor and the beautiful, idle divorcee he’s in love with (his wife’s childhood friend); the doctor’s daughter, an odd girl believed to be “slightly touched”, who is nevertheless onto her father’s infidelity; the doctor’s wife, a writer so immersed in her fictional world that she’s oblivious to what’s going on right under her nose; a lonely young war widow who fears the dusty figures of famous personages in the waxworks she and her husband used to run; and, finally, a physically incapacitated, tyrannical elderly woman who runs her adult daughters ragged and lives to gossip.

All of Taylor’s characters are lonely, disappointed, or damaged in some way, but she suggests that—for a couple of characters at least—artistic endeavours can provide fulfillment and purpose. For the most part, characterization is convincing and nuanced, but Taylor’s portrait of the sailor with artistic pretensions and the doctor’s “not quite right” daughter do not fully convince. Furthermore, her observations on women’s limited lot (delivered by characters) can be heavy handed. All the same, for a work originally published in 1947, A View of the Harbour, with its ever-shifting points of view, is strikingly progressive in style and sentiment. It is not at all surprising that the New York Review of Books should have chosen to reissue it. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Jul 22, 2018 |
Well written story of a cast of characters living in a dying English fishing village. Each of the characters is believable, full of anxieties and faults, trying their best to find their way. ( )
1 vote snash | Jul 1, 2017 |
“No gulls escorted the trawlers going out of the harbour at tea-time, as they would on the return journey; they sat upon the rocking waters without excitement, perching along the sides of the little boat, slapped up and down by one wake after another. When they rose and stretched their wings they were brilliantly white against the green sea. as white as the lighthouse.

To the men on the boats the harbour was at first dingy and familiar, a row of buildings, shops cafe, pub with peeling plaster of apricot and sky blue; then as boats steered purposefully from the harbour-mouth to sea, houses rose up in tiers, the church-tower extricated itself from the roofs, the lettering on the shops faded, and the sordid became picturesque.”

Those words were penned by Elizabeth Taylor, and she could so easily have been writing about my own harbour-town, but I was swept away to another harbour-town in another age. To Newby, a small town on the south coast just after the war.

Bertram Hemingway, a retired naval man, was a newcomer to the town. He intended to spend his days painting views of the harbour. He enjoyed the company of women, he enoyed being involved in the life of the town, but he gave no thought to the possibility that some would read much more than he meant into the interest he showed.

That was what happened to Lily Wilson, a shy and lonely war widow, struggling to cope with her responsibilities as proprietor of the town’s waxworks museum. Of course the was going to read things into the attentions of a man who bought her drinks, walked her home, sympathised with her.

But Bertram was more interested in the rather more sophisticated Tory Foyle. She and her husband had moved into their holiday cottage during the war, and when they divorced Tory chose to stay when her former husband returned to their home in London.

Tory was flattered by the attention, but she was caught up in an affair with, Robert Casubon, the town doctor. They had known each other for years – they were neighbours, and Robert’s wife, Beth, was Tory’s best friend – but, quite unexpectedly, something had somehow changed between them.

Beth hadn’t noticed. She was caught up in the writing of her new novel, and rather more interested in the characters in her head than her husband and daughters. She loved her family, of course she did, and she did what she should, but she felt detached and guilty at the way her work called her away from them.

But Prudence, the elder of those two daughters, had noticed.

And maybe Mrs Bracey would notice too. She observed the comings and goings of her neighbours so carefully, she loved to gossip., and her failing health often gave occasion to call out the doctor.

These, and other lives, go on behind the closed doors of this faded seaside town. And they are painted so beautifully, with understanding, with wit, and with wonderful clearsightedness.

Elizabeth Taylor’s characters are not, in the main, sympathetic, but they are intriguing. Flawed human beings, each one utterly real, and each one a product of a history that is not entirely revealed and would maybe explain much.

And so I was fascinated as I read of their overlapping lives, set out so beautifully. Wonderful prose carried me along, and so often I was touched by moments of pure insight and moments of vivid emotion.

I felt Lily’s pain as she realised she was not going to be rescued from her lonely life. I understood Prudence’s resentment as she had to fetch her father from Tory’s drawing-room when a patient called. And I smiled at the wonderful letters Tory received from her son, away at boarding school.

What didn’t ring quite so true was the portrayal of the town. There is a camaraderie and spirit among seafaring folk that spreads through seaside towns. And there are many buildings and activities around harbour-towns that you don’t find in other towns by the sea. All of this was missed, and the view was that of a visitor, not a resident.

But maybe that was deliberate; because if there is a theme running through this novel it is that we so often see a less than complete picture, or a distorted view, of the world around us.

