HER TABLE SPREAD by Elizabeth Bowen
“I’ve destroyed my beautiful red dress and they’ve eaten up your dinner.”
Bowen’s trope of a torn red dress again, a destroyer in more ways than one, and here, again, Bowen’s ‘Unromantic Princess’, within a classic Bowenesque pre-Aickman dislocation, as well as the sound of Mr Alban playing piano music as accompaniment. But, there again, the windows are opened by the family to ‘let the music downhill’, in a castle upon an island amid the “bad times” (Ireland?) and thus becomes, I feel one of those alignment games of my childhood called Battleships and Destroyers. The Submarine, here, though, is missing. Alignment striving critically towards meaning or madness in the resistant water-dragging times that we also live through today.
Mr Alban has come, dared to come, despite this family’s rumoured madness, to seek the hand of their heiress, a special needs child called Valeria Cuffe aged 25 who mistakes him, amid her lantern-waving at the lit portholes of the anchored destroyer, at night, mistakes him for the sailor she once met from an earlier destroyer. That time before when the destroyer came, the sailors walked without touching the daffodils…
“…the windows, of which there were too many. He received a strong impression someone outside was waiting to come in.”
“…that constant reflection up from the water that even now prolonged the too-long day.”
“‘But they’ve been afraid of the rain!’ chimed in Valeria Cuffe.
‘Hush,’ said her aunt, ‘that’s silly. Sailors would be accustomed to getting wet.’”
“Once, wound up in the rain, a bird whistled, seeming hardly a bird.”
And in Bowen’s mackintoshes, nobody knows the whys and wherefores about anything, I guess…
“In mackintoshes, Mr Rossiter and Alban meanwhile made their way to the boat-house, Alban did not know why.”
And “among the apples and amphoras”, there is also an elbow to tweak…
“‘Let’s go for a row now – let’s go for a row with a lantern,’ besought Valeria, jumping and pulling her aunt’s elbow.”
Full context of this review here: https://expenscusil.wordpress.com/elizabeth-bowen-stories-18/#comment-574
A few years ago I aligned Aickman with Thomas Mann in AICKMANN.
Today, I align Aickman and Bowen in Wake the Elbow.
I cannot yet find any previous evidence that anyone else has linked them as strongly kindred writers of stories. A mutual synergy based on textual evidence.
They had mutual friends, I infer, and often similar social circles. They both seem to have similar temperaments and propensities, unless you disagree with my inferences from the available evidence.
RA 1914 – 1981 | EB 1899 – 1973.
I recommend all Bowen’s wonderful stories as part of my thesis, but these in particular alongside my reviews of them in the order I recently re-read them… LOVE, HAND IN GLOVE, THE DEMON LOVER, THE INHERITED CLOCK, MYSTERIOUS KÔR, THE APPLE TREE, THE DANCING MISTRESS, NO. 16, GREEN HOLLY, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO, FOOTHOLD, A WALK IN THE WOODS, THE DISINHERITED, RECENT PHOTOGRAPH, HUMAN HABITATION, CHARITY, ANN LEE’S, DEAD MABELLE, FLOWERS WILL DO, LOOK AT ALL THOSE ROSES, GONE AWAY, THE CLAIMANT, THE PARROT, THE CHEERY SOUL, THE SHADOWY THIRD, MRS MOYSEY, PINK MAY, THE STORM, HER TABLE SPREAD.
In particular in particular — LOVE, HUMAN HABITATION, MRS MOYSEY, all three in the Vintage Bowen Collected Stories.
The above choices are not necessarily the best Bowen stories but the ones most applicable to my WAick-the-ELBOWen thesis of Bowen in synergy with Aickman. Bone in Ache Man.
My first discovery of Elbows being significant in many of Bowen’s stories came during my recent re-reading and reviewing of them, starting with my (unconsciously or naively, then) recognising two related but separate sections about elbows in my review of ’A Day In The Dark’.
I hope, indeed, that all my recent reviewing of ELizabeth BOWen Wakes the Elbow and Stirs her Stories for a bigger audience.
More power to her and her elbow!
EDIT HISTORY by Jen Calleja
An engaging sort of editable Wikipedia containing info capsules upon each of the Islets, an archipelago in mutual synergy with Christopher Priest’s Dream one, here any dreams being infiltrated or toughened by hardcore realities of the world with which they are in osmosis. One islet is rumoured to be Hitler’s exile venue, another where generations are in apprenticeship-loop. And many more. One is a single purpose Praiser Islet. I feel, immodestly, that my seasoned gestalt real-time reviewing and this ‘story’ were made for each other, a Venn diagram or palimpsest upon the other. Each of its readers are part of the collusive triangulation of coordinates — something I have long tried to foster.
A story included in Best British Short Stories 2021
Full review of book here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/11/09/best-british-short-stories-2021/
“‘We might have been half-way to the what’s-his-name by now!’ Indeed, they might have been further than half-way.” — Elizabeth Bowen (MOSES)
MRS MOYSEY by Elizabeth Bowen
“Leslie raised an elbow and dropped his head back in an expressive gesture. “
“raising his eyebrows”, too.
How could I ever have forgotten this mighty mighty story! So Aickman-influential, and so utterly original and off-the-wall Bowenesque. Her brilliant touches of mainstream literature here mutated, in “Mrs Moysey”, into today’s co-vivid dreams… and vice versa, in a relentless rhythm of competing forces, absurdism versus sense, cannibalism’s platefuls of mince versus chocolate box bingeing, subtlety versus blatancy, complexity subsuming simplicity like the ‘voluptuary’ lap of Mrs M, a lap itself subsuming the two “babies” of her nephew Leslie — Daph and Little Bobby one of them at least with a coal-scuttle profile, later stained in brown chocolate…oriental or so-called “small dark face”, or plain white?
