Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Two Short Stories Dealing with what France meant to the English after World War Two - by Elizabeth Taylor

Two Short Stories Dealing with what France meant to the English after World War Two - by Elizabeth Taylor

“Oh, don’t bring me books about France,’ she said one morning to Mrs Dring. ‘I can’t bear anything about France. It’s worse than China. Why can’t people write books about their own country? Showing off.’ “ - from Simone by Elizabeth Taylor

Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

My readings so far for Paris in July 2020

1. Forain” - a set in Paris Short Story by Mavis Gallant
2. “Winter Rain” - a Short story by Alice Adams about an American woman living in Paris after World War Two
3. Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson
4. Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
5. “Sisters” by Elizabeth Taylor.
6. Madame de Mauves - a set in Paris Novella by Henry James - 1874
7. The Queen of Paris- A Coco Chanel Novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen - 2020
8. Government Endommagé - A Short Story about an English couple on vacation in France -  by Elixabeth Taylor - 1950
9. Hotel de Commerce -  English newly weds on honey moon in France - A Short Story by Elizabeth Taylor -

Hôtel du Commerce - first published in The Cornhill Magazine, Winter 1965/66

Government Endommagé was first published in The New Yorker October 17, 1950

Both works are included in The Complete Short Stories of Elizabeth Taylor

July 3, 1912 - Reading, England

November 19, 1975 -Penn, England

As far as I can see, Elizabeth Taylor (she was a bit embarrassed by her namesake and many in first hearing of her fiction say to themselves “I did not know she was a writer also”) never left England.

Hótel de Commerce takes place in Chartes, France, about fifty miles southwest of Paris.  It is home to the famous Chartes, Cathedral. An English couple are there on their honeymoon.  As name suggests, the hotel is a dreary kind of place.  The man was in France during the war and speaks French a bit.  In talking about an Elizabeth Taylor story, it is hard to resist quoting:

“So much about honeymoons was absurd – even little reminders like this one. And there had been awkwardnesses they could never have foreseen – especially that of having to make their way in a foreign language. (Lune de miel seemed utterly improbable to her.) She did not know how to ask a maid to wash a blouse, although she had pages of irregular verbs somewhere in her head, and odd words, from lists she had learnt as a child – the Parts of the Body, the Trees of the Forest, the Days of the Week – would often spring gratifyingly to her rescue.”

His wife seems a bit disappointed in The Cathedral, the husband sees town as full of Tourist traps.

Back in hotel, the walls are thin.  They overhear the couple next door having a terrible fight.  Any one married for a while both cringe at the story and smile maybe sardinically at next days result.  Hótel Commerce is really a good deeply insightful gem.

Gravement Endommagé gives us another English married couple, Richard and Louise.  Unlike the couple in the prior story, they are long past the honeymoon stage.  They are on Holiday in France, a trip they both hope will revitalize their marriage.

“The holiday was really to set things to rights between them. Lately, trivial bickering had hardened into direct animosity. Relatives put this down to, on his part, overwork, and, on hers, fatigue from the war, during which she had lived, after their London house was bombed, in a remote village with the children. She had nothing to say of those years but that they were not funny. She clung to the children and they to her.”

When we meet them, they took the boat over, they are driving into Paris.

Here is a painfully real matrimonial conversation:

“‘But if we are pushed for time … Why kill ourselves? … After all, this is a holiday … I do remember … There is a place I stayed at that time … When I first knew you …’ Only parts of what he said reached her. The rest was blown away. ‘You are deliberately going slow,’ she said. ‘I think more of my car than to drive it fast along these roads.’ ‘You think more of your car than of your wife.’ He had no answer. He could not say that at least his car never betrayed him, let him down, embarrassed him, because it constantly did and might again at any moment.”

In these stories we get a glimpse of how The post World War Two English Middle Class viewed France.

I have now read one novel and four Short stories by Elizabeth Taylor.  She published 12 novels.  I now have six of her novels as well as the Short Story collection.  I hope to read through this in 2020, none of the novels are very long.


Mystica said...

Those two marriage stories are certainly realistic and an eye opener!

Mel u said...

Mystica - always a pleasure to see you on my Blog. Thsnks for your comment

Buried In Print said...

It IS hard not to quote her all the time. And why resist? She has just a wonderful way of seeming to display all the most perfect though there's no better way one, no clearer way, one could say things.

The "showing off" comment made me laugh. She captures character so sharply!