Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971)

by Elizabeth Taylor

In Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont Elizabeth Taylor has managed to write a novel about the loneliness of old age that is sweet rather than sad.

The widowed, genteel Laura Palfrey moves into the Claremont, a London hotel that, like its long-term residents, is past its prime. The elderly boarders, all but one female, are eccentric, not very likable characters who have nothing better to discuss than the dinner menu. Visitors are much desired and rare. Mrs. Palfrey has told the others she is expecting to see her grandson Desmond, her only relative in London. When Desmond doesn't appear as hoped for, Mrs. Claremont schemes to save face. She asks a young man who had come to her rescue when she'd fallen on a sidewalk to pose as Desmond. An aspiring writer who senses that the hotel residents might provide material for his fiction, Ludovic Myers readily agrees to come to dinner at the Claremont.

As Ludo and Mrs. Palfrey continue meeting, they develop a bond based on real respect and regard. Mrs. Claremont comes to care for Ludo more than her own blood, and Ludo not only revels in the nurturing he missed from his own family but also dotes on her.

The story is made sweeter by the likableness of the two main characters. Mrs. Palfrey is the most normal, decent, and sensible old resident at the Claremont. Ludo is a genuinely kind, open-minded young man. They find that love can come in many forms and across differences of age and background.

Taylor is considered by some an unsung master of 20th-century British literature, a "domestic" writer of elegance, subtlety, and wit in the tradition of Jane Austen. She published a dozen novels and several collections of short stories.


Home               My reviews               My friends' reviews