NYRB: Elizabeth Taylor's "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont," with Michael Hofmann, Merve Emre & Gwendoline Riley

December 2, 2021, 6:00 PM

Join us for a discussion of Elizabeth Taylor's novel "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont," with Michael Hofmann, Merve Emre, and Gwendoline Riley. This program, presented as part of our ongoing series of virtual events with NYRB Classics, will take place on Zoom. Register here:

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A blackly humorous story of loneliness, deception, and life in old age by one of the most accomplished novelists of the twentieth century.

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.

Elizabeth Taylor (1912–1975) was an English short-story writer and novelist. She held a variety of positions, including librarian and governess, before marrying a businessman in 1936. Nine years later, her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, appeared. She would go on to publish eleven more novels, including AngelA Game of Hide and Seek, and A View of the Harbour (all available from NYRB Classics); several volumes of short stories, many of which are collected in You’ll Enjoy It When You Get There (NYRB Classics); and a children’s book, Mossy Trotter.

Michael Hofmann is a German-born, British-educated poet and translator. He is the author of two books of essays and five books of poems, most recently One Lark, One Horse. Among his translations are plays by Bertolt Brecht and Patrick Süskind; the selected poems of Durs Grünbein and Gottfried Benn; and novels and stories by, among others, Franz Kafka; Peter Stamm; his father, Gert Hofmann; and fourteen books by Joseph Roth. He teaches in the English Department at the University of Florida.

Merve Emre is the author of The Ferrante Letters and The Personality Brokers. She is the editor of The Annotated Mrs. Dalloway and is finishing a book titled Post-Discipline: Literature, Professionalism, and the Crisis of the Humanities. She is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. Her essays and criticism have appeared inThe New York Review of BooksHarper'sThe New York Times MagazineThe AtlanticThe London Review of Books and more. She is an associate professor of English at the University of Oxford.

Gwendoline Riley is the author of First Love, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Literature, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Gordon Burn Prize, and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Cold Water, Sick Notes, Joshua Spassky and Opposed Positions. In 2018, the Times Literary Supplement named her as one of the twenty best British and Irish novelists working today. Her new novel My Phantoms will be published by New York Review Books in August 2022. (Photo credit: Adrian Lourie)