(Warning! Possible small spoilers for earlier books!)

For the first week of our discussion of “In A Summer Season”, I thought it might be interesting to look at a theme which features in many of Taylor’s book – death, in particular the death of a character prior to the story commencing, the implications of which carry on through the book.

At the start of IASS, Kate Heron is married to a younger man, Dermot, her second husband. Her first, Alan, has died although we never learn quite what of, as well as her best friend Dorothea. In many ways, she seems to mourn the loss of Dorothea the most as, although there is reference to her grieving reaction on Alan’s passing, it is Dorothea (her best friend) who she harks back to throughout the novel. Alan is a somewhat shadowy presence whereas Dorothea takes on real shape and substance through Kate’s memories.

Taylor is in some ways quite casual about the death of her characters’ family members – at the beginning of “The Sleeping Beauty”, Isabella’s husband has just died, in “Palladian” Marion is a widower and the circumstances of his wife’s death are much revisited, and also in “Palladian” Cassandra’s father has just died as the novel begins

But it isn’t only the demise of characters prior to the book’s beginning – Taylor dishes out death throughout many of her novels, often just in passing (at the beginning and end of “A Wreath of Roses” for example) and without the pomp and drama some novelists might give it. However, the deaths are always essential, indeed pivotal to the plot. Her matter-of-fact treatment is quite shocking in some ways as the fatalities are often unexpected – Sophy in “Palladian”, Richard and the unnamed man in “A Wreath of Roses” and of course the climax of IASS. There is sometimes an element of pathos in her treatment, more often than not when a character’s parent passes on, but there is a lightness of treatment that is surprising for such a weighty subject. Interesting, the subject of death and loss seems to become more potent as Taylor’s novels progress and possibly reflect the change in a novelist’s subject matter and perspective as they age.

As for wreaths – well, it’s been mentioned on LibraryThing that they do seem to be a recurring motif in Taylor’s work (even featuring in one of her titles obviously) and yes, a wreath turns up in IASS.

Taylor has stated that she writes in scenes, which is an interesting admission and can be seen to be true in several of her novels. In fact, many could be translated quite well into the play form and so it may be that the “off-stage” death is a convenient device for her to use, in keeping with her economy of style. So – Elizabeth Taylor as casual dispenser of death – what do others think?

Advertisements