My Huge Review of Elizabeth Bowen Stories (19)


My reviews of EB stories so far, in alphabetical order:

My previous reviews of general older, classic books: — particularly the multi-reviews of William Trevor, Robert Aickman, Katherine Mansfield and Vladimir Nabokov.

“She never had had illusions: the illusion was all.” — EB in Green Holly 


15 thoughts on “My Huge Review of Elizabeth Bowen Stories (19)


    “She paused again to hitch up the bundle of exercise books slithering down beneath her elbow, then took the dipping road as a bird swings down into the air.”

    …the symbol later of the meeting between the schoolteacher and three of her girl pupils — she tried to make them obviate a ‘cinema-bred romanticism’ (beyond a Dead Mabelle?) and see things as they are, not as parts of their own preoccupations, as part of the ‘curious coincidence’ of the daffodils, flowers she had set them to study and appreciate, not with the teacher’s brain but with their own latent originality … until she realises that she had herself only seen these girls as pink faces in a crowd before!
    The world’s propriety never collapses at the unruly glimpse of a black-stockinged knee as I thought, through her own similar thoughts, at the beginning of this beautifully styled story, while she was relishing the seasons’s timeless minutiae, the passion of the moment, counterbalanced, as it perhaps turned out, the potential ‘ornamental psychosis’ of the photographs in the house where she entertained the three girls
    — the glimpse of a knee as a leg’s version of an elbow? Even her daffodils have secret parts and those gashed stems.

    I will show in the next comment what I said about this story in 2014.

    • 2014
      “Why can’t they see things for themselves, think them out? […] I wonder if any of you have ever used your senses; smelt, or seen things–“
      …as Bowen always does for us via the words’ worth she gives them, here by the objective correlative of some daffodils, and then she deploys daffodils for real (ones she’s just bought) in the story as a a similar lesson for others – because, as a strait-laced teacher (one with ‘Titian hair’) living just with her mother, but often walking along the road pretending she has wings, this lady invites some of her pupils in for an ad hoc tea and a lecture about ‘associations’ and their essays about daffodils. It doesn’t really come off as an enduring connection but a mere passing ‘association’, but all learn a lesson – girl pupils and teacher, and we readers. What lesson? It may be different one for each of us.
      As with the previous breakfast story, breaking one’s fast of undiscovery often ends with a ‘dying fall’ (representing an interlude or an ending?) as both the stories themselves

  2. The parallel to the ‘curious coincidence’ preternaturally by chance in Daffodils just before…


    “…a rising pinkness and of the long stream of outcoming ladies dammed by their encounter. ‘What a funny coincidence!’”

    The coincidence of a premature meeting today of young married Esmée (a gestalt of the threesome in Daffodils) and Mrs W in an English town after having originally had, by a chance meeting a tantamount to a sort of similar teacher- pupil relationship (in Daffodils) when earlier touring Italy, Esmée without her husband at that time, because she was escorting an Aunt…

    “Esmée had found their first walks together very interesting, they had had the chilly, unusual, dream-familiar sense of walking in one’s skin.”

    And now over chicken rissoles in England …and Mrs W’s bag with its “mauve satin maw”… with her trying to release Esmée from her parrot’s cage…for their own version of the roof-top talk? As, inter alia, Mrs W says…
    “‘Like the stillness in the heart of the whirlwind. Get right into it, live in your most interior self, and you’re unchangeable. You haven’t found it yet; you’re very young, you’ve never penetrated.’”
    Windermere as that whirlwind?

    And, so, is Mrs W the ‘Helper’ as she claims, or an interferer, one set to loose Hell’s Bowen upon her younger charges? Tellingly, a most meticulous description of Mrs W’s features and dress in the minutiae of the earlier daffodils’ minutiae and the minutiae of today’s plan of numbered timeless dates for a further meeting, until…
    “…her sleeves fell back from the elbow.”

    Until, too, it was duly time for Mrs W to go back to her own “little shoppingses”, as part of some ultimate irony…

    I shall now look up what I said about this story in 2014 and place it below…

    • 2014
      Mrs. Windermere
      “She dived suddenly, her bag on the floor. She reappeared with it, and its mauve satin maw gaped…”
      Here Mrs Windermere fortuitously meets, while shopping in the West End of London, a young girl she had ‘helped’ while on holiday in Italy. The girl is still ‘twirling’ while Mrs W tries to fix the girl’s Proustian ‘self’, an unmatch-maker, a sort of retrocausal conjuror of focus from the emotional mix-up of a later novel written after Bowen died, Hotel du Lac (cf Windermere) by Anita Brookner.


    “They had sensed the fathomless need of the unloved.”

