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Likely Stories: Angel

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Obscure British writer spins a tale of a despicable character much more absorbing than imaginable. 

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I must confess: when I was in seventh grade, I had a tremendous crush on Elizabeth Taylor.  Molecules of that crush remain today.  When I first noticed a novel by Elizabeth Taylor, I quickly dismissed the writer as no relation to the violet-eyed goddess.  Then, the name kept popping up in odd places, a mention here and there, without any elaboration.  Finally, I decided to find out about Liz the second.  The first novel I could find was Angel.

According to the bio in the New York Review Books Classics, she was born in 1912 into a middle-class family in Berkshire, England.  She worked as a librarian and governess before marrying in 1936.  Nine years later, the first of her eleven novels appeared.  She also authored four collections of short stories.  Two of her novels, including Angel were made into films.  I just added that one to my Netflix queue.

Angelica Deverell is a thoroughly despicable character.  Most of the time, readers like to admire the main characters in the novels they read, but every once in a while, one comes along with such an absorbing story, we can’t stop reading. 

Angel lives with her mother over a shop in a poor section of town.  Angel’s Auntie Lottie is in service as a lady’s maid to a wealthy family nearby at Paradise House.  She offers to introduce her to service to help out her sister and “Angel stared at her.  ‘Do you really dare to suggest that I should demean myself doing for a useless half-wit of a girl what she could perfectly well do for herself; that I should grovel and curtsy to someone of my own age; dance attendance on her; put on her stockings for her and sit up late at night, waiting for her to come back from enjoying herself?  You must be utterly mad to breathe a single word of such a thing to me’” (46).  One must admire her spirit, drive, and determination.

Angel hears stories about Paradise House, the grounds, the peacocks, and the servants.  However, she will not visit there, because, Taylor writes, “My mother lost her inheritance because she married beneath her.  She can never go back, so don’t ever mention anything to anybody about Paradise House for that reason” (10).  Secretly, Angel has a growing obsession with the house.

At an early age, Angel decides she is going to become a famous writer.  She writes her first novel at about the age of 16.  She sends it off to the only publisher she has ever heard of – Oxford University Press – and quickly receives a rejection.  She denigrates the editors, and her wild imagination began to reshape her life.  Taylor writes, “Her panic-stricken face would be reflected back at her as she struggled to deny her identity, slowly cosseting herself away from the truth.  She was learning to triumph over reality, and the truth was beginning to leave her in peace” (15).

Angel’s dreams grew and expanded.  Taylor writes, “She had never had any especial friends and most people seemed unreal to her.  her aloofness and her reputation for being vain made her unpopular, yet there were times when she longed desperately, because of some uneasiness, to establish herself; to make her mark; to talk, as she thought of it, on equal terms: but since she had never thought of herself as being on equal terms with anyone, she stumbled from condescension to appeasement, making what the other girls called ‘personal remarks’ and offending with off-hand flattery” (16-17).

The prose is wonderful, the story absorbing, the characters all interesting.  I can’t wait to find more of her novels.  Angel, by Elizabeth Taylor.  5 stars

  Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!


Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.