And as a study of human lives, in showing that, this novel works quite beautifully. ( )
1 vote BeyondEdenRock | Dec 1, 2016 |
I'm not going to go on and on about Taylor- suffice to say that I love her books and i'm always happy when reading one. I wish she was better known. ( )
1 vote laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
It took a while for me to get into this book (was that me or E.Taylor?), but as it went on I was more and more drawn into the story and the characters. There's nothing like a good bit of death and dying to attract my interest! Sure, Taylor is very much a product of the mid-20th century, and I suppose the book suffers a little with that handicap, but there's lots of good stuff here that transcends that temporal limitation. I find Taylor to be at her best when describing the subtle aspects of interactions between people and the relationship between their thoughts, their spoken language, and their behaviour. She's acutely aware of the possible discrepancies between these things. ( )
1 vote oldblack | Apr 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
This is another book like The Tamarack Tree and Give Us Our Dream where the threads of a number of lives are woven together to make a unified whole. The setting of the book is a tiny harbor town in England, and the fascinating story is concerned with family and with human relationships, especially between men and women. The characters are of all ages, ranging from a young child to an old woman, everyone a masterpiece of delineation. Quite aside from the sureness of Mrs. Taylor's characterization, and a plot which is absorbed in how a selfish and attractive woman can work havoc on all around her, the book is studded with wonderful comments and observations on life and people. It is clever, apt and feminine in every sense of that word.
added by KMRoy | editWings - The Literary Guild Review (Jan 1, 1948)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Taylorprimary authorall editionscalculated
Robinson, RoxanaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waters, SarahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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No gulls escorted the trawlers going out of the harbour, at tea-time, as they would on the return journey; they sat upon the rocking waters without excitement, perching along the sides of little boats, slapped up and down by one wake after another.
A View of the Harbour was Elizabeth Taylor's third novel, published in 1947 when Taylor was thirty-five. (Introduction)
'I have been reading Donne as I sat here waiting,' said Geoffrey. 'Oh, have you?' Prudence murmured warily. A dreadful fear that he was going to read some poetry aloud to her, confused her, and she could think of nothing to stave him off. 'But it is too dark,' she decided. 'Unless he has a torch. Or' (and this was so much worse) 'knows it by heart.' 'I don't like poetry,' she said roughly. Geoffrey chuckled appreciatively, as if she had made a little joke. 'But I don't!' she insisted.
Up at her window, and in some discomfort (for her shoulder, her chest ached), Mrs. Bracey sat in judgment.  Guilt she saw, treachery and deceit and self-indulgence.  She did not see, as God might be expected to, their sensations of shame and horror, their compulsion towards one another, for which they dearly paid, nor in what danger they so helplessly stood, now, in middle-age, not in any safe harbour, but thrust out to sea with none of the brave equipment of youth to buoy them up, no romance, no delight.
‘He is rather big. An ordinary sort of boy, shy and fashionable.’


‘I mean his literary tastes are all so up-to-date, loving the right ones – Donne and Turgenev and Sterne – and loathing Tolstoi and Dickens. At any moment he will find himself saying a good word for Kipling. He has already said one for Tennyson.’
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Book description
"Are we to go on until we are old, with just these odd movements here and there and danger always so narrowly evaded? Love draining away our vitality, our hold on life, never adding anything to us?" Passions intrudes into the dull, predictable world of a faded coastal resort when Tory, recently divorced, begins an affair with her neighbor Robert, the local doctor. His wife Beth, Tory's best friend, writes successful and melodramatic novels, oblivious to household chores and the relationship developing next door. But their daughter Prudence is aware and appalled by Robert and Tory's treachery. The resolution of these painful matters is conveyed with wit and compassion, as are the restricted lives of other characters: the refreshingly coarse Mrs. Bracey, the young widow Lily Wilson and the self-deceiving Bertram. In this enchanting and devastatingly well-observed novel, first published in 1947, Elizabeth Taylor again draws an unforgettable picture of love, loss, and the keeping up of appearances.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860685438, Hardcover)

The war over, retired naval officer Bertram coems to a quiet fishing village intending to paint. Curious, and with that strangely unfortunate capacity to inflict lasting damage while trying instead to do good, he begins putting his nose into every aspect of the picturesque backwater. There's a lot going on beneath the quiet surface: petty divorcee, Tory, is painfully involved with the local doctor - who also happens to be married to her best friend, Beth. And Beth continues to churn out successful melodramatic novels, oblivious to the relationship developing next door. Meanwhile, Lily Wilson pins vain hopes on Bertram's careless kindness.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:35 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In the faded coastal village of Newby, everyone looks out for ?and in on ?each other, and beneath the deceptively sleepy exterior, passions run high. Beautiful divorcee Tory is painfully involved with her neighbor, Robert, while his wife Beth, Tory's best friend, is consumed by the worlds she creates in her novels, oblivious to the relationship developing next door. Their daughter Prudence is aware, however, and is appalled by the treachery she observes. Mrs. Bracey, an invalid whose grasp on life is slipping, forever peers from her window, constantly prodding her daughters for news of the outside world. And Lily Wilson, a lonely young widow, is frightened of her own home. Into their lives steps Bertram, a retired naval officer with the unfortunate capacity to inflict lasting damage while trying to do good.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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