Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (1957)

A little outside our collection years, this one, but such a good novel. I’m sure many of you will have read it, but for those who haven’t I hope this review from a member of our reading group will encourage you to try it. The novel is partly based on the Victorian writer Marie Corelli – you can get a taste of her writing from this review of her 1895 novel The Sorrows of Satan in this review by another member of the reading group.

Review by Helen N:

Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) is a writer who uses language in a precise and illuminating way and writes about the lives of small families or groups of people, with detail that is both amusing and compassionate. In every way she is the complete opposite of Angel, the centre of this book (I can hardly say heroine because Angel is dissected as carefully as a laboratory specimen and displayed in all her selfishness and delusion).

“Angel” is unusual among her books and is written with a restrained glee. Angel is Angelica Deverell, a child who is inspired by her aunt’s reports of the grand Paradise House where she works and out of these details begins to weave her romance stories. Angel begins writing and is successful in the Edwardian era – after the First World War, things begin to fall apart.

Not only is Angel a fearsomely dreadful writer, she is also a monster of selfishness and egotism. She destroys everyone who enters her life. She is a Monster and yet, such is the genius of Elizabeth Taylor, we somehow feel sorry for her. As her success dwindles, she also gradually loses anyone who has helped her. Her husband, an artist who she has almost bullied into marrying her, is injured in the war and eventually dies in mysterious circumstances which Angel believes are accidental but the reader suspects point to suicide. She lives to the end  with Esme’s sister, Nora, who having endured bullying and humiliation from Angel, survives her, being her heir.

There is so much detail of Angel’s dominating ways, her charity which is unwanted, her misunderstanding of the world outside her sheltered life that it is impossible to single out quotations – one would end up with the whole book,

I can only say “Read it  and enjoy the tragi-comical monster that is Angel.”

4 thoughts on “Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (1957)

  1. This was a very popular title in our LibraryThing Virago group read-along last year. The wonderful, larger than life character of Angel is certainly unforgettable!

  2. I feel I ought to read a Marie Corelli to fully understand what Taylor was trying to do! Maybe next month. This month we are reading Ethel M Dell, and I feel I could definitely get into the melodramatic romance mode.

      • It most certainly does! Dell is amazing! Talk about narrative drive – and continual violence! It is all extremely unwholesome, yet dressed up with religious moralising. Fascinatingly twisted.

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