Book creator

Elizabeth Taylor, Jim Harrison and other letters to the editor

For the editor:

I was interested to read Geoff Dyer’s review of “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (January 16) and its wonderful creator, novelist Elizabeth Taylor. He had a whole first life in England in the 1970s.

I read the book when it came out in 1971 and thought it had all the qualities that would make a funny, piercing, and deeply poignant television drama. I asked the BBC to take an option on the book. Ray Lawler did a good adaptation capturing the behavior, escapisms and apprehensions of the group of older women who lived at the Claremont, a residential hotel. And we left with the pitch-perfect Celia Johnson as Mrs. Palfrey, cut-glass Alan Webb as Mr. Osmond, and Joseph Blatchley as Ludo Myers, the much-loved fraudulent grandson.

Taylor came to a few rehearsals, a tidy woman in a tweed suit, with a shy and friendly manner, but by no means intimidated. She offered some notes on online readings, then sat down and had tea with Celia, who already made the character as unforgettable as the ill-married woman she played in “Brief Encounter.”

At the 1974 BAFTAs, “Mrs Palfrey” was nominated for Best Single Play and Celia for Leading Role. Celia was the winner, walking away, as they say on the track. (My friend Michael Apted won the other.) Then, after about a year, Celia, Elizabeth and I talked about a theatrical version, ideally for the Haymarket Theatre, one of the finest in London, and Elizabeth and I started work. She was a great collaborator and a slyly funny woman. She got a little harder to reach on the phone, then told me she was having cancer treatment. She died in 1975.

Perhaps you can divide writers by BSM and ASM – “Before Social Media” and “After”. The society and characters she wrote about were definitely BSM, but the human beings they were, accepting fleeting happiness, looking for something fixed to cling to, facing the inevitable, are like the rest of us.

Michael Lindsay Hogg
Hudson, NY

The writer is a BAFTA award winner for ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and directed the Beatles film ‘Let It Be’.

For the editor:

In response to the question Geoff Dyer poses at the end of his review of Elizabeth Taylor’s novel “Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont” (“Was there a better chronicler of English life as it passed in the 30 years after the end of World War II?”), I suggest a name: Barbara Pym.

Victory Van Dyck Chase
Princeton, New Jersey

For the editor:

Troy Jollimore’s excellent review of Jim Harrison’s “Complete Poems” (January 16) highlights the vigor and wisdom Harrison brought to his favorite themes: pleasure and death. Harrison was engrossed in his pursuits, and the literary world is much richer for his travels across varying natural topographies: Michigan, Montana, and Arizona, and for the many emotional perspectives he traveled with wisdom and humility. Harrison’s masterful diction could bring you completely into the moment as he brought to life the discordant physicality of a bitter cold river surprising the skin and stinging a sense of the divine.

Matt Tanguay
Ann Arbour, Mich.

For the editor:

I enjoyed Jollimore’s piece on the work of Jim Harrison. One can be grateful for the easy-to-understand nature of his poetry. The problem for me is that, like much of our current poetry, it might as well be prose. It lacks depth, magic, mystery and music. Yes, he has clarity and insight. But where is the poetry?

David Eberhardt

For the editor:

I, and the millions of other book review readers, recognize the prosecutor’s blatant speech when we read it. Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever been presented with a more hypocritical and jury-friendly statement than the quote offered by David Lat, reviewing Laura Coates’ “Just Pursuit” (January 16): “The pursuit of justice creates injustice. Before becoming a prosecutor, I never imagined that this could be true. Excuse me? Did the author fall into an amnesic coma after law school? First-year law students’ first reaction to criminal and constitutional law is horror at the depth of injustice. I respectfully suggest that if you choose to become a federal prosecutor and want credibility for your war stories, assume it.

Ilene Young
Langhorne, Pa.

Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson