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At Mrs Lippincote's by Elizabeth Taylor
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At Mrs Lippincote's (1945)

by Elizabeth Taylor

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (19)  Dutch (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Set at the end of WWII somewhere in England, this debut novel looks at domestic life and the expectations on the women with respect to family and the home. Julia is a bored housewife who can’t seem to live up to her duties of mother and wife and wishes for more independence. In contrast, Eleanor, her husband’s cousin, longs for what Julia has. The novel deals with the tedium of everyday life and not much happens, making it a bit slow for me. ( )
  redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
“Society necessarily has a great many little rules, especially relating to the behaviour of women. One accepted them and life ran smoothly and without embarrassment, or as far as that is possible where there are two sexes. Without the little rules, everything became queer and unsafe.”

It is unclear precisely where and when Taylor’s first novel is set, but the reader knows it is somewhere in England and just before the end of World War II, as Roddy, the military-officer husband of 30-ish Julia Davenant—the central character—is apparently at no risk of being posted. Nevertheless, the war has had some impact. Julia and Roddy, their coddled and somewhat sickly son, Oliver, and Roddy’s 4O-year-old cousin, Eleanor, have had to move house. It’s a damp and gloomy place, apparently near a military base or headquarters, and it belongs to a Mrs. Lippincote. Julia is quite displeased with the situation: There is “no home of one’s own, no servant, no soup tureen, no solid phalanx of sisters; merely . . . an envious and critical cousin-in-law.” In fact, we are led to believe from the start that Julia is generally restless, dissatisfied, impulsive, and possibly spoiled.

Eleanor gets almost as much attention from the author as Julia, and makes an effective contrast. The Davenants apparently took her in when she had a breakdown, which first involved the losing of her voice and then alopecia: “one’s hair falling out in great patches” she tells someone, who’d probably prefer not to know. Eleanor is dissatisfied, too, but for different reasons from Julia. She’s a lonely spinster “in love with her cousin, for whom, as they say, she would have laid down her life with every satisfaction.” She’s certain that she would have made Rodney a far superior wife than the lightweight, capricious Julia. Before she meets Mr. Aldridge, a man who does carpentry lessons at the Montessori school where Eleanor teaches, she spends her evenings writing letters to a POW. She’s never met him, but represents him to others as “a dear friend” and in her correspondence addresses him as a lover. Once Mr. Aldridge, a communist-party member, is on the scene, however, Eleanor attempts to find community among the odd assortment of characters who regularly and informally meet above a nearby grocer’s shop. She doesn’t, of course, have any commitment to the cause.

Like many other of Taylor’s female characters—I’ve come to learn—Julia’s ideas about what life should deliver have come from novels. Ruined by reading, no wonder she’s dissatisfied and inclined to flirtation with her husband’s wing commander, coquettishly suggesting to the older man (who takes an unusual interest in her) that he’s a sort of Mr. Rochester figure. She also rears her precocious seven-year-old son on the literature she grew up reading, much to the irritation of her husband, who pronounces: “You and Oliver both read too much.” In addition, Julia has rather unusual friendships, one with ailing waiter; another other with a clergyman, a nephew of Mrs. Lippincote herself, and a third with a young corporal.

Mrs. Lippincote and her slightly mad daughter, Miss Phyllis, mostly hover in the background of the story. The latter sneaks into the house while the Davenants live there; she goes to to an upper tower room, where she fondles her mother’s ancient wedding dress and handles other fashion accessories of years gone by. (Jane Eyre is a touchstone text in this book and there are other gothic effects. There are also references to Freud and Virginia Woolf. The mix of these elements is a bit messy.)

Among the topics Taylor concerns herself with in this piece are the double standard in marriage and women’s roles in general. She’s also interested in the question of what people are prepared to put up with in close relationships. Often what they think they’ve kept hidden from others is not hidden after all.

Not surprisingly, Taylor’s protagonist can’t cook. She struggles with the upkeep of the large house, doesn’t compile lists to stay organized, and possibly likes to drink too much—or so says a “concerned” Eleanor to Julia’s husband. When he married Julia, Roddy, believed her “woefully ignorant of the world [and] . . . had looked forward, indeed, to assisting in her development. But she had been grown up all the time; or, at least, she had not changed. The root of all the trouble was not ignorance at all, but the refusal to accept [all the little rules pertaining to the behaviour of women].” Taylor is perhaps too staid a writer to create mid-twentieth century Nora Helmer. Julia might chafe at the constraints of her marriage, but she’s neither sufficiently troubled nor dynamic enough to leave it. She’s pragmatic. No Ibsenesque epiphany and dramatic departure for her; it’s quite enough to take a solitary evening walk from her dull and predictable existence. Nora Helmer probably returned to her “Doll’s House” the next day, Julia reasons, before she herself goes home to a husband exasperated by her late-night “cavorting about the countryside, going into pubs alone.”

