The Heat of the Day — Elizabeth Bowen

PART THREE of my review, continued from here —

All my reviews of Bowen novels will be linked here:

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My gestalt real-time review will be conducted in the comment stream below:


16 thoughts on “The Heat of the Day — Elizabeth Bowen


    “You see, the more you tell me about Mount Morris, the more I feel I have inherited Cousin Nettie with the place.”

    When reading Bowen, you inherit every character, ostensibly minor or major characters alike, as well as their clocks, whether synchronised or not.
    Here, we follow Roderick (who wrote above quoted sentence as a part of a letter to his mother, Stella, that we are allowed to read in full) to the oddly spelt Wistaria Lodge (“This powerhouse of nothingness, hive of lives in abeyance”) as a version of Aickman’s future Hospice (as ‘odd’ as Nettie herself) and we experience Roderick’s meeting, fleetingly, with its proprietor Iolanthe Tringsby and a parlourmaid named Hilda, but above all, with Nettie, over tea, sandwiches and her pulling wool through a canvas with a ‘peck and pick’ of a needle, alongside the arguably deliberate oddness, if not madness, of a Hamlet, on Nettie’s part, if not on Roderick’s. And Roderick is in his army uniform, whatever “dreadful thoughts” the sight of this would give the Wistaria inmates…. Nettie is in half-mourning and, thus, I infer, with a half-sense that is ‘imperfectly truthful”, as she sews a purple rose as a link to the Zeno-momentarily blooming Persian rose she remembers from Mount Morris…
    This description of the visit is a way to explore the new Egyptian turn of the war, and Roderick’s potential relationship with Fred, and Nettie’s past indefinable one with Victor, Roderick’s father, and with Cousin Francis at Mount Morris, and the variably interpreted circumstances of the splitting up of Stella and Victor and the pervasive nothingness now at her back in the shape of a mental asylum window….
    Odd (or strange), but not mad, like all Bowen’s fiction. (And my reviews of it?)

    “Fred points out that it may still be necessary to invade Europe.”

    “Mrs Tringsby, inflated by a foreboding sigh, rose, and like something under remote control was propelled by Roderick’s will power to the threshold.”

    “A distance of fields, woods and diluted November sky did indeed stretch without any other feature: sky and earth at last exhaustedly met – there was no impact, no mystery, no horizon, simply a nothing more. […] …the unassailing sensation of having nothing but nothing behind her back.”

    “– nothing was strange in those eyes but their apprehension of strangeness. All Cousin Nettie’s life it must have been impossible for her to look at the surface only, to see nothing more than she should. These were the eyes of an often-rebuked clairvoyante, wide once more with the fear of once more divining what should remain hidden –“

    “Everywhere is better without me, so of all places I will not go back there. You must make the best of Mount Morris as it is.”

    “…absolute disconnexion, as though the secret or charm of the continuity had been lost now, and she for one did not care. But no, she dare not afford that – she at once set out, with stork’s-beak scissors, sedulously to snip off straggles of wool from the rough.”

    The thud thud thud of the Bowen apple tree…
    “Also there was a bevy of tinted pictures of children; all, it seemed, engaged innocently in some act of destruction – depetalling daisies, puffing at dandelion clocks, trampling primrose woods, rioting round in fragile feathered grown-up hats, intercepting fairies in full flight, or knocking down apples from the bough. Only their neutralizing prettiness could have got these pictures past Mrs or at any rate Dr Tringsby’s eye.”
    But, tellingly, no photos.

    “‘Poor Mrs Tringsby,’ Cousin Nettie explained, ‘sometimes does not know what time it is unless she looks at the clock.’”

    “‘I said, “Because I am as odd as what you are doing?” and he said: “That must be what it amounts to.” I said: “Well, Victor, they will think us both very odd now.”’”
    That is probably the most important passage in the whole book. Who ever is a Victor, whether in Pyrrhic love or in a world war? A rhetorical question, on my part.

    “So they said in that case I ought not to go on living in hotels, even quietly, even in private ones. If I was well enough to be in the hotels, then I was well enough to go back to Mount Morris. So I then said: “Very well, then, perhaps I had better go into a home.”

    “‘Something has got to become of everybody, I suppose, Cousin Nettie.’
    ‘No, I don’t see why. Nothing has become of me: here I am and you can’t make any more stories out of that. That is why I am only in half-mourning.’”

    “…uncanny hint of sanity about this afternoon’s conversation at once frenzied Roderick and seduced him.”

