A Sail of Smoke


THE GOOD EARL by Elizabeth Bowen

“…and the Earl was informing the Lady Mary that they should be enabled to set their clocks by the Steamer’s passing by of the Castle terrace.”

This is a strange and somehow captivating story in a semi-archaic style with capitalisations that make it seem as if a mythology, even a religion, such as Little Dog, (the Protestant ‘god’ backwards?) After the Bad Earl, his son the Good, owning both  shores of this Irish Lough, but not its tides, renovates the castle with its no doubt Last Balcony (I infer)  or terrace balustrade where the Lady Mary his only  child  stands at the end viewing  some arcane Christlike Vision as her father is returned dead in the Steamer he had yearned to finance (awkwardly unavailable finance)  so as to service the new Hotel project  (an Inn with room enough?) that he was building. There are some blurred and tantalisingly unknowing romantic moments  of Lady Mary (“ignorant that she was a woman”) with a man called Harris and uncertain narration about all of this (as uncertain as the Capitalisations)  by someone among  ‘we young fellows’. I felt hallucinated by this strangest of fictions… particularly by the Steamer and other poignancies of some invented faith now made real… “So white was she that we all smiled with sorrow. No sail bore  her, only a sail of smoke which was devoured up by the sun…” 

Cf the steam-yacht scenario in Robert Aickman’s GO BACK AT ONCE novel!

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All my reviews so far of Bowens’s massive story canon: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/31260-2/

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