‘The Letter Writers’ by Elizabeth Taylor

Taylor, Elizabeth 1958

The Letter Writers by Elizabeth Taylor, 1958

The magic trick:

Demonstrating the power of the controlled, edited life narrative versus real life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way people control the narrative of their lives. (It helps that my girlfriend is active in oral history work.) Basically, everyone lies. We reshape memories. We organize events into certain ways to produce certain effects. Only sometimes do these stories reasonable reflect the truth. “The Letter Writers” isn’t strictly about this notion, but it certainly touches upon similar issues.

In the story, Emily has crafted a completely controlled narrative about her life and her village throughout her longtime correspondence with Edmund. The situation seems to suit both of them very well. Of course, her picture of village life is revealed as slightly less than accurate during Edmund’s first in-person visit. His visit isn’t a complete disaster but nor is a rousing success. Sometimes life works better when it’s edited and twisted up in wit first. And that’s quite a trick on Taylor’s part.

The selection:

So far she said nothing to which he could find any reply. Emily stood helplessly beside him, saying nothing. She was not wringing her hands but he thought that if they had not been clasped so tightly together that was what would’ve happened.

“You’ve really kept Mr. Fabry in the dark, Emily” said Mrs. Waterlow.

“Not so you to me,” Edmund thought.

He had met her many times before in Emily’s letters.

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