    “– for when war did stop there would be something more: drills right through the earth, planes all through the sky, voices keyed up and up. The air would sound; the summer-humming forest would be torn. Here was nothing to trouble her but the possibility of being within reach: seated on the sofa with her back to what she had ascertained to be nothing, Cousin Nettie was well placed.”

    “– conspiratorial, full of things to say, in a moment, when somebody should be gone.”

    “…a man in a muffler, trailing a croquet mallet, came round the corner of the house and stood contemplating the visitor as the latter unlatched the gate to the outer world.”
    Cf That open latch to Harrison.

    “A passer-by halted, watching across the wall in November dusk the young soldier wandering bareheaded among the graves.”
    Francis had no headstone. Roderick had not yet gone.

    Roderick and Nettie “were back again where they had started: he might have just arrived.”

    …the same with my odd reviews of Bowen?
    Reviews that come, but, essentially, go. Like that Persian rose.
    But I will leave you below with something Nettie said, in honour to Roderick needing us to consider Nettie as the bolster to his own sudden, undeserved inheritance, an inheritance not necessarily of the Bowen clock but more pressingly of a tangible place of objects and people, and their spirits alike, a Titanic place called Mount Morrris…

    “– once the fields noticed me with him, the harvests began failing; so I took to going nowhere but up and down stairs, till I met my own ghost.”


    “‘Spending tuppence on asking me that!’ she exclaimed aloud.”

    Rodney’s phone call to Stella about his Wistaria Lodge visit, and what he had discovered from Nettie about his father and the nature of his parents’ divorce (assuming we readers take it as read that this is true) becomes significantly mingled with the cigarette smoke, and miraculously unsinged eyelashes of Harrison who takes Stella to an unknown eating place to have it out about how he now knows she had tipped off Robert. Tipped off as cigarettes weren’t in those days? Secrets, and lies, and evidence, and a crowd of strangers in this eating place with a confluence of coincidences and an eventual assumed gestalt, and a dog’s trailing leash leading to Harrison finding Louie again, or, rather, her finding him, and his calling her a pest, thus allowing Stella a collateral retreat from Harrison, as well as her challenging what he might do next in this serious world of espionage, as women now bound together, Stella is told by Louie Lewis of her absent husband in India and what had happened to where she lived with Connie….

    Meanwhile we recall a telling dance of elbows as H and S walked to the unknown underground eating-place and the cigarette smoke of not knowing where she’d been taken and where she might later go with Louie and the latter’s ‘twisted stockings’…

    “He slipped a hand under her elbow, prepared to steer her across a crisis as he would have been to steer her across a street.”

    “Harrison, having got Stella across Regent Street and several blocks further east, braked their speed down by a further hold on her elbow, cast about for their bearings, then swung her south: she took the corner under control.”

    “She stared first at a row of backviews of eaters perched, packed elbow-to-elbow, along a counter. A zip fastener all the way down one back made one woman seem to have a tin spine. A dye-green lettuce leaf had fallen on to the mottled rubber floor;”

    And Louie joins this elbow dance or destiny waltz at the end of this chapter…

    “; a handbag slithered under her elbow and in one bare hand she was mauling a pair of fancy gloves.”

    Harrison is master of the cigarette dance, meanwhile. And my own grandmother (born, as Bowen was, in 1899, and who resembled an elegant Bowen in appearance, but also a working wartime barmaid, a woman equally in tune with Louie Lewis) could hold a cigarette in her mouth, thus…

    “…kept a cigarette down to its last inch between his lips. Not a person did not betray, by one or another glaring peculiarity, the fact of being human:”

    “As also there was, down here, more the look than fact of overpowering heat; suggestion made Stella take off her coat –“

    “He then eyed her throat, at the pearl-level, with some intensity. ‘But tonight, you know, is something of an occasion – that is to say, for me.’
    ‘I am thirsty,’ she said. ‘I would like some lager.’”

    Lager? They sold lager in wartime London!

    Harrison’s eyes are a sight to behold in staggering minutiae.

    “…you and I never have had anything but impossible conversations:”

    “Whatever has been buried, surely, corrupts? Nothing keeps innocence innocent but daylight. A truth’s just a truth, to start with, with no particular nature, good or bad – but how can any truth not go bad from being underground?”

    Underground, as they now are!

