A VIEW OF THE HARBOUR

Elizabeth Taylor & Roxana Robinson

Self-deception and betrayal are Elizabeth Taylor’s

great subjects, and in A View of the Harbour she

turns her unsparing gaze on the emotional and

sexual politics of a seedy seaside town that’s been

left behind by modernity. Tory, recently divorced,

depends more and more on the company of her

neighbors Robert, a doctor, and Beth, a busy author

of melodramatic novels. Prudence, Robert and

Beth’s daughter, disapproves of the intimacy that has grown between her

parents and Tory and the gossip it has awakened in their little community.

more …

Self-deception and betrayal are Elizabeth Taylor’s

great subjects, and in A View of the Harbour she

turns her unsparing gaze on the emotional and

sexual politics of a seedy seaside town that’s been

left behind by modernity. Tory, recently divorced,

depends more and more on the company of her

neighbors Robert, a doctor, and Beth, a busy author

of melodramatic novels. Prudence, Robert and

Beth’s daughter, disapproves of the intimacy that has grown between her

parents and Tory and the gossip it has awakened in their little community.

As the novel proceeds, Taylor’s view widens to take in a range of characters

from bawdy, nosey Mrs. Bracey; to a widowed young proprietor of the

local waxworks, Lily Wilson; to the would-be artist Bertram—while the

book as a whole offers a beautifully observed and written examination of

the fictions around which we construct our lives and manage our losses.

less …
  • NYRB Classics
  • Paperback
  • June 2015
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781590178485

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About Elizabeth Taylor & Roxana Robinson

Elizabeth Taylor (1912–1975) was a short-story

writer and novelist. Her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, came out in 1945.

She would go on to publish eleven more novels, including Angel and

A Game of Hide and Seek (both available from NYRB Classics). In 2014,

NYRB published You’ll Enjoy It When You Get There, a selection made by

Margaret Drabble of Taylor’s short stories, many of which first appeared in

The New Yorker.

Roxana Robinson is the author of eight works of fiction, including the

novels Cost and Sparta. She is also the author of Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life.

A Guggenheim fellow, she edited The New York Stories of Edith Wharton,

published by NYRB Classics in 2007.

Praise

A View of the Harbour may be Taylor’s most nuanced study of the push

and pull between domestic and artistic labor.”—Namara Smith, The New

Yorker

“Jane Austen, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen—soul sisters

all.”—Anne Tyler

Discussion Questions

How do Elizabeth Taylor’s descriptions of characters

watching the harbor town through windows mirror the

way in which Taylor structures and narrates the novel?

Bertram and Beth are both artists—one a painter, the

other a writer. In what ways do their attitudes toward

their work and “the life of an artist” differ?

A View of the Harbour is set in the years following World War II. Did

you feel that the post-war setting affected the mood of the novel?

Where in the novel did you find Taylor’s use of irony most effective?

On page 186, Beth contemplates the responsibilities of women versus

the duties of men. “‘A man,’ she thought suddenly, ‘would consider this

a business outing. But then, a man would not have to cook the meals

for the day overnight, nor consign his child to a friend, nor leave halfdone

the ironing, nor forget the grocery orders as I now discover I

have forgotten it. The artfulness of men,’ she thought. ‘They implant in

us, foster in us, instincts to which, in the end, we feel the shame of not

possessing’” (186). Does the above quote (and the novel as a whole)

give you a sense of the author’s thoughts on art vs. domestic life? Is

there any character in the book who seems to succeed at both?

In the introduction to A View of the Harbour, Roxana Robinson writes,

“A quietly subversive strain runs throughout [Taylor’s] work.” In what

ways did you find the novel subversive?

Do you find Robert to be a sympathetic character? Did he become

more or less so because of the way he handles the affair with Tory?

How does the harbor town itself act as a character in the book?

Prudence, often described as “poor Prudence,” is stuck between

school, and finding work and marriage. To what degree do you think

Prudence’s condition is influenced by her family, the time period in

which she lives, and her own personality?

What were your impressions of Tory? Did you sympathize with her

at any points in the novel? In what ways does Taylor make Tory a

complicated character? Did you find the return of her ex-husband,

Teddy, to be a satisfying end to the novel?