Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont – book and movie

220px-Poster-mrspalfrey-w6a00d83451584369e20168eb45a184970c-800wiOrdering both the movie version and the book of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont offered me a double treat.  Joan Plowright beautifully brings the title character to life within the backdrop of scenes from London and the English countryside.  But reading the book by the British author Elizabeth Taylor, accurately described as a “soul sister” of Jane Austen and Barbara Pym by Anne Tyler, introduced me to a novelist new to me, and the happy accident of discovering a new line of books by a now favorite author.

Mrs. Palfrey finds renewed happiness in her last years when she meets a young writer in a “brief encounter” whom she adopts as her grandson.   When Mrs. Palfrey falls in the rain and is rescued by the young and handsome Ludo, they become friends and she introduces him as her grandson to the other residents of the Claremont, in the absence of her real grandson who has consistently failed to visit. Ludo and the crew of fellow geriatric residents of the Claremont see Laura Palfrey as herself, not as the burden of responsiblity that her real daughter and grandson dutifully bear.  The book is different, of course, and Taylor offers more background on Ludo’s life, but the same themes of old age, loneliness, vulnerability, and belonging run through both the novel and the film.  Hollywood reduced the story without sacrificing the flavor, and both are good in their own right –  but Taylor’s words are priceless:

“…as she got older, she looked at her watch more often, and that it was always earlier than she had thought it would be.  When she was younger, it had always been later.”

“The best {rooms are} kept for honeymooners, though God alone knew why they should require it.”

and the distressing last paragraph of the book:

“At the Claremont, they watched the Deaths column of the Daily Telegraph; but no notice of Mrs. Palfrey’s death appeared.  Elizabeth {her daughter} and Ian had decided there was no one left who would be interested.”

Other books by Elizabeth Taylor, the writer – not the actress:

  • Angel
  • In A Summer Season
  • Palladian
  • The Sleeping Beauty
  • View of the Harbor

Say Yes to the Dress

After the bride decides what to wear on her big day, her choice is forever immortalized in pictures – for better or for worse.  In the movies, the costume designer decides; Monica Corcoran Harel chronicles famous movie brides and their gowns in an article for the New York Times – “What Will Bella Wear”  – in anticipation of the big-screen bridal scene from the Twilight series.

On Screen Wedding Gown Pictures include: Julia Roberts with white gown flowing behind her as she rides off in a horse in “Runaway Bride”; Sarah Jessica Parker, outfitted in New York chic for “Sex and the City”; Elizabeth Taylor, demurely virginal in her long-sleeved, high-collared gown for “Father of the Bride”; and Grace Kelly, looking cool and regal in “High Society.”

That was the movies.  What did they wear at their own weddings?  Most wore traditional garb, but Sarah Jessica Parker wore black.


Two books with the same title offer pictures and some historical perspective: former fashion editor at Bride magazine, Maria McBride-Mellinger’s The Wedding Dress, and Oleg Cassini’s new book – The Wedding Dress.

Charlotte Brontë’s Birthday

Strong minded, independent, and talented women in the nineteenth century looked to writing not only as escape from their restricted lives but also as a means of income. Literary critic, Mary de Jong in her essay, notes that there were more women aspiring to be published than actually were – probably not much different from today.

Charlotte Brontë and her sisters did make it, after first publishing under pseudonyms, and today is Charlotte’s birthday.  If you cannot keep the sisters straight – Charlotte was the eldest of the three surviving sisters and here’s a hint – she worked as a governess for a while.  Ah – Jane Eyre – required reading for some; literary masterpiece to others.

The first time I read Jane Eyre in high school, Sister Mary Aloysius focused on the poor orphan who resisted temptation and saved her honor.  In college, the critical discussion tended to the Gothic elements, women with options, and the sexual undertones.

When the newest movie adaptation recently came out, I decided to watch the old Joan Fontaine/Orson Wells version again – as a base line for my “research.” Margaret O’Brien played little Adele with a convincing French accent, and Elizabeth Taylor ( I had not noticed her before)  as a young Helen who dies in the first reel.  The old black and white movie began by following the book’s plot – Jane as a polite young rebel, cast out to grow up in an austere orphanage. As she aged and became governess to sweet Adele, Joan Fontaine played her as bland and deferential – hard to imagine her having steamy sex with Orson Wells’  Rochester,  dangerous and scary.  This movie has Jane reading from Brontë’s book with lines appearing on the screen to let you in on Jane’s thoughts – made you want to read more.  If you’d read the book, you’d notice the missing parts.

The newest version has Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) – a prettier and bolder version of Jane, and Michael Fassbender as the brooding Rochester.  Judi Dench plays Mrs. Faifax as a maternal housekeeper, who seems to be watching out for Jane’s virtue.  With widescreen scenes of the moors, the story begins in the middle, with flashbacks to Jane’s childhood and life at Thornfield – an effective tool.  It’s been a while since I’ve re-read the book, but this version seemed true – scenes when Jane Eyre becomes Jane Heir are included, and when she returns to Thornfield, her costume reflects her new wealth.  Brontë’s ending is cut short by a final steamy Hollywood scene of lovers reunited, but, if you read the book, you know how it ends anyway.

If you are a fan of Brontë, you will not be disappointed.

Charlotte Bronte bio

Something About Horses

The Pi, Seabiscuit, Secretariat – literary horses that became stars on the big screen.  The Pi, played by a horse sired by Man o’ War, was Elizabeth Taylor’s prince charming in National Velvet; Jeff Bridges put his faith in Seabiscuit; and most recently Diane Lane in Secretariat.

When a book becomes a movie and the lead character doesn’t match my imagined vision, I am disappointed.  But this never happens with a horse.  Something about the greatness in the muscled flanks, the proud head, the fleeting speed or distinguished gait – thoroughbreds with heart may be the best leading actors and characters.


Related Post: Lord of Misrule

Geraldine Ferraro

When Elizabeth Taylor died recently, pages with her pictures, movies, and life blossomed in the media.  When Geraldine Ferraro died, she was only remembered as the first woman candidate for national office, but Joyce Purnick eloquently focuses on Why Gerry Ferraro Mattered in her New York Times essay.

A cynic, a fighter, a woman who knew herself and what she stood for – and a writer.  Before she started her 10 year battle against cancer, Ferraro wrote three books.

and later wrote the forward to