A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor


After reading The Sea by John Banville, I feared I might get into a reading slump. Luckily, Elizabeth Taylor saved me with her delightful book – A View of the Harbour written in 1947.

‘He pays me money, as he should and must. A man cannot be allowed to reserve a woman’s beauty for himself until it is gone, and then throw her on to the market again with nothing left to sell.’

So complaints Tory, a recent divorcee to old Bertram, a would-be artist, and a newcomer to this seaside town. Tory, we learn, lives next door to her best friend, Beth who is married to Robert, the local doctor. Beth is a novelist. Unfortunately, that makes Beth live in the world she created for her characters than her own reality. So she has no idea that Robert is having an affair with the ravishing Tory! But not everyone in the house is clueless as Beth. Prudence, Beth and Robert’s twenty-year-old daughter has a pretty good sense of what is going on.

Even though the story of Tory, Beth, and Robert is central to the plot, there are multiple other characters whose lives overlap with the trio. Just to name a few, there is Mrs. Bracey, the town’s busybody who likes to observe the comings and goings of her neighbors through her window. Then there is Lily Wilson, a young widow who thinks Bertram will be the answer to her loneliness, only to find out his interests lie on Tory. These characters (except Robert!) have been portrayed in a wonderful manner with genuine feelings, so I found them all to be quite compelling. Even Tory, despite her betrayal, was very likable to me due to her vibrant nature!

Apart from the plot, one thing I admired about the novel is Elizabeth Taylor’s writing. She describes her scenes thoroughly and they are so lovely to read.

Down below her on the broken pavement the puddles reflected the blue sky or the brown clouds. The baker’s van had dripped oil over the wet road and it lay there, a great iridescent splash of color like a peacock’s feather, bronze and pink and green.

And it is not only the descriptions of puddles and wet roads that blew my mind! I also marveled at Elizabeth Taylor’s warm sense of humor. This bit is on Guilbert and Yvette, felines at Beth’s household.

Prudence was in the kitchen cutting up lights for the cats. From time to time she rushed to the sink and retched, her face drawn, her eyes watering, and then bravely returned to the job. The cats sniffed delicately at the dreadful stench, their nostrils quivering, as at the bouquet of wine. When the dish was put down, Guilbert hunched up over it, chewing, while Yvette sat behind like a squaw, until he was filled. This always annoyed Beth, whose feminism was kindled at sight.

Having not read books by Elizabeth Taylor before, A View of the Harbour is a first for me. Yet, having read books by Barbara Pym and Angela Thirkell – her contemporaries, I must admit that I find Elizabeth Taylor’s writing to be much more enjoyable. So this won’t be the last of her books that I will be reading! 🙂


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