Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Taylor, Elizabeth

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela
  • Date of entry: Mar-05-1998


In her youth, Mrs. Palfrey had been a model British woman. She married a military man, moved to Borneo and lived happily and properly, giving direction to the natives. She and her husband retired in Britain. Now, however, Mrs. Palfrey is a widow. Her daughter Elizabeth, who lives in Scotland, has not invited her to stay and she is not sure she would want to. Instead, she courageously decides to move into the Claremont Hotel in London, where she meets the other permanent residents who, like herself, are old and rather poor.

Mrs. Palfrey gets the attention and envy of the group when she tells them that her oldest grandchild and heir, Desmond, works at The British Museum and will undoubtedly be coming to visit. He never comes.

One day as Mrs. Palfrey is out for a walk, she falls. A young man, Ludovic Myers (Ludo), comes out of his basement apartment to help her. He takes her inside, doctors her knee, and gives her a cup of tea. He is trying to write a book and finds her an excellent study.

Mrs. Palfrey asks him to pretend to be Desmond so that she can save her reputation. He agrees. Mrs. Palfrey fancies that she is in love with him. They meet rarely, though once he invites her to dinner at his house. He makes an otherwise lonely and dull existence exciting. He is the only one who visits The Claremont without immediately rushing out, feeling as if a terrible duty has been fulfilled.

When one of the older residents at The Claremont becomes incontinent, the management forces her to move. She dies quickly, alone in an understaffed nursing home. Mrs. Palfrey has another fall and winds up in the hospital. Ludo comes to see her; he spends more time with her than any of her family.

She dies.


The novel astutely captures the indignities and loneliness suffered by many elderly persons. The workers at the hotel dislike the residents because they are "stingy" and take up beds during the busy times of the year. The manager would like them to remain out of sight, as if their age itself were an affront. The residents' visitors are mostly unwilling and condescending. It is difficult for Mrs. Palfrey to fill her days and the relations among the residents are interdependent yet strained. Mrs. Palfrey is represented very sympathetically, though some of the other characters are not.


First published: 1971



Place Published

New York



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