“Someone wittily said she looked like Christmas Eve every day.”
This is Mrs M in her Aunthood with all her boxes, each day, a widow, who has her nephew Leslie stay with her on leave from his job in Japan, staying in her ungentlemanised house, a nephew later pursued by his wife Emerald Voles and their two ‘babies’…
There is much of stayings and goings, of stays and uncorsetings, of his staring out from her bow window at the ladies who pass in the street with nice figures, his being a curvilinear leaning. The ladies look at him up there from the street, too, stained on the glass. (“….Leslie, exotic and waxlike, began to be displayed in the bow-window,…”) Almost like prostitution on show in a red light area? Later, he is replaced there by “Some waxy-leaved ferns and a dish of thick-fingered cacti, palpably crawling,…” Later still, his two “babies” stare from there, after he escapes Mrs M’s house to live with a Mrs Moss (cf Moysey and Moses).
Mrs M’s servants not only wondered about stays but also about strange “goings-on”.
“…as though she were trying a new kind of stays that were not a success.”
“She hitched the top of herself further over her stays, adjusted the stays as inconspicuously as possible,…”
“Leslie did seem to have passed the fine line between staying and living.”
The halfway house in the no man’s land of time?
“Nobody specified what the little failing was; there existed an understanding. Yet it did seem curious that the parcels one saw her slip home with in the cold morning or in the evening dusk might be round, square or diamond-shaped, hard or bulgy, but were never cylindrical. And no one had ever seen her go into or come out of a – well, one wouldn’t like to say what. But so flushed, so abrupt, so secretive – there wasn’t a doubt.”
And Emerald finally arrives, and there is much significance attached to her Mackintosh that resonates with my review of Ellen yesterday in SO MUCH DEPENDS…
“Three days later a young woman with hands in her mackintosh pockets…”
“…studying the concavities of the mackintosh, she hadn’t much on underneath.”
Mrs M at first cannot believe this is her nephew’s wife because…
“Leslie would never have had a wife without curves.”
Emerald’s view of Mrs M, meanwhile…
“She saw a pink lady, expansive, with a curious toppling expression from the Pompadour-curves of her coiffure and round, apprehensive eyes.”
“Leslie’s children partook of his feeling for softness, for the curvilinear, for unrestraint.”
“At first Mrs Moysey, after a scuffle of preparation would come out like a flannel and marabout cloud and envelop them; beneath her vast impetus, trailing boas and shawls, they would be borne along to the nursery, where she would endlessly play with them. Then one day unexpectedly (to the breathless housemaid, incredibly) the door was held open a crack and Daph and her brother oozed round it. This privileged oozing-round became on wet mornings and all afternoons a precedent. They were engulfed in the innermost secrecy of that secret house.”
The “babies”, meanwhile…
“They became, it seemed incurably, yellow, spotty and demented. Their darlingness was in prolonged eclipse.”
Coming and staying, ups and downs, too…
“…their little ups and downs – we all have. Try … try a little medicine.”
Makes the reader feel…
“…against everything but forgivingness; in the tentacles of this icy and arid forgivingness,..”
“Emerald’s children looked up at her out of a coloured earthquake-city. Unnerved by her manner they turned to retreat; gilt, flowered and brightly pictorial boxes scrunched with the unresistance of cardboard under their wildly-placed feet. They evacuated, with shaken majesty, an empire of chocolate boxes. A kind of road system of ribbons twisted over the carpet; a round lid with a pussy cat’s head looking out of a horse-shoe bowled away from them, spun like a platter at Emerald’s feet and was still. The boxes were very artistic and striking.”
And now we realise that Mrs M is Bowen herself in such a mutant dream, her thoughts on her own writing, as surrounding this passage…
“Bobby and Daph enter into everything – why, I’m even reading them my book.”
“Then there are some things, of course, I leave out. Well, you wouldn’t expect to find in a book about anyone’s indigestion…”
…or even veiled cannibalism!
“Thick brown stains, dispersed from their mouths by the dabbing of Mrs Moysey, echoed over their faces. A thin brown dribble of chocolate ran down Daph’s frock.”
“And Mrs Moysey – most unwilling victor – half clutching the children to her because Mother was so frightening, half pushing them from her because Mother was so lonely, poor Mrs Moysey – most unconvinced voluptuary – did not know where to look …”
And I look away, too. Unsure of what I have just read. Wondering about my own reaction to it. But it is seminal within the context of this long journey I am still making into her short fiction here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/31260-2/
My rough video passage yesterday towards the two Yieldingtrees on a gloomy Novemeber afternoon: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2021/11/20/my-visit-to-the-two-yieldingtrees-this-gloomy-november-afternoon/
But on a more positive note, that may not be a wholly bad thing as I find they are useful and therapeutic.
Today’s review is the next in my marathon examination of all Elizabeth Bowen stories: SO MUCH DEPENDS, here: https://weirdmonger.wordpress.com/elizabeth-bowens-stories-16/#comment-474. Even down to one elbow, there is still no elbowroom. We yearn to have our arms stretched out like wings.
Bowen’s influence on Robert Aickman, and vice versa, mutual synergies and mutual friends, mutual shadows.
Zeno’s Paradox in Thirds as well as Halves. Elbows and other absurdist devices, other objective-correlatives.