    An amazing passage leading to the synchronicity of Louie being there…

    “She [Stella] got the impression that news unheard by her had detonated dully among these people, without causing a blink to the lights or a shock to anyone. Perhaps the fact was that the seeing of everybody by everybody else with such awful nearness and clearness was already enough. They were neither smart nor shabby, drunk nor sober, saved nor damned – born extras, if anything too many. But nobody is hired to play for nothing however small a part: she wondered what tonight’s inducement could be – here and there somebody looked around, uncertain as though the inducement were breaking down.”

    Cigarette ash gratuitously mentioned as dropping upon a sticky flan…

    “‘One girl, I see,’ she said, ‘has got her stocking-seams crooked. Is that unusual?’ Louie, at these words – or at what must have been their vibration, for they could not have reached her end of the room – pivoted round on the stool on which she sat. Holding on with one hand to the rail of the counter, she leaned backwards to stare at Harrison’s table as though it might mean something —“

    “…a smarting eye, which a fume from his heap of stubs must at last have caught. He scrubbed at this eye, the left, with a finger-tip, raising and lowering his eyebrows.”

    The elbow and cigarette dance, and the dance of war and espionage, love and synchronicity, and the power of hindsight of earlier involuntary lies.
    This is surely the apotheosis of the fiction art and its own lies as truth and coincidence, and its freehold and leasehold plot mechanics that transcend the gratuitousness of life itself.

  3. Pingback: Gratuitous | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews


    “…yanking one arm out over the bedclothes to spank at her hip-bone,… […] But then a spring uncoiled – she brought out her arm again and dealt a wallop at the behind of Louie.”

    The wartime’s searchlight-sought, Kôr-infused, girly and/or semi-Sapphic relationship of Connie and Louie, as we re-live Louie’s meeting with Harrison and Stella, an event semi-mistold by Louie to Connie, in bed together, involving what I may misremember as a lie about who owned the dog called Spot, but essentially it is a Jungian connection made with Connie demonstrated by the latter’s mention of Louie’s unspoken thought of Stella walking like “a stray soul”.
    Stella is taking over, in Louie’s yearnings, from Harrison, and perhaps from Connie herself, not to speak of Tom whose hollow has been left in the mattress upon which Connie and Louie regularly share their sleep. Louie now thinks of Stella with “mistrust and addiction, dread and desire.”

    “Look the trouble there is when I [Louie] have to only say what I <can say, and so cannot ever say what it is really. Inside me it’s like being crowded to death – more and more of it all getting into me. I could more bear it if I could only say. Now she tonight, she spoke beautifully: I needn’t pity her – there it was, off her chest.”

    “…when you know you only can say what’s a bit off, what does it matter how much more off it is?”

    “Then a moment later, something faltered over the ceiling: searchlights out.”

    Brainstorming on my part — is such ‘faltering’ that dead or dying horse later conjured or conJunged by Aickman’s ‘Roman Question’ as a version of such wartime manoeuvres over, or even directly upon, city roofs?

    Louie’s wondrously inchoate memory of Stella…being how this factory girl is thinking about a ‘high class’ lady…

    “The effect of this person? . . . Invisible powder, mutiny, shock, loss; sparkle-clip on black and clean rigid line of shoulders; terror somewhere knocking about inside her like a loose piece of ice; a not-young face of no other age; eyes, under blue-bloomed lids, turning on you an intent emptied look, youth somewhere away at the back of it like a shadow; lips shaped, but shaping what they ought not; hat of small type nothing if not put on right, put on right, exposingly; agony ironed out of the forehead; the start, where the hair ran back, of one white lock – What had been done to her? Where had she got herself? –“

    Then, a Jungian pandemic prophesied for today (as with Connie describing herself with “the universe fevering round inside my head”? Stray germs as well as souls? —

    “Think, now, what the air was charged with night and day – ununderstandable languages, music you did not care for, sickness, germs! You did not know what you might not be tuning in to, you could not say what you might not be picking up: affected, infected you were at every turn.”

    “She wondered if she would ever find Stella’s house, the steps at whose foot they had said good night in the dark, again;”

    Louie’s fact-misbegotten story of her evening’s ‘drama’ is as one told by a single version of Connie’s “Fakers”.
    Fakers, if not Fakirs! — the latter “To attain themselves to the seventh degree of consciousness.” However many degrees or germs of consciousness Jung once had!

