Monday, July 2, 2012

Purveyors of Twaddle

Cover art is detail of a Portrait of Madame Lacroix by Giovanni Boldini
All right Luvvies, listen up.  This month I will be hosting the read-a-long of Angel in celebration of Elizabeth Taylor's centenary.  No, not that Elizabeth Taylor, the other one.  We have been reading her works in chronological order...well some of us have...I was doing quite well until April.  Anyway I do hope you can join us.  This week we are going to begin the book.  I have sneakily read it already in order to be prepared but am re-reading it and highlighting the bits I love.

Angel was published in 1957 but is set in 1900.  Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1912 (centenary - get it?) and died in 1975.  According to The Reader's Companion to Twentieth Century Writers published by the 4th Estate, she was the daughter of an insurance inspector and was born Elizabeth Coles.  She attended the Abbey School (Jane Austen went there too) and worked for a time as a governess.  She married the director of a sweet factory in 1936  and "devoted herself to domestic life and bringing up two children, making time away from this to write her novels and short stories." 

It is said that Angel is based loosely upon the lives of Marie Corelli and Amanda McKittrick Ros.  It is about a "preposterous popular novelist who believes every word of the drivel she writes..." (Reader's Companion again).  The novelist is called Angel Deverell - yes, you get the pun...she is no angel and she lies about playing the harp. 

Taylor is known for her fabulous characterisation, wit and, to my mind her greatest talent, cogency.  The Reader's Companion describes it as astringent writing.  

Angel does not write astringently.  She aches to be rid of her dreary suburban life.  She is a great fabulist.  On page one we are told "The girl had a great reputation as a liar..."  

The book is in 6 parts which roughly corresponds to the time we have to read it.  

Try and read the first part by next Saturday and let's talk about a few things then....

For example...have you read any Corelli?  Or McKittrick-Ross?

Do you read twaddle secretly?  I have read Fifty Shades of Grey for professional development as a trainee librarian you sixteen I devoured Harold Robbins books with BFF Judith - they were hidden carelessly under mattressees.... 

I am now trying to "devour" Corelli - Barabbas to be specific...not sure how far I'll get but I'll give it a go....

Have you ever written twaddle?  I did when I was 12 - I spun the globe, my finger landed somewhere in South America and my two lead characters were called Roderick and Anastasia - so there.

Has anyone seen the film Angel directed by Francois Ozon starring Sam Neil, Charlotte Rampling and Romola Garai?  I'm borrowing it from my local video store this afternoon.  

Have a think about the symbolism of the name Angelica (Orlando Furioso),  the meaning of Angel as messenger and why women in order to be attractive/sexy must be chained up or submissive.  Well this is a Virago Modern Classic discussion after all.  My husband is washing up as I write this blog....hrumph.

Ruggiero rescuing Angelica by Auguste Dominique Ingres

Other tidbits are that the book is dedicated to Patience Ross, Elizabeth Taylor's agent.  I do think this book is a book about writing - what we think of writers, how we use writers, how writers and publishers fare in the vicarious world of readers and their fancies.  

Here's another tidbit - Joanna Kingham says in her introduction to Complete Short Stories by Elizabeth Taylor recently published by Virago ...."One of the many things that I recall about my mother was her deep love for art and the great pleasure she took in visiting galleries and exhibitions.This pleasure is captured in another of her letters, written in 1965 "I nipped up to London, yesterday and bought the most beautiful picture at the Leicester Galleries.  It is by Elinor Bellingham Smith - a dead, still, frozen world.  I long for the exhibition to be over so I can have it home to stare at.  I was frightened at spending so much money, but didn't take a taxi afterwards.  Then this morning the cheque came for Tall Boy and I thought, "This is marvellous.  I am turning stories into pictures." 

The log by Elinor Bellingham-Smith
Was the painting something like the one above perhaps?  Great story huh?  

If anyone can enlighten me on the cover art for the VMC edition published 1984 I would be most grateful....who is Madame Lacroix is what I really want to know.... I liked the selection of Boldini's work on this blog...

Right that's enough from me.  What do you think?  When you share your thoughts on the book please do so via a Mr. Linky on Laura's Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.


Anonymous said...

Intriguing Alex - because what one person considers a purveyor of twaddle might be someone else's favourite author! I will try and put some thoughts together which will get across what I think without offending!!

Alex Daw said...

Yes it is tricky isn't it? How do you determine success? Reviews? Sales? Both? Either? Neither?

Anonymous said...

I've put together a few thoughts after reading your piece - very interesting!

Alex Daw said...

And what a great post it is ! Thanks for getting the discussion off to such a good start.

Laura said...

I've just finished Part I and enjoyed it quite a bit. I loved how Taylor let us know Angel wrote "twaddle," by having the publishers mimic her writing in their speech. And Angel is such a character! I admired her stubbornness with the publisher, refusing to edit the "racy" scenes. However, I think she's quite awful with her mother and aunt.

I definitely went through a "twaddle" phase in my teens but if I accidentally read such a book today, I just can't bear it.

Alex Daw said...

Dear Laura I loved that bit with the publisher too! I do believe I gasped out loud when I read that she'd said No!