Virago Modern Classics is one of my favourite imprints. Celebrating the work of female authors, it includes the works of less well-known authors (how many of you have heard of Elizabeth Taylor? and no, I don't mean the actress, or F. Tennyson Jesse? - a brilliant writer on criminology but her fiction is now almost forgotten), as well as celebrating the famous (Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Atwood), and less well-known works by other well-known authors (for example, a novel by the travel writer and journalist, Martha Gellhorn, or adult works of fiction by the well-known children's author, Nina Bawden). There are even some notable novels that made a huge impact at the time, even if they weren't considered to be "high" fiction such as Valley of the dolls and Peyton Place. These were chosen, I guess, as much for what they said about the place of women in society at the time, as their literary merit.

Angel is the first work I've read by Elizabeth Taylor. Fans of Ivy Compton-Burnett or Barbara Pym will feel right at home here. Angel tells the story of precocious Angelica Deverell. Named after the daughter of the posh house in which her aunt is a maid, Angel decides she has had enough of school at the age of fifteen, so bullies her mother and aunt into letting her stay at home, and writes a pot-boiler which makes her fantastically wealthy.

A series of tawdry romances then follows, all of which are lapped up by an eager public. Some of whom genuinely love them as romances, and others who take a great deal of delight from laughing at them. Angel however is convinced that she is a classy writer (I'm sure that if she was alive today she'd be writing to the organizers of the Booker to complain about her non-inclusion). Romance then enters Angel's life when she falls in love with dissolute artist, Esme, who seems to be more interested in her money than in Angel herself. His sister, however, appears to be a victim of unrequited love, she clearly is passionate about Angel, but it is only following her death that Angel realises which of the brother and sister holds the most important part in her life.

Ultimately Angel is seen as a sad Miss Havisham figure, installed in the big house of her dreams, but with her novels forgotten, and no-one to care for her.

I did find it a bit of an odd novel. It was occasionally very funny, and I can believe that it probably does reflect Taylor's own worries as a young writer, thinking about fame vs literary success. Angel however is a very hard character to like, or to feel much sympathy for. And although Taylor herself has been compared to Compton-Burnett and Barbara Pym, more than anything else this novel reminded me of Great Expectations. The large house that is meant to make Angel happy becomes just as much of a prison as Satis does for Miss Havisham, while Angel's marriage proves to be as unhappy and illusory as Miss Havisham's ultimately unhappy engagement.While Angel's great expectations of herself although successful give her as little happiness as Pip's.

You may or may not like it, but Angel is a novel well worth reading. Well-written, very much of its time, and a reflection of perhaps what is many writers' greatest fear. What will their writing make them become? Ultimately I suspect they have as little choice as anyone in any job, inevitably life will change you. And Angel is always going to be exactly what Angel was meant to be.


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