    “‘Oh no. No, they were sitting at a table. “Well,” they said, “it always is something to meet a fellow dog-lover.” I said: “Funny you calling your dog Spot when it hasn’t got any,” so they took that well and asked me to join them, making a third.’” (My bold)


    “His keeping in movement thus gave the Kelway triangle an unfixed third point:”

    At one point ‘Mutterkins’ Kelway seems to see Robert out of the corner of her eyes as a secret or suspicious man, a man almost holding a gun? He had been called down to Holm Firth late at night to discuss with Mutterkins and Ernestine a possible sale of their seasoned house, with all its faults, to a suspiciously sudden offer of purchase from whomsoever. Even Anne with her “stout breast” to share headskulls with her Uncle Robert, one of the exiled Amabelle’s children, comes downstairs, uninvited from her sleep to discuss this sale of, for her, an unhappy house.
    I show below the lead up to this meeting, its undercurrents physical and mental, its ambiance within this attritional house and this book about it, and its denouement with Anne…some of it in Bowen code… not to mention the statues of fairies in the garden and Robert’s erstwhile ‘dark room’ and, regarding the deceased Mr Kelway, “What unformulated anarchical dreams he had entertained one would never know.”
    And a nod to the ‘nine o’clock news’, presaging another World of Love…

    “Ernestine’s letter to him to this effect had been such a combination of haste and length that he could only reply that he had not the pleasure of understanding her. She had refused to telephone on the matter except in a series of groans, warning hisses, and hydrophobic laughs, interspersing what sounded to be a code.”

    “The Kelways communicated with one another with difficulty, in the dead language. At intervals, the recurrence of a remark showed that yet another circle around the subject had been completed.”

    “Robert, momentarily resting his elbow on the top of the upright piano, […]
    ‘Let us sum up,’ said Robert. ‘A., we don’t know if we want to sell; B., if we do, how much more than the offer are we to hope to get? and, C., again, if we do sell, where are you and Muttikins to go next?’”

    “Upstairs, as elsewhere, it had been planned with a sort of playful circumlocution – corridors, archways, recesses, half-landings, ledges, niches, and balustrades combined to fuddle any sense of direction and check, so far as possible, progress from room to room. […] These two upper floors (for another staircase, beyond a swing door, led on up to Robert’s and other attics, in an extensive range) were, in fact, not hollow, being flock-packed with matter – repressions, doubts, fears, subterfuges, and fibs. Or so he felt. The many twists of the passages had always made it impossible to see down them;”
    symbolic of this book itself? Or all Bowen’s fiction?

    And the upper upper spaces where servants sleeping had been replaced by Amabelle’s children, one of whom is Anne (a version of Portia, Pauline, Jane, a young Eva Trout et al?)…
    “…upstairs life, since the war, had up there condensed itself into very few rooms – swastika-arms of passage leading to nothing, stripped of carpet, bulbs gone from the light-sockets, were flanked by doors with their keys turned. Extinct, at this night hour Stygian as an abandoned mine-working, those reaches of passage would show in daylight ghost-pale faded patches no shadow crossed, and, from end to end, an even conquest of dust.”
    Aickman’s yet unsettled dust?

    “She [Anne] loved him with, in her respectable way, the first intensity of her life: so much so that the woman she would become stared askance at him out of her child’s features. He was right, she was a dull little girl – without animal poetry, without guile, but formed for devotion: inopportune, staunch, ruddy. But within that little stout breast,…”
    And possibly one of those most telling moments in Bowen…
    “‘How many moments are there?’ said Anne to Robert. ‘Sixty seconds make a minute, sixty minutes make an hour; but how many moments are there?’”
    “‘Just once more . . .’ Pulling his head down, she butted her forehead against his: their brain-cases touched – contact of absolute separations she was not to forget. She turned away and clip-clopped to the foot of the staircase and up, up into the darkness, not having looked back once.”

    And who was that on the unanswered telephone at the end, a sound that causes Robert to knock Anne off his chair – or did she fall? [A pre-echo of Stella’s outcome?]

  6. SPOILERS for any who are reading this review before reading the book….rather than reading this review as a geometric co-triangulation of its plot coordinates alongside or after reading the book…
    “You’ll have to re-read me backwards,…”


    “No answer. Robert had moved again: now he leaned on his elbow across her feet, unwillingly. All she at last said was: ‘You’ve been doing just what Harrison said?’”

    This is the crux of the Stella-Robert-Harrison triangulation. Where motives and dangers and tiered causes-and-effects and emotional synchronicities and instinctive impulses, and literary games/codes worthy as a confabulation of the Brutt-Matchett-Portia puzzles. Not that I consciously understand every single bluff and counter-bluff amidst often strained Bowen clumsinesses of mind- and tongue-twisters. My long gestalt-trained osmosis does help, though, I think!

