Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

Cassandra Dashwood, at the age of eighteen is quiet, bookish and, dare I say, a little dull. And, after her father’s recent death, she is alone in the world.

Fortunately Mrs. Turner, her former headmistress, takes an interest in Cassandra, and finds her a post: Marion Vanbrugh is a widower with a young daughter, Sophy, and he needs a governess.

It was so, so easy for Cassandra to cast herself and Jane Eyre and Marion as Mr Rochester.

But reality would prove to be a little different.

Marion was as quiet, bookish and dull as Cassandra. And he was weighed down by his family; an elderly aunt, who kept house quite ineffectually; a cousin, pregnant by her lover, not her husband; another cousin, who was charming but quite directionless; and Violet, his wife who had died but still had a presence.

And they all lived together, their lives stagnating in a crumbling mansion.

It was fortunate that Sophy was charming, and that her father took a great interest in his daughter and her governess …

This is a story with echoes of other authors: Jane Austen in the heroine’s name, and in more besides; Charlotte Bronte in the heroine’s position; Ivy Compton-Burnett in some of the dialogue and relationships; Daphne Du Maurier in the presence, and untold story, of Marion’s wife; Molly Keane in the crumbling mansion; Thomas Hardy in some of the darker moments; and maybe even more that have passed me by when I was caught up …

Not a satire, not a pastiche, but something rather different, and rather more interesting. Something I can’t quite explain.

A dark tale, but the darkness is offset by wry humor and dry wit.

Events unfold slowly, but every sentence brings a new insight, or a new development. There are small, subtle changes, and there is one sudden, tragic, utterly real event that will change everything

Everything is driven by the characters; characters I found difficult to like, but they were pinpointed so accurately that I was always fascinated. Because I understood their situations, their inner lives, their motivations, and what made each of them unique.

And there is a nicely drawn love song threaded through. Though there will not be happy endings for all …

Palladian is a strangely intriguing novel – just as good as I had hoped but not at all what I had expected.

5 responses

  1. I just read my first Elizabeth Taylor last week (At Mrs Lippincote’s) and I’m starting to see why everyone is so enthusiastic about her. I didn’t love the book but I was definitely intrigued by her style and am certain I will be reading more of her work soon.

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