by Elizabeth Taylor
It's the turn of the 19th century and fifteen year old Angel Deverell lives “over the shop” with her widowed mother. Her mother does everything for Angel who won’t lift a finger and who would not be seen dead serving in the shop. She is sent to a good school with financial help from Aunt Lottie and the two women are delighted with Angel’s academic abilities; especially her talent for French. They feel hopeful that she will acquire a “good position”. But Angel has pretentions - she wants to be a writer. This sets her mother in a spin: “It has seemed to her such a strange indulgence, peculiar, suspect. There had never been any of it in the family before; not even on her husband’s side where there had been one or two un-hinged characters…”
Drawing on Aunt Lottie’s experience at Paradise House, where she is ladies maid to the enigmatic “Madam”, Angel pens The Lady Irania a novel about upper class society - a subject of which she knows nothing. After many rejections Theo Gilbright, of the publishers Gilbright & Brace, finally takes on the indefatigable Angel, even though his partner Will Brace counsels against publishing (in language that wouldn’t be out of place in one of Angel’s books) “ these iridescent pages of shimmering tosh”. Will Brace is proved wrong, and Angel becomes a bestselling author.
Loved by her public, mocked by the critics, Angelica Deverell (for that is how she is now known) becomes rich and famous - a condition that Angel never doubted would be hers. Her private life, meanwhile, lacks the passion of her novels and when love does finally come she realises that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
ANGEL is a tale of hubris (a word I feel she would have liked) except that Elizabeth Taylor is kind to her protagonist and, as well as presenting us with an arrogant, selfish and unempathetic Angel, she let us into her innermost hopes and dreams and what could have been written as a satirical, cautionary tale becomes humane and convincing.
Elizabeth Taylor was born in Reading in 1912. Her first novel was published in 1945 and eleven more were to follow as well as numerous short stories. ANGEL was written in 1957. Elizabeth Taylor died in 1975.
Published by Virago - 252pp