    The self-justifications of Robert and Stella…
    The heat of the day fabricated, as setting…
    “Her room was bathed in a red appearance of heat from the electric fire; shadows jutted out sharply; a mirror panel reflected the end of the bed on which Robert sat. As though the sensation of this red half-dark of so many nights having within the moment become infernal communicated itself from her to him, he reached across and turned off the fire – […] Nothing but their two silences merging filled it, and she did not know to what part of silence he had withdrawn…”

    …till we reach the word ‘betrayal’ and Robert’s reaction…
    “Words, words like that, yes – what a terrific dust they can still raise in a mind, yours even: I see that.”
    Those mind-twisters and puzzles, helping us puzzle out today’s liars and state of the nation…
    “‘This racket. It’s not I who am selling out this what you call a country; how could I? – it’s sold itself out already.’
    ‘What racket?’
    Freedom. Freedom to be what? – the muddled, mediocre, damned.”

    “We must have law – if necessary let it break us: to have been broken is to have been something.’
    ‘But law – that’s just what you break.’
    ‘Nothing I can break is law!’”
    cf those earlier Swastika-shaped rooms at Holm Firth?

    “He did not speak fast, but the effect was of something travelling at the rate of light between word and word.”
    The carpet from Nemonymous Night…
    “…feet, their naked soles sucking at place after place across the thick neutral carpet, could be heard walking with a hallucinated precision towards the window.”
    A neutral carpet like Eire whence Stella had come to be faced with the initial nub of this chapter’s manoeuvring conundrums.

    “Man in outline against the panes, his communication with the order of the stars became not human: she, turning where she lay, apprehensively not raising herself on the pillows, stared also, not in subjection but in a sort of dread of subjection, at the mathematical spaces between the burning bright points. […] She thought or hoped she heard, somewhere between the stars and herself, the hum of a plane tracing its own course; but the sound, if it ever had been a sound, died:”

    “You’ll have to re-read me backwards,…”

    “. . . There were other times when I was less certain you knew. But I did not know you did not know till you asked me.’
    ‘The night I came back from Ireland?’”

    “Now it was a question of counting the last of the minutes as they ran out into hours, the last of the hours as they ran out into tomorrow, which was already today, as they never had.”

    ‘Such ideas to have to have – why?’
    ‘I didn’t choose them: they marked me down. They are not mine, anyhow; I am theirs. Would you want me simply to be their prey?’”

    Robert’s limping that results from Dunkirk, that presages Harrison’s own “semi-stumble” of a long-held Zeno Paradox of a step at the end of this chapter….
    “‘It was enough,’ he said, ‘to have been in action once on the wrong side. Step after step to Dunkirk: […] We’re to be avoided – Dunkirk wounded men.’
    ‘I never knew you before you were a wounded man.’’

    “It bred my father out of me, gave me a new heredity.”
    Resonating with generic Bowen themes, including that of a Ligottian Anti-Natalism in her work in general, and now here…
    “‘It’s not just that they’re the enemy, but that they’re horrible – specious, unthinkable, grotesque.’”
    “And in birth, remember, anything is grotesque.”
    [Later in this chapter: “What is this present state of the world, then – a false pregnancy?”]

    The chapter’s mysterious core…
    “He raised himself eagerly on his elbow, as though a thought were renewing in him its whole original power.”

    “It had been terror of the alien, then, had it, all the the time? – and here it was, breathing its expiring minutes, his expiring minutes, along the foot of her bed.”

    And a wondrous factoring into or from much else in this novel…
    “She thought of leaves of autumn crisply being swept up, that crystal ruined London morning when she had woken to his face; she saw street after street fading into evening after evening, the sheen of spring light running on the water towards the bridges on which one stood, the vulnerable eyes of Louie stupidly carrying sky about in them, the raw earth lip of Cousin Francis’s grave and the pink-stamened flowers of that day alight on the chestnuts in May gloom, the asphalt pathway near Roderick’s camp thrust up and cracked by the swell of ground, mapped by seeded grass. She could remember nothing before, everything had had this poignancy – and yet they had only been in love for two years. She could not believe they had not, in those two years, drawn on the virtue of what was around them, the virtue peculiar to where they were –“

    “…he had hated the bloodstream of the crowds, the curious animal psychic oneness, the human lava-flow.”
    A koyaanisqatsi of Kôr.