    This should have been the last story in my huge journey through all Bowen’s stories, my own personal literary Everest… especially as it is narrated by someone called Liz alongside her fellow 19 year old cousin and friend Carol, and our Liz resolves by the encouraging, in even younger ones, the gestalt of a ‘fragile cave’ merged with an ‘arbour’ to be built by troubled children as, I infer, their own new Nativity, potentially resolving all manner of a family’s and their friends’ problems gathered in the house, under the Bowenesque healing by a Christmas and its accoutrements, holly and tree, as well as a moon casting shadows of apple trees….
    A half-blind Blinks off in the woods and a bereft Carol. A spinsterish put-downness of Cissie. And the Hard Coming Of It at the end of a Jim if not a Jesus. ‘A grandfather clock striking, but after that, nothing more.’ Except something does endure after its striking, lasting from before its striking with the mixed-benefit minutiae of another Hell’s Bowen…
    “Tucked in the crook of one plump elbow, my niece held, tonight, all her heart desired, a battered blue velvet monkey.”

    “…reliving these last strange days, moment by moment.”


      “…wondered if wet drums were audible, also what happened if rain got down a bassoon.”

      The busy business of a bazaar and a band to go with it, from the viewpoint of Mrs Bude, upon a disappointingly rainy day, that ends up a steamy day when the sun eventually comes out. And, opportunely, the turn up of a broken engagement of one of the girls working in the bazaar, but, unlike in ‘Happiness’ above, the cynical side of the irony wins out in the end… and there is much talk of mackintoshes in various settings one of which involves ‘kneeling’ on them, the context of which in my Bowen journey now becomes strangely significant. Also, with added significance, an argument over ‘clock golf’. And, with less significance, the scarcity of pins. A story of upsets, and Mrs B sort of blames herself for the weather. She feels she needs to become the flowers, almost as happened in ‘Daffodils’ above. And there is a hoity-toity lady who opens the bazaar and is expected to spend the huge amount of £10, that is shared out as far as possible between the stalls. Sporting a rimless pince-nez, Mrs B is 42, if not the answer to the universe, certainly is to this story…

      “Her thoughts took coral pink wings and began to fly far away.”


      “…in profile at her writing- table in the sunshine, by a vase of daffodils.”

      This is a rare classic, and all Boweneers should read it. Not only for the believable and emotionally complex characterisation of young naive Sibella, staying with her aunt of aunts at Folkestone, because she had nowhere else available during the school holidays. She said she did not like men, but she needs to deal with a young man in a shop….
      But also it needs to be read for … her attempting ‘retrieval of sin’, after almost accidentally pinching a single pink biscuit from a store, when sent shopping after her aunt’s servant, who usually did the shopping, went off sick – all magnificently told. But also, again, for the beautifully described minutiae of the store itself. The split pig, the nature of bacon slicing, the biscuits themselves and much more…
      …and her satchel on the crook of her arm and her arm later ‘crocked’ (sic) around a pine tree trunk, almost a metaphor for stigmatic punishment, without even mentioning the word ‘elbow’! ‘Cheek pressed to the scaly bark.’ (Note the pine trees in ‘Among the Lilies’ that I reviewed recently.)
      Yet she left her burden of goods behind, only to be given it back again — this arguably being symbol for the onset of paradoxical interminability in the passage through life’s guilt, blame, shame and, above all, hope.
      The ‘needle point’ of such emotions is matchlessly felt by this classic work of literature, so shamefully unread, I guess.

    • FLAVIA

      “‘Nothing,’ she wrote, ‘is more perishable, nothing lovelier than a distance.”

      It seems strange that this story of not only mutual synergy but also mutual vicariousness over a measureless distance, arrives, by chance-picks from a tin, at the end of the whole journey. The story of Bernard who conducts a virtual love affair before virtuality was invented by its grooming version today — and these my virtual daily letters to you about Bowen stories, and here they are letters between Bernard and Flavia, but she only sends violet typescripts to avoid him scrying her handwriting to discover her real self, an exchange of letters after she had seen his printed letter in a certain journal, alongside his parallel relationship with Caroline in real-time, eventually marrying Caroline, only to find out she uses childish ‘Zoological Handkerchiefs’ and she had read the same letter in the same journal in a dentist surgery during the time she spent much time at such ‘dreaded dentists’. He, in fact, once gave her a lift to such a dentist.
      A threesome as a triangulation, one said to be a ‘tall shadow’, in a then prophetic virtual world of grooming that now mediates us today. It is as if this story’s vicarious distance is a Zeno’s Paradox of half-measures and, until the impossible connections are clinched, there is only hope to go on.
      To go on and on.


      The ‘shadows’ of triangulated time, too. Which, though, is the shadowy third? Or is it half plus half as a single self with nobody else at all shadowing what I have virtually or vicariously written for them?

      Ticking clocks, apple trees and so forth … and a singular elbow, a fractured elbow or simply strained from too much typing?


  4. But ‘Happiness’ sticks out aforetimes…
    To my mind, Bowen produced the greatest canon of short fiction in all literature, a feeling now substantiated by what I have shown above to be discovered by collusive exchange with it. And personally reviewing each of the 108 stories.
    We shall each have our own bespoke part of such a collusive triangulation toward gestalt, no doubt.
    More power to your elbow.

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