Two Bowenesque stories consecutively reviewed today by chance…


JACK COMMON: Nineteen

“‘Look at that moon. Isn’t it marvellously bright?’
‘It is a beauty; you can see the mountains on it. Wouldn’t like to live there, though.’”

Not that this is blackout, cratered London of Elizabeth Bowen’s Mysterious Kôr (my review here) but it has the same counterintuitive Moon-yearning as if levelled love living there, instead of 19 year old Ella’s loyalty to the shop and its people, just like Jem’s papermaking place above, and Ella’s beau (shall we call him Jack?), I infer is quite older than her, and they talk tantamount to living in an idyllic cottage — equivalent even to eloping to Bowen’s darkest Ridder Haggard Africa? The fact they dashed out to miss the National Anthem at the end of the performance they watched of La Bohème becomes almost endearing, in hindsight.
Unrequited love made richly Bowenified — or Bowen, in a more linear direction of time, made Common or frost-rimed?

“Then he wedged an elbow into the corner and brought her close to him. He kissed her and felt full of pity because her lips were so cold.” (My italics)

“…between the cobbles tiny wedges of shadow; a piece of paper fluttered but could not get away from the middle of the road, or would it not have sailed upward to the moon like a great white moth?”

“….one could feel the silent penetration of the moon’s rays. One could imagine them raining down, a silent fall of electric radiance throughout the night, falling on roof-tiles and sheltered sleepers for the most part,…”

“….first a dream of what they might do together, and he do for her; then a memory of what she had said or how she had looked; then a feeling of shame at his omission to be alert and witty or entertaining, and of reproach for being a fool and an incompetent; then again the happy dream.”

***
OLIVE SCHREINER: The Buddhist Priest’s Wife

“Did she never wake up in the night crying for that which she could not have? Were thought and travel enough for her?”

This is the perfect complement to the Common story that I just read above, a Schreiner story imbued with the essential agonisingly felt and couched lengths of Bowenesque dialogue (or is Bowen’s dialogue Schreineresque?) between two people, and here such dialogue concerns their ever-to-be timeless unrequiting of a once possible love levelled between them by above W.S. Gilbert’s algebra (Schreiner: “I suppose if fifty men and fifty women had to solve a mathematical problem, they would all do it in the same way;”) and also by WSG’s diagrammatic geometry (in Schreiner, plus coloured Venn Diagrams of gender rôle play) — the pair of them hankering, not to reach together an idyllic cottage nor even separately the mountains of the moon or darkest Africa’s Kôr, but she to India as the eponymous woman of the title, and he, she suggests, should go to America.
Did he go?
And did she return? — we somehow already poignantly know from the very start!

All of this imbued with ELizabeth BOWen’s (and now as pre-owned by Schreiner) rôle-playing of love as interspersed with separate bouts of what I have often dubbed ‘cigarette dancing’ in Bowen and her elbow syndromes….
There is far too much perfectly pitched ‘cigarette dancing’ material to quote, but here are the two separately telling elbow references of counterpoising between them….

“I intend to marry. It’s a curious thing,’ he said, resuming his pose with an elbow on one knee…”

“‘Yes,’ she said, standing up and leaning with her elbow against the fireplace.”

***

Full context of above reviews: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/12/penguin-books-of-british-short-stories/

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