Taylor’s novels often portray the flaws in a marriage and betrayal by one or both partners. In fact, marriage (or the lack of it) could be said to occupy a prominent position in all of her books I have read so far. “At Mrs. Lippincote’s” is a study of a marriage and the unfaithfulness of one (or both?) of the partners; “Palladian” shows the deceptions that can take place and the search for marriage by a young girl; “A View of the Harbour” once again has a central marriage where there is unfaithfulness and studies the effects of that betrayal; the compromises made and emotional anguish endured by one women at the hands of her insenstive husband feature in “A Wreath of Roses”, whilst another character in search of companionship has a narrow shave at the hands of a rather dodgy male; “A Game of Hide and Seek” has marriage for security and not love, and how this can be undermined by a real passion; Taylor’s view of marriage seems to become a little skewed by the time of “The Sleeping Beauty” as she deals with a partnership in name only and bigamy; and in “Angel” our monstrous lady novelist pins down and marries her reluctant husband who once again betrays her.

All of these marriages have flaws and it is interesting to speculate whether Taylor has a jaded view of the state of matrimony. Of course, daily compromises are necessary in any relationship and more often than not these are made by the woman. However, it is in IASS that the subject of sex in a relationship comes very much to the fore. In Taylor’s early books the subject was not really raised, but by the time of “The Sleeping Beauty” she begins to address the physical side of marriage. In fact, it becomes pivotal to the plot during IASS as much of the debate fuelled by the book is based on how much of a marriage can be made when the attraction and relationship is only a physical one?

Dermot and Kate’s marriage is based almost entirely on the physical and although we are led to believe they really love each other, it does seem that this is something of a rocky foundation. Their interests are very different – Kate loves music and books whereas Dermot likes fast cars and going to the pub and, well, just drinking! It’s Kate who is making the compromises (although touchingly, at the end of the story, Dermot is revealed as having been trying to read Kate’s favourite book, presumably to build bridges and try to understand her more). But Charles, who is an old friend and of the same age/generation as Kate, has much more in common with her and we end up speculating on how much more important kindness and a meeting of minds is in a marriage (as opposed to just sex).

Bound up in all this we have to consider society’s attitudes to an older women in a relationship with a younger man. Remember that the book was published in 1960 – we still joke about ‘toy boys’ nowadays and so how much more gossip-worthy would Kate and Dermot’s relationship have been 50-odd years ago. In addition, we sense a hint of guilt from Kate, as she knew Dermot while Alan was still alive and it is implied that there was a little flirting as she laughed a lot around him. It may be that however much Kate loved Alan, he was (whisper it) a little dull and so marrying Dermot was actually quite thrilling. Certainly, there is no doubting the physical attraction they have for each other.

Contrasted with the happy couple and their sexual and marital bliss, the other characters have a variety of emotional states. Spinsters Ethel and Gertrude can be viewed as somewhat barren individuals, but Ethel, for all her lack of actual experience, is quite perceptive about relationships and is there for Kate when she needs comfort. This may be because Ethel lives within a family setting whereas Gertrude does not.

Minty, the other most sexually defined character in the book, floats through people’s lives in a devastating fashion, unaware or unconcerned about the effect she has on those around her. Her sexuality is almost impassive in contrast to Dermot and Kate’s intensely physical relationship. Lou’s unrequited love for Fr. Blizzard is the only pure, untainted passion and so as she realises, she is the one whose love survives and is herself intact at the end of the book.

So is the message here that too much sex is a bad thing? Is Taylor saying that the physical side of any relationship is over-rated and that it has to be balanced by an emotional and intellectual compatibility? “They all live under a strain these days, the young people. Overstimulated. You can’t pick up a newspaper without seeing some minx’s half-naked bust. The great mammary age I call it.” So speaks Gertrude, and you can’t help thinking how little has change since then except to give even more importance to the physical aspect. It may be that the book is striking back in a small way against the changes in society that Taylor perceived taking place around her. Let’s hear what other readers think!

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