Taylor wrote that she “was always disconcerted” when asked for her life story as “nothing sensational” had ever happened. She disliked travel and change of environment and apparently preferred “reading books in which practically nothing ever happens.” At Mrs Lippincote’s does not lack for small-scale incident. While there’s no truly dramatic action, there is a surprising twist—a revelation—at the end. Overall, the book is more a study of a small group of people, and an exploration of a marriage than a plot-driven piece per se.There is some quality writing, but also some oddly gory descriptions of butcher shops, and some muddy, confusing paragraphs that I didn’t know what to make of. Had I not committed to reading the book as a project, it’s possible I might not have completed it. Taylor was clearly still finding her way with this piece.

Rating:2.5 ( )
  fountainoverflows | Aug 22, 2018 |
A war-time marriage
By sally tarbox on 14 May 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
Set during the War, this novel focusses on an army officer's family and the - as it turns out- fairly short time they spend billeted in an elderly women's house. The whole account is seen from the point of view of the delightful, unconventional Julia; her comments and behaviour irritate husband Roddy, while Roddy's spinster cousin Eleanor, who lives with them looks on with a combination of superciliousness and jealousy. Although she, too, is living a life at odds with Roddy's standards, as she mixes with left wing colleagues... Completing the household is the fragile, bookish child Oliver.

Julia wins the friendship and affection of her husband's CO; she befriends a luckless gay restaurateur (surreptitiously, knowing Roddy's scorn and disapproval.) But for all her flouting of convention, Julia's standards seem higher than the more proper members of the family...

Absolute delight of a read; it made me think at times of Virginia Woolf, and even, at times, of Ivy Compton-Burnett in some of the conversation. ( )
  starbox | May 13, 2018 |
I've intended for several years to read Taylor, as she seems to be a rediscovered/overlooked author. She died rather young and has, of course, the same name as the screen star, an unfortunate reality in her lifetime. By chance my first sample of her work is her very first novel, from 1945 and set in wartime England. The story vaguely concerns the War, as Roddy Davenant is an RAF officer assigned a post distant from London, which results in he and wife Julie renting a house. Their marriage is a tetchy one, their personalities at odds. The drama is stoked by the presence of Roddy's cousin and housemate Eleanor, temperamentally more his match and a source of antipathy between the women. Eleanor falls in with some ersatz communists, inserting a few free-spirits into the narrative. I fairly liked this novel, the writing is exemplary. However, a big drawback for me was the author's characterization of their child, Oliver. The seven year old's depth of knowledge (reading Jane Eyre. REally?), his language, awareness, are of a child at least twice his age. Quite an annoyance. I will read "In a Summer Season", of which I own a copy, and give Taylor another go. (addendum: tried to read Summer Season shortly after this review - didn't care for it, abandoned) ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Aug 8, 2017 |
Surpisingly deep and moody with flashes of humor - the story of a family living in temporary housing during WWII. Early Elizabeth Taylor (her first novel, I think) but with trademark issues - misplaced affection, ambivilent parenting, and tons of domestic details. ( )
1 vote laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Taylorprimary authorall editionscalculated
Martin, ValerieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waterstone, TimIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Did the old man die here? What do you think?" Julia asked, as her husband began to come upstairs.
Though I never met either of them, Kingsley Amis introduced me to Elizabeth Taylor. (Introduction)
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Oliver Davenant did not merely read books. He snuffed them up, took breaths of them into his lungs, filled his eyes with the sight of the print and his head with the sound of words. Some emanation from the book itself poured into his bones, as if he were absorbing steady sunshine. The pages had personality.
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Book description
"When he had married Julia, he had thought her woefully ignorant of the world; had looked forward, indeed, to assisting in her development. But she had been grown up all the time; or, at least, she had not changed"
Mrs. Lippincote's house, with its mahogany furniture and yellowing photographs, stands as a reminder of the earlier securities. This is to be the temporary home of Julia, who has joined her husband Roddy at the RAF's behest; of their young son Oliver, and Eleanor, Roddy's cousin. Here Julia must be mother and above all, officer's wife, for Roddy, that "leader of men", requires that she fulfil her role impeccably. Julia accepts the pomposities of service life, but her honesty and sense of humour prevent her from taking her role too seriously. And in her easy friendship with the Wing Commander and her allegiance with the raffish Mr. Taylor, Julia expresses a sensitivity unknown to those closest to her. Others may chafe at Julia's behaviour, but it is they - not she- who practise hypocrisy.
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Mrs. Lippincote's house, with its mahogany furniture and yellowing photographs, stands as a reminder of all the certainties that have vanished with the advent of war. Temporarily, this is home for Julia, who has joined her husband Roddy at the behest of the RAF. Although she can accept the pomposities of service life, Julia's honesty and sense of humor prevent her from taking her role as seriously as her husband might wish; for Roddy, merely love cannot suffice--he needs homage as well as admiration. And Julia, while she may be a most unsatisfactory officer's wife, is certainly no hypocrite.… (more)

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