She was, in fact, for herself a most unfriendly playmate, for she was treacherous. 


THE LITTLE GIRL’S ROOM by Elizabeth Bowen

“Here, round the smiling gold clock, time was captive, and only fluttered with little moth-wings;”

This is one amazing story that I had strangely forgotten, except for the little girl, who I now know is Geraldine, a so-called prodigy, lighting the cigarettes one by one round the room with a lighted match, the cigarettes of her step-grandmother’s luminary guests, with the large grounds with its intrusive gardener woman outside, … and later that very step-grandmother — who had co-opted Geraldine when the girl’s mother died — rolling round the little girl’s sleepy bedroom on castors like a nightmare, except that bit might not have been a nightmare, well not as co-vivid as the dreams the girl had of Enemies and a Red Reading Revolution, following the messy eating of a strawberry, every night, Enemies embodied by the people of the house, the gardener, her Greek lessons Tutor Mr Scutcheon, her step-grandmother herself and even the girl’s own dead mother…Shadowy Thirds and Zeno Paradoxes galore. A little girl, from others’ viewpoints, often wishfully ‘in abeyance’, often ‘unteachable’.
I cannot do justice to such an ultimate masterpiece of weird fiction and high literature, other than by quoting a few of its passages…

“…with bowls of lush yellow roses, ornate with Florentine furniture: smoke wreathed out of the high open windows across the magnolia flowering unseen.”

“Geraldine was certainly something. In preparation for her apotheosis she found herself very much guarded, very much educated, very much petted.”

“The child’s presence had been like a flower put down in irrelevant purity alongside one’s place at dinner, disconcerting to appetite.”

[Later Geraldine destroys a rose, symbolic of the Red enemies…?]

“She made gargoyle faces; wishing that she could see herself, she ran to the pool, but the water was clotted with lily-leaves.”

“Mrs Letherton-Channing never sent in tea: she appeared to believe that tutors were fed by ravens.”

“Mr Scutcheon’s sister wilted in a hot room in a hot street, overlooking the tramlines.”

“An etherealized grandmaternity, without the awkward preliminaries of motherhood, became her excellently; just as widowhood, after the exigencies of marriage, was at once the harbour and crown of her spirit.”

“She was alone in her room, that, softly pale-pink and full of friendly light from the garden, seemed to be enclosed by more than material walls, by volutions of delicacy and sweet living shadows: the inner whorl of a shell, the heart of a flower.”

“…the very picture of afternoon sleep.”

“But here (you might notice) vacant little Geraldine seemed to exist with difficulty. Every time her reflection flitted out of the looking-glass the whole of Geraldine seemed to become mislaid. A huge rubber ball balanced on top of the bureau, Geraldine’s stockings straggled over a chair; every day she trod biscuit-crumbs into the carpet. The air smelt faintly of peppermint, from her tooth-powder. Otherwise this was a guest-room: ready, but someone never arrived.”

“She was, in fact, for herself a most unfriendly playmate, for she was treacherous.”


All my reviews of Elizabeth Bowen stories:

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