Elizabeth Coles Taylor

Elizabeth Coles Taylor Biography

Author (1912–1975)
Elizabeth Coles Taylor was a British novelist and short-story writer known for works like At Mrs. Lippincote's, Angel and A Game of Hide and Seek.


Born in Reading, England, on July 3, 1912, Elizabeth Coles Taylor was a librarian and governess before becoming a published author with her 1945 debut At Mrs. Lippincote's. She ultimately wrote a dozen novels and became known for her profound depictions of women, children and class, with her work known to a smaller circle of readers. A wife and mother of two as well, she died on November 19, 1975.


Elizabeth Coles was born in Reading, England, on July 3, 1912, to Elsie Fewtrell and Oliver Coles. The young Coles had writing ambitions from her youth, and later worked as a librarian and governess. She was also affiliated with the Communist Party at one point, eventually switching to Labour.

In 1936, Coles wed John William Kendall Taylor, the head of a confectionary company inherited from his clan. The couple settled in the county of Buckinghamshire, going on to have two children.

Debut Novel

In 1945, Elizabeth Coles Taylor published her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote's, which followed the title character's life as she lives with her husband during war. Taylor went on to write a total of 12 novels, including her debut as well as titles like A View of the Harbour (1947), A Game of Hide and Seek (1951) and The Soul of Kindness (1964). She also penned a children's book and an array of short stories; her work was published in the United States in magazines like The New Yorker and Harper's Bazaar.

Themes in Writing

Taylor's fiction, which featured quieter yet piercing modes of language, tended to focus on women and the constraints placed upon relationships and self-actualization by the demands of conventional, often well-to-do society. Having drawn comparison to author Jane Austen, Taylor also paid close attention to the lives and thinking of domestic workers and the working class, looking at the schism between rich and poor, and was able to convincingly showcase the inner and outer lives of children.

Though some writers and readers cite Taylor as one of the greats of 20th-century literature, some believe that she wasn't more popular because the sensibilities of her books weren't in vogue and she had no desire for publicity. Another theory offered is that she was eclipsed in name recognition by the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who started out in film around the same time as Mrs. Lippincote's release.

Death and Legacy

Taylor died from cancer on November 19, 1975. Several of her novels have been reissued under the Viraga Modern Classics imprint and New York Review of Books, and in 2012 Virago published Elizabeth Taylor: Complete Short Stories. Additionally, both Angel and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (a work shortlisted for the Booker Prize) were adapted to film in 2005 and 2009, respectively.

Said to be an intensely private person who didn't take part in literary scenes, Taylor destroyed much of her papers, yet researchers have still been able to locate details about her life. Long-form biographies include Elizabeth Taylor (1985) by Florence Leclercq and The Other Elizabeth Taylor (2009) by Nicola Beauman.

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