Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Soul of Kindness

Having finished Jenny Uglow's superb The Lunar Men – the second of my lockdown big reads – I felt like something shorter and, yes, fictional. So, with little thought, I took up a book that had been lying around for some months, ever since I picked it up from a charity shop (I hope I can start haunting those again soon; a few seem to be reopening). It was Elizabeth Taylor's The Soul of Kindness, and I took it up with mixed feelings, as I've found some of her works (especially Angel) quite wonderful, and others disappointing. Happily, The Soul of Kindness (published in 1964) did not disappoint. It is essentially a very accomplished and all too believable study of a character who might be seen as a distant descendant of Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse, but without Emma's redemptive ability to learn. Flora – a tall, blonde and beautiful young woman, whom we first meet on her wedding day –has been all too tenderly reared by a doting mother, who has left her unable to comprehend the harsher realities of life, and unable to survive without the unquestioning adoration of all around her. In return for this adoration, she does her best (as she sees it) to help and encourage her friends to fulfil (as she sees it) their potential, and to be happy (like her). As she is quite lacking in insight, self-knowledge, imagination or empathy, her efforts are at best unhelpful, and at worst disastrous – very seriously so in one case. Even when disaster strikes, however, Flora learns nothing and remains convinced that she is self-evidently, what her devotees continue to believe her to be, 'the soul of kindness'. All this is done most subtly and effortlessly, and it takes a little while to realise just how good this novel is. By the end, though, there is little room for doubt.

4 comments:

  1. Browsing in my old diaries, I was startled to find that I read The Soul of Kindness in July 1982. I had entirely forgotten.

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