    Connie’s newspapers and headlines, and aWoL’s Not the Nine O’Clock News with its Big Ben chimes…
    “The half-sentence of the announcer’s voice coming out of a window at News hour, the flopping rippling headlines of Late Night Final at the newsvendor’s corner – what nerve, what nerve in reverse, had they struck on in him? Knowing what he knew, doing what he did. Idly, more idly than all the others doing the same thing, in the streets with her he had thieved the headline out of the corner of his eye, without a break in their talk,…”

    “It seemed to her it was Robert who had been the Harrison.”

    From core to core within Kôr …
    “But, face it – we’re left to go on living in a world which where all that’s concerned, is as dead as the moon.”

    The blackout as a way to signal from an illicitly unblinded window, to semaphore for Harrison is destined to be waiting outside, as every move is a giveaway of previous move, even with limp or semi-stumble…
    “In her infestation by all ideas of delinquency any offence against the black-out seemed to her punishable by death: it could be the signal moment for which Harrison had been waiting – posted as he could be, as she pictured him, by some multiplication of his personality all round the house. Since Robert was what Harrison had said, Harrison himself must be what he said he was –“

    Much play with the ambiance of Robert’s photo, a crux or core towards….
    “They were in each other’s arms.”
    “‘I should never have let you come here.’
    ‘I should have come.’
    ‘This would be the first place they –’”
    …and to think, Stella had a son’s life at stake in this war being puzzled over with quibbles and tokens of love!

    And how Robert’s family had played pieces in the puzzle of why he was here with Stella today…
    “‘It would be they who had got me into the trap, so that I should never see you again. It never suited them that I should be a man.’
    ‘Then they noticed?’
    ‘I don’t know. I gave Anne the jitters.’”

    “Quite soon danger loses the smell it had for you – you know it’s there, but only because you know it must be there. You know it’s its business to shift its angle, and you watch: but it does not seem to renew itself or to renew its hold on you, like love does.”

    “‘If I had slept with him [Harrison], could he have kept you out of this?’
    ‘What, did he say so? Naturally he would say so. You didn’t try?’
    ‘I thought I would, last night, but he sent me home.’”

    Players, as cigarettes, not Fakers, in this new Dance of Cigarettes and Elbows… Players, as park bandsmen, too?… and the cackle cut…
    “‘You are out for the enemy to win because you think they have something? What?’
    ‘They have something. This war’s just so much bloody quibbling about some thing that’s predecided itself. Either side’s winning would stop the war; only their side’s winning would stop the quibbling. I want the cackle cut – Well, what have I still not said?’”

    “He [Harrison] likes it here,’ she added, looking round her at the extinct pretty room. ‘Likes the ash trays, for instance: he’s always fingering things. That may be it, really: he wants to live here.’”

    “So much had had to be left in the air,…”
    for readerly osmosis to work?

    “He laughed as it would have been possible to weep, thrown round towards her on an elbow driven into glissading cushions.”
    Laughter as a bout of hiccups and yawns.

    “‘Going?’ she said dully. ‘But there might be someone outside the door. We must think of that.’ […] ‘I wanted to. Wanted to crash the window open and blaze the lights on. To think of him makes me angry – I wanted to say: “Yes, here we are, together: what else do you suppose?”’”

    The essence of the core conundrum.?.
    “Better the last of a love in ignorance than no love, no love in knowledge.”
    “Better to say good-bye at the beginning of the hour we never have had, then it will have no end.”

    ‘Or, try to go. I do want to make it, I want to make it – my ideas, you know, are too good to be merely died for: they want life. – Did you once say there was a way out on to the roofs?’

    Skylight … someone on roof? An Aickman if not a limp man or semi-stumbler, I guess. One often ends up on a roof in his fiction of conundrums.

    “In the street below, not so much a step as the semi-stumble of someone after long standing shifting his position could be, for the first time by her, heard.”
    It is the reader themself.


    “He laughed as it would have been possible to weep, thrown round towards her on an elbow driven into glissading cushions.”


    “… fall or leap from the roof had not yet fully broken when news broke: the Allied landings in North Africa.”

    Another African cross connection with this book’s Kôr and now Robert’s fate. Not even I could rewrite this book to change the latter! Or rather a false alarm of joy with church bells ringing (alongside Big Ben, I guess) but also with the not-bells as ‘lacunae’, while Connie tries to seek out the Sunday papers to judge things by headlines and Louie equally seeking Stella in now a strange land in the light of day, and poignantly just misses her. A Louie Lewis of Bowen’s Seale I should have realised before….

