Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Blog – Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Recently I heard part of a discussion about books on the radio. The speaker concluded that rather than isolating you, a book brings you closer to understanding people. Only in a book do you know what the characters are thinking. Motives are very clear.
I mention this because I recently saw the movie version of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont written by Elizabeth Taylor. My local library did not carry the book, but it did have the DVD. The movie enchanted me. It is the story of a widow who has moved into a hotel in London that rents rooms by the month. The other long term tenants are also elderly individuals who are on their own after losing their spouses. By chance, Mrs. Palfrey meets a charming young man who is living on practically nothing while he endeavors to write his first novel. A warm relationship develops between the two of them as Ludo pretends to be Mrs. Palfrey’s grandson.
Just a few days ago, I found the book and immediately began to read it. The story and the characters are essentially the same as in the movie. However, when you are able to read about Ludovic Myers’ thoughts and motives much of the enchantment disappears. The movie with Joan Plowright as Mrs. Palfrey captures Taylor’s tenants at the Claremont so well. The movie is definitely a feel-good show. At the end of a long and productive life, Mrs. Palfrey faces loneliness without her husband. Instead she meets Ludo and develops a relationship that rescues both of them from isolation in a big bustling city.
The book is a more accurate picture of what old age can be. We get to see the small lies that sustain the dignity of the residents of the Claremont. Although there are few of them, it is important for them to save face among their peers. Mrs. Palfrey values Ludo’s friendship much more than he values hers. In reality his interest in her is for information to use in writing a novel about old age.
I turned 60 last summer. Reading about Mrs. Palfrey and the small group at the hotel, has reminded me of how challenging growing old can be. I hope that in my old age, I will somehow escape the long empty days that Taylor so vividly describes. The edition that I read has an interesting introduction by Paul Bailey. Since most of us will either have elderly relatives or be elderly relatives ourselves, I recommend what Bailey calls Taylor’s best novel. It is not an unkind portrayal of being old and alone and perhaps forgotten.

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