One of my colleagues passed me a copy of a novel by the late British author, Elizabeth Taylor. I had only heard of her American namesake, but this book turned out to be a gem that deserves a wider audience. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (Dial Press, 1971) is the story of a widow who moves into a London hotel, where several other elders have also taken residence, and who creates a deception in order to save face.
This sly tale speaks to nature of community and of family — the pretenses that hold them tenuously together and the realities that pull them apart. It is witty, wise and heart-wrenching.
The following passage will be familiar to Eden advocates, as it speaks to the problems that occur when care becomes a one-way street. Mrs. Post is waiting for her cousin to come by and take her out for a drive. She is late:
“Please. God, let her come soon,” Mrs. Post was praying. . . . Suddenly she said, “As
one gets older, life becomes all take and no give. One relies on other people for the treats
and things. It’s like being an infant again. . . .”
“But you’ve done the giving earlier,” Mrs. de Salis pointed out.
“Not always to the same people,” Mrs. Post insisted. . . . “Being taken out, I mean, as if one were a school-child.” Mrs. Post put her fist to her mouth. She thought
bitterly of sitting there, waiting for someone to turn up, out of the kindness of their heart. . . . “Of course it’s nice to be given a treat, but not if it’s always that way
Mrs. de Salis looked at the half-full sherry glass, as if estimating how much it was to be blamed for this turn in the conversation.
As it turns out, Mrs. Post is let down by her cousin, who calls to tell her the weather is wrong for a drive, even as the sun is emerging. An imbalance of care causes helplessness on the one hand, and a resentful feeling of obligation on the other. Great book!