Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont


Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor, has been on my TBR list for ages. Why did I wait?? It’s a lovely book, so if you haven’t read it yet, don’t hesitate any longer.

A widow, Mrs. Palfrey, moves to the Claremont Hotel in London, which serves as a retirement home for quite a few elderly people. She quietly adjusts to this new stage of life and to her new life at the Claremont. Moving from her own home into the culture of a “home” for the elderly is a challenge, but she sets some wise rules for herself:

They were to be part of her rules, her code of behaviour. Be independent; never give way to melancholy; never touch capital. And she had abided by the rules.

The days are long. Hours pass slowly. The interactions with the other guests are often a strain. Her family is remote and the one family member who does live in London, (her grandson) doesn’t visit, but she continues to live her life with dignity and integrity, not complaining or gossiping, and trying to remain true to herself.

And then one day she meets a young man, a struggling writer, who helps her when she falls while walking home from the library. He is kind and attentive to her, everything she would wish her absent grandson to be. When he comes to the Claremont to visit her, everyone assumes he is her grandson, and she simply fails to correct that impression. It becomes a very important relationship to her, although seemingly less important to the young writer. It infuses her life with hope and nostalgia, and their connection, although mostly superficial, provides a deeper perspective of life and the aging process for her.

It’s not a dramatic book. It’s a quiet story of aging, of the inevitable changes that happen as one gets older, and of the courage one woman has in facing that last stage of life quite alone. Mrs. Palfrey shares with us that “It was hard work being old,” but she shows us that it can be done with quiet courage and dignity.

I’m treating myself this weekend to the movie version of this book. My local library had the DVD on the shelf, and I’m so looking forward to watching Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend bring this story to the screen.


7 thoughts on “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

  1. Robin Post author

    Kelly, I’m really enjoying reading and listening to more classics right now. I used to read them a lot, and always enjoyed them, but got away from them for quite awhile. It feels like coming home to be back to them.


  2. Nan

    I’ve not read the book or seen the movie. It just sounded too terribly sad, but maybe I will give it a try. It reminds me a bit of The Shell Seekers – in the way Penelope finds people who are more family than her own children.


  3. heavenali

    I love this book I have read it twice. To be honest I could never face the film, I have heard it doesn’t really do Elizabeth Taylor’s wonderful novel justice – but as I haven’t seen it I can’t really comment. I hope at leas you enjoy it. Elizabeth Taylor is one of my favourite novelists – have read much else by her?


  4. Robin Post author

    Nan, it’s not too terribly sad or grim…and it’s definitely worth reading. I really appreciated the honesty of the story. Mrs. Palfrey’s experiences and feelings hit home, especially as I kept thinking about my mother’s experiences living in a retirement home and her own daily hard work to maintain independence, health, and optimism. It’s a very human story.

    Heavenali, this is a book I will read again, I’m sure. I haven’t watched the film yet, although I’ll have to do it soon so I can return it to the library. I found myself just wanting to spend more time with the feeling of the book, and not introduce another version of it quite yet. I do love the actors in the film, however, so I have hope that it will do the book justice, if any movie can do that.



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