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A View of the Harbour (1947)

by Elizabeth Taylor

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4672939,822 (4.05)1 / 214
""Are we to go on until we are old, with just these odd moments here and there and danger always so narrowly evaded? Love draining away our vitality, our hold on life, never adding anything to us." Blindness and betrayal are Elizabeth Taylor's great subjects, and in A View of the Harbour she turns her unsparing gaze on the emotional and sexual politics of a seedy seaside town that's been left behind by modernity. Tory, recently divorced, is having an affair with her neighbor Robert, a doctor, whose wife, Beth, is Tory's best friend. Beth notices nothing--an author of melodramatic novels, she is too busy with them to mind her house or its inhabitants--but her daughter Prudence knows what is up and is appalled. Gossip spreads in the little community, and Taylor's view widens to take in a range of characters from senile, snoopy Mrs. Bracey; to a young, widowed proprietor of the local waxworks, Lily Wilson; to the would-be artist Bertram. Taylor's novel is a beautifully observed and written examination of the fictions around which we construct our lives and manage our losses"--… (more)
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» See also 214 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
I DIDN'T LIKE THIS. USUALLY ET SUITS ME. ( )
  mahallett | Apr 16, 2020 |
I think we need a word for books that work as a palate cleanser. I have read A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor before, along with all her other books and short stories. It is in many ways a small story. There is a street in a small coastal town that is slowly dying as the tourists no longer come to the wax museum and other attractions. There is Bertram, a retired seaman who has come to town to paint, fulfilling a lifetime ambition in practice if not in quality. There’s Tory, recently divorced and lonely. She is falling in love with her best friend’s husband and the feeling is reciprocal. Beth, the oblivious best friend and wife, is writing a book. And there are so many other intriguing and colorful characters.

Bertram’s arrival affects the community. He trifles thoughtlessly with the widowed owner of the wax museum. He declares himself in love with Tory. He spends hours at the deathbed of the village gossip. All these small things create an engrossing story that is rich in human detail and understanding.

So I should just start with A View of the Harbour is by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Taylor. Around 2011, in honor of her 100th birthday, several of her books were published and I discovered her for the first time. For me, she seems like the Jane Austen of the post-war United Kingdom. She wrote with the compassion, humor, and venom of Austen. Her characters are complicated and we can alternately feel contempt and compassion for them. She writes beautifully of people and place and creates memorable people. It’s interesting, too, to read her writing about writing. In A View of the Harbour Beth struggles to balance taking care of the house and her children with writing and resents, ever-so-politely that her work is not really important. She snaps one night and it feels so good, not just for the reader, but for her, too.

A View of the Harbour at New York Review Books
Elizabeth Taylor on Wikipedia
“Rediscovering Elizabeth Taylor” at The Guardian
“The Other Elizabeth Taylor” at The Atlantic

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2019/12/07/9781590178485/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Dec 7, 2019 |
Set in Newby, a small seaside town, just after the Second World War, ‘A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor is an ensemble novel focussing on a small cast of characters. There is love and betrayal, friendship and duty, loneliness and death. Not a great deal happens, in terms of action, but the shifts in relationships in this place where everything seems to revolve around the harbour are what kept me reading.
There are seven key characters whose lives impact on each other in positive and negative ways. A middle-aged doctor, Robert, and his wife Beth seem to get through life without taking too much notice of each other. Their neighbour, divorcee Tory, is Beth’s best friend and Robert’s lover. A fact Beth seems unaware of, though their elder daughter Prudence knows and resents. Invalid and gossip Mrs Bracey makes hell of the lives of her two daughters, Maisie and Iris, but somehow knows everything that is happening. War widow Lily Wilson lives above the creepy, dusty Waxworks Exhibition, she used to run with her husband. Like much of Newby the museum is closed for the off-season, waiting the new life, energy and money expected by the arrival of springtime visitors. Into this midst comes Bertram Hemingway, an out of season visitor, amateur artist, and something of a hit with the local ladies.
Each character is lonely, bereft, in a place where war is still evident; in absences, in debris washed up on the shore, in the general shabbiness of everything and everyone. Everything seems to happen slowly in Newby, like the lapping of the waves against the shore. Taylor introduces Prudence as she sits at her bedroom window looking out at her view of the harbour, “… various lights spread out over the cobblestones, the lamp above the door of this house, the doctor’s house, and the pavement shining red under the serge-draped windows of the Anchor; nearer the sea wall, lamps cast down circles of greenish light encompassed by blackness. And always there was the sound she no longer heard, since she had been hearing it from the beginning, water lapping unevenly against stone, swaying up drunkenly, baulked, broken, retreating.” Taylor uses this limited geography – plus the pub, the Braceys’ secondhand clothes shop and the museum – to show women surviving, often without men. First published in 1947, Taylor shows a community of women who get by because of, and sometimes despite, each other and in this it reminded by of Pat Barker’s Union Street, not published until 1982.
A View of the Harbour is both a bleak read and a funny one. I particularly enjoyed the letters written to Tory by her son, Edward, who is at boarding school; and the gauche awkward meetings between Prudence and her bookish beau Geoffrey.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Jun 13, 2019 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (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)
Quotations
'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.’

‘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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""Are we to go on until we are old, with just these odd moments here and there and danger always so narrowly evaded? Love draining away our vitality, our hold on life, never adding anything to us." Blindness and betrayal are Elizabeth Taylor's great subjects, and in A View of the Harbour she turns her unsparing gaze on the emotional and sexual politics of a seedy seaside town that's been left behind by modernity. Tory, recently divorced, is having an affair with her neighbor Robert, a doctor, whose wife, Beth, is Tory's best friend. Beth notices nothing--an author of melodramatic novels, she is too busy with them to mind her house or its inhabitants--but her daughter Prudence knows what is up and is appalled. Gossip spreads in the little community, and Taylor's view widens to take in a range of characters from senile, snoopy Mrs. Bracey; to a young, widowed proprietor of the local waxworks, Lily Wilson; to the would-be artist Bertram. Taylor's novel is a beautifully observed and written examination of the fictions around which we construct our lives and manage our losses"--

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"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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