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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Will anyone called VESEY please stand up?

As some readers of this blog may have picked up, I really love names. I like to know why names were given to people and where they come from. If you had occassion (and I don’t suggest that you would) to give me a cheque, I would almost certainly take the opportunity to ask you what your middle names are.

Thus, in reading Elizabeth Taylor’s 1951 novel Hide and Seek, I spent a good deal of time pondering on the main male character’s name. Who ever heard of a man called Vesey? I certainly haven’t. I don’t even know how to say it. I wonder whether it is “vee-see” or “ve-see” or what. The name, although it is not really important speaks of the authenticity of the book. The characters are not made to please you, but readin of them one gets a powerful sense that they are real.

The novel concerns the love between Harriet and Vesey. Harriet and Vesey belong to the generation of people born in the early 1920s. In both cases, their parents were both more revolutionary and more conservative than they themselves were. Harriet’s mother was a suffragette and is appalled at the lack of ambition and idealism exhibited by her daughter. At the same time, she is a social conservative, desperate for Harriet to be settled. Vesey’s mother is a much more louche character but is not really interested in him at all. His aunt, who is to an extent in loco parentis to him, looks upon him as a dangerously radical person in the house and a hopeless layabout outside of it. Harriet and Vesey, for their part are twice embarrassed, first by parental exhibitionism and second by their own failure to really “do” anything.

Vesey seems confident, but he isn’t really. He talks a pretty big game, but in reality he lets himself and other people down on most, if not all, occasions. Harriet doesn’t seem confident and she isn’t confident. They are both crying out for a normal life, preferably in one another’s arms. Their chances seem to die on the alter of pride and repression and because neither is bold enough.

Thus, like many ladies before and since, Harriet marries another, less for love and more because nobody else has turned up. Her husband, Charles pursues her slowly and tenaciously. Rather than seducing her, he persuades her, and she is persuaded because she believes that Vesey is gone for ever.

In fact, he is not gone, but I will not spoil the book for those who have not yet been delighted by it. It develops into a beautifully balanced study on marriage and fidelity and love and I enjoyed it very much. It is all the more powerful as Elizabeth Taylor had a passionate affair during her own marriage (described by Nicola Beauman in her excellent biography The Other Elizabeth Taylor).

It is unquestionably well written and well constructed. I found myself caring about the characters. As a study on the nature of marriage, its powers and its frailties, I must say that it has not knocked the wonderful Someone at a Distance off my top spot.

Other excellent opinions can be found at Frisbee, Daydreams and Delights, Harriet Devine and Book Group of One.


  1. My cousin married a (surname) Vasey... One of the best ice breakers (terrible expression) was one where we had to share why we were given our names - it was truly fascinating listening to the answers.

  2. I have read this novel (as I see you noticed!) AND I know a man called Vesey. He and everyone else pronounces it Veezee. He is rather posh so maybe it is a name favoured by the upper classes. This was not my absolute favourite ET novel but she is a wonderful writer and I'm glad to hear you liked it.

  3. Have never heard of the name Vesey, but am looking forward to reading A Game of Hide and Seek this winter... it wil be my first Elizabeth Taylor novel.

  4. "Well, my daddy left home when I was three...but before he left, he went and named me Vesey..."

    Thanks so much for this review. I want to read some of Elizabeth Taylor's work, but wasn't sure where to start.

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