Elizabeth Taylor was a mid-twentieth century writer who was interested in the realistic depiction of ordinary lives, particularly those of the working class. In A View of the Harbour, she provides glimpses into the lives of residents along the harbor of a shabby seaside village in post-World War II England.
Newby has seen better days. The trendy tourist area has moved away around the point, and all that is left aside from a few houses are a wax museum, a pub, a small store, a closed-down fun fair, and a lighthouse.
The main characters of this novel are Beth and Robert, a married couple, and Beth’s longtime friend Tory, recently divorced. Beth labors under the delusion that she is observant, but most of her focus is on her writing, as she is an author. Toward her family she is myopic. She doesn’t see when her five-year-old daughter Stevie is manipulating her, and she pays very little attention to her older daughter, Prudence, or to her husband. All family drama provides fodder for her prose.
Most people in town seem to think Prudence is slow, but she has noticed something that others haven’t—that her father is secretly visiting Tory.
Tory is torn between her feelings for Robert and her loyalty to Beth. She mostly seems to be at loose ends, however. She still cares for her ex-husband Teddy and makes a point of stopping in to see him if she is in London. In Newby she flirts with Bertram, a retired naval officer with ambitions to be a painter but little talent, and dallies with Robert.
Loneliness is a strong theme of this novel. Tory is clearly lonely, even though she is beautiful and has no trouble attracting attention. The attention she wants, from Teddy, is not available. Lily is a recent widow who goes to the pub nightly for companionship. She is timid and terrified of the walk home in the dark. The proprietor of the wax museum, she is afraid to pass the figures on the way up to her flat. The brief attention she gets from Bertram ends unfortunately.
Maisie, the hard-working daughter of invalid Mrs. Bracey, manages to attract Eddie, the boarder, but Mrs. Bracey is immediately jealous of the distraction of Maisie’s attention. Mrs. Bracey is a complex character. We have sympathy for her because she is paralyzed, but she has a terrible tongue and is a vicious gossip. She easily finds a way to squash Maisie’s romance.
Taylor’s characters are too realistic to be entirely likable, although Beth is less at fault than Robert or Tory. I found Maisie and Prudence the most sympathetic of the characters.
Taylor is highly regarded but relatively unknown because she was overshadowed in her time by the more famous Elizabeth Taylor. Her writing is observant of the small details of life. Although there is not much humor in the novel, Tory’s letters from her young son at school are believable and funny. My overall impression of the novel is that the lives of its characters are as sad and dilapidated as the village.