    “Flee? – no, she was clutched, compelled, forbidden to leave the spot. She remained pacing to and fro, to and fro, like a last searcher for somebody said to be still alive, till the bells stopped.
    The street had again been empty for some hours when Stella came out of a door and down steps not far from where Louie had stood.”

    Stella on train to see Roderick…
    “She seemed to be someone for the first time finding herself alone among humanity. […] There were movements, between its being a look at faces, when the look became not a look at all; but then invariably, as though in recoil from its own abeyance, it would turn to the window, taking the head with it. […] fateful stops between the stations:”

    And her Dolls house view of London…
    “Stella was fortunate in being able to see through railings or over fences not only yards and gardens but right into back windows of homes. Prominent sculleries with bent-forward heads of women back at the sink again after Sunday dinner, and recessive living-rooms in which the breadwinner armchair-slumbered, legs out, hands across the eyes, displayed themselves; upstairs, at looking-glasses in windows, girls got themselves ready to go out with boys.”

    A doll’s house would have mean a roof much nearer where Robert fell, I guess. Or he would have suffered merely a doll’s fate — repair?

    “eyes themselves exposed for ever to what they saw, subjected to whatever chose to be seen. […] In the end, Stella only was made to realize she was arriving by the sight of Roderick, accompanied by the still taller Fred, on the platform: her carriage ran past them slowly and they saw her.”
    Tellingly, Fred leaves as Stella alights.

    “I [Roderick] couldn’t bear to think of you waiting on and on and on for something, something that in a flash would give what Robert did and what happened enormous meaning like there is in a play of Shakespeare’s – but, must you? If there’s something that is to be said, won’t it say itself? Or mayn’t you come to imagine it has been said, even without your knowing what exactly it was? . . .[…] Because, I suppose art is the only thing that can go on mattering once it has stopped hurting?. . .”

    The Art of Bowen as our best means of healing, however difficult her art is, or because simply it is difficult? Cruel to be kind. As it says in her final novel: She bowed her head, acceptingly, then folded her arms, consoling the elbows.


    As with Chekhov’s gun, this book has a Bowen ending with three, yes, three swans flying overhead in the light of the sky or a skylight — and a baby called Tom is lifted towards them, and mine has an untethered balloon. And if there is a building’s roof to climb anywhere in fiction, then there is always a reason for whichever way down you find to get down, I guess.

    “There can occur in lives a subsidence of the under soil – so that, without the surface having been visibly broken, gradients alter, uprights cant a little out of the straight. A group of persons, of souls – perhaps not conscious, till now, of so much as being in the same neighbourhood – may thus be affected by one happening.”

    The Jungian gestalt, holding each single happening. And here it is a single paragraph — should I quote it — that might tell you what happens in the near future to each and every character, but we still have to read this sprawling chapter, to reach whatever conclusion each of us can obtain, all such conclusions to be co-triangulated, like those shadowy swans above, about what really happens to the people we got to know in this old or new paperback book or digital text…


    Firstly a monologue recorded, not by Connie’s writing a letter to Louie’s husband Tom nor by her Sunday Papers’ reports on the war about the Little Blitz or the droning Doodlebugs or having to keep to five inches in a bath, but by Stella’s words to a Coroner’s Court, without reading the questions to which these words are answers, like a stream of consciousness from a Matchett or a Prothero or (elsefrom) a Molly…
    …with a later reference, in this chapter, to “a dire obsessional monologue,…”


    Louie’s first leasehold monologue in this chapter is in the form of a Bowen freehold narrative, one with its own ‘semi-stumbles’…

    “– no, but Harrison had not a stiff knee! No, every joint of his flexed with an uninteresting smoothness: the side-slip or jerk or jamming was in his manner –“

    “For Louie, subsidence came about through her now knowing Stella not to be virtuous. […] For her, therefore, now it was Stella who had fallen into the street.
    It was the blanks in Louie’s vocabulary which operated inwardly on her soul; most strongly she felt the undertow of what she could not name.”

    “a soul astray […] a wanderer from some better star.”

    “…when Connie, still gummed up with afternoon sleep, marched in towards her over the sheets of newspaper,…”

    “Oh, if Connie had guessed she was being held out on! . . . Nor was this first secret to be the last – for, the long-term effects on Louie of Stella’s fall were kept hidden, throughout the time to follow, with unexpected care.”

    “Tom, no longer in India now owing to being required in North Africa.”

