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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont


On a rainy Sunday afternoon in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moves to the Claremont Hotel in South Kensington. “If it’s not nice, I needn’t stay,” she promises herself, as she settles into this haven for the genteel and the decayed. “Three elderly widows and one old man . . . who seemed to dislike female company and seldom got any other kind” serve for her fellow residents, and there is the staff, too, and they are one and all lonely. What is Mrs. Palfrey to do with herself now that she has all the time in the world? Go for a walk. Go to a museum. Go to the end of the block. Well, she does have her grandson who works at the British Museum, and he is sure to visit any day.

Mrs. Palfrey prides herself on having always known “the right thing to do,” but in this new situation she discovers that resource is much reduced. Before she knows it, in fact, she tries something else.

Elizabeth Taylor’s final and most popular novel is as unsparing as it is, ultimately, heartbreaking.

On December 2, 2021, writers Michael Hofmann, Merve Emre, and Gwendoline Riley discussed Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont


As a writer, Taylor assiduously avoids sentimentality, even as the novel advances on its inexorable path toward death. It’s a sign of her total authorial control that she manages to convey the pathos of old age without veering from the comedy of her characters or the intensity of the object world she has created.
—Emma Fajgenbaum, The Monthly

Taylor is especially brilliant on the battles waged by an aging person: against revolving doors, slippery surfaces and time itself.
—Molly Young, The New York Times

It’s funny, compassionate and searing on the subject of loneliness in later life.
—Sarah Gilmartin, The Irish Times

Long described as underrated. . . Taylor has increasingly been acknowledged as a major writer. . . A comic novel about the elderly, middle-class residents of a London hotel. . . [it] offers an unsparing, materialist critique of post-imperial Britain. . . Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, in other words, isn’t simply the story of one woman’s crisis; Mrs Palfrey’s condition is the condition of England.
—Ryan Napier, Jacobin

Elizabeth Taylor's exquisitely drawn character study of eccentricity in old age is a sharp and witty portrait of genteel postwar English life facing the changes taking shape in the 60s . . . Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is, for me, her masterpiece.
—Robert McCrum, “The 100 Best Novels,” The Guardian

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