The English author Elizabeth Taylor (1912–1975) is best known for not being better known. She was a member of that characteristically British tribe of mid-20th-century women fiction writers that includes E. H. Young, Rose Macaulay, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Bowen, Rosamond Lehmann, Mollie Panter-Downes, Sybille Bedford, Barbara Pym, and Edith Templeton. Such a large group necessarily contains a range of sensibilities, talents, and styles, though most of its members took as their subject the domestic lives of middle- and upper-middle-class women, and nearly all preferred wit and well-bred understatement to zeal or exploring Big Themes. Some were stellar, others high-second-tier. None had—or has—as passionate and select a coterie of devotees as Taylor. Her enthusiasts, driven during her lifetime and, most poignantly, after her death, have been as tireless as they have been unsuccessful in securing for her what her stalwart admirer Kingsley Amis called in 1976 “her due as one of the best English novelists born in this century.”
In the 1980s, the U.K. publisher Virago rereleased all of Taylor’s novels and short-story collections, bound in lovely floral covers and sporting introductions by celebrated British writers of the era, including her friend and champion Elizabeth Jane Howard, who hailed her as one of the 20th century’s most unfairly underread and underappreciated authors. But although those critics and writers who’ve read her nearly universally praise her, this big push, like previous efforts on behalf of Taylor’s reputation, failed to budge whoever or whatever is in charge of canonizing authors. Now Virago has doggedly reissued six of Taylor’s novels (Trafalgar Square is distributing the Virago volumes here), this time with snappy, mod covers and with new introductions by fancy writers such as Hilary Mantel and Jonathan Keates, all of whom extol her work and bemoan her neglect.