    Till she later gives birth to the actual Kôr itself by an unknown father who had been caught in her flighty net of extramarital affairs or via the parthenogenesis of some unknown God who somehow filled the churches to which the masses (full of people like Louie and Connie) resorted amid the droning onset of Doodlebugs?
    And account of unfolding events of a war that “being global meant it ran off the edges of maps; it was uncontainable. What was being done, for instance, against the Japanese was heard of but never grasped in London. There were too many theatres of war.”


    Roderick’s final extranarrated ‘monologue’ at Mount Morris…

    “…he remembered his mother’s saying he must have been conceived here, but only perfunctorily did he wonder in which room.”

    “Dark ate the outlines of the house as it ate the outlines of the hills and drank from the broken distances of the valley.”
    “: this was the hour of the never-before –“

    “His instinctive antipathy to any abstract thought sent him away from that to his three fathers – the defeated Victor, the determining Cousin Francis, the unadmitted stepfather Robert: there was a confluence in him, at the moment, of the unequal three. […] of the unequal three. How had they made out? Had there not been a prematurity about each of their three deaths,…”

    “…until latterly the war came to be the greater interest – We raised the boat for you, sir, but she isn’t much; she’s decayed.”
    My italics, and also my hidden reference to Nettie, otherwise unreferenced in this chapter. The boat having been sunk because of the very paranoia depicted in this book. A book about paranoia, the greatest ever written.

    And as if they thought there was no point in being eyed by Roderick…
    “The face of either Hannah or Mary appeared from time to time in the darkness of the doorway, but then always footsteps were to be heard padding lightly away again down the stone passage.”


    Harrison and Stella’s combined ‘monologue’, if there can be any such thing other than by the hand of Bowen? — the debriefing of the central triangulation, even though one of the elbows or circumflexes of this triangle had by now vanished, off that earlier roof…now, a new dance of cigarettes… and does Harrison stay till the ‘all clear’ …but Bowen is never all clear, I suggest!

    “ – the sky to the east reflected flamingo-pink nobody could have taken to be the dawn, the west was jagged with flames.”

    A Gothic lift, a cat… a glass of snowdrops, memories… Harrison christened as or by Robert… Stella, engaged, but to whom, and why stating in this top floor flat amid the Little Blitz…

    “She searched the chimneypiece for cigarettes to offer him, meanwhile recollecting that she and Robert still owed him what was left of a packet.”

    “There still must be something that matters that one has forgotten, forgotten because at the time one did not realize how much it did matter.”

    “The neck of a reading-lamp had been so twisted as to direct light on to the sage-green cushions of an armchair at present empty of her.”

    “A dull little gun-metal ash tray caught his eye – ‘Funny, you know,’ he confessed, ‘how I still seem to be seeing that other place. That other place where you were.’”

    “…”a quarrel”?’ The guns rested her by opening up once more: she leaned back to hear them, acquiescent, against the cushions. The bulb of the lamp in its socket and frames of the window shook – otherwise, this room remained a dark-lined kernel of silence under the flare-pale resounding sky. In the subsidence of the shocks of the guns could be heard the lofty drumming of the raider:”

    “You were the last of him. – No, not that: I am the last of him. You then? Were you then, somehow, love’s necessary missing part? You brought that into us, if you killed him. But now, you and I are no longer two of three. From between us some pin has been drawn out: we’re apart. We’re not where we were – look, not even any more in the same room. The pattern’s been swept away, so where’s the meaning? Think!”

    The pattern’s been swept away, the clarity hidden somewhere else.


    Louie and Connie’s final Bowen ‘monologue’…

    Baby? Tom? Christened Thomas Victor. That strange Jungian pattern of names still maintained. The developing and explicit “pregnant secrecy” of Connie’s newspapers, evolving eventually into our own mass textings… war events recounted …the Secret Weapon as (here unnamed) Doodlebugs: “then, it was shameful how fear wrenched thoughts home – droning things, mindlessly making for you, thick and fast, day and night, tore the calico of London, raising obscene dust out of the sullen bottom mind. […] On and off, on and off sounded the sirens in the nightmare sunlessness: perpetually, Connie had to be dashing to the post.”
    And that Seale connection with Louie as well as Bowen, while we all resort seawards towards the end scene with the three swans. “The sea, there, glittered as though nothing had happened.” And an abeyance of evacuation from this book to a boring county…and a second-hand pram, or an old secondhand paperback to be pushed around in…
    The words drone, too, like bombs about to announce themselves by silence…

    ‘“When the King himself only uses five inches in his bath?”

    “Half of the time this is not half real to me, Connie;”

    “Connie, placed her bag in position under her elbow,…”


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