Friday, 18 October 2013

Book Review: A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6535412-a-world-of-loveIreland is a small country on the Western edge of Europe and often in the shadow of the bigger neighbour on the British Isles, the United Kingdom. As a holiday destination the Emerald Isle enjoys growing popularity and not just the area of Dublin, but the entire country. On my tour around Europe I’m taking you to Ireland today, more precisely to County Cork. My choice of book for this review is A World of Love by the renowned Anglo-Irish author Elizabeth Bowen.

Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin, Ireland, in June 1899, but moved to Hythe in England, U.K. with her mother in 1907. With the help of her writer friend Rose Macauley, she made her literary debut at the age of twenty-four bringing out a collection of short stories titled Encounters. Her first novel was published four years later in 1927. Many more novels, short stories and essays followed throughout her career. Among the most notable works of Elizabeth Bowen count the novels The Last September (1929), The House in Paris (1935), The Death of the Heart (1938) and above all The Heat of the Day (1949) set in London during the bombing raids of World War II. A World of Love came out in 1955. Her last novel, Eva Trout or Changing Scenes, was released in 1968 and received much acclaim. Elizabeth Bowen died in London, U.K., in February 1973.

It’s an extraordinarily hot June in the early 1950s when A World of Love unfolds for twenty-year-old Jane Danby. She has just finished secretarial school in London and is home for holidays at Montefort manor in County Cork, Ireland. Her parents, Fred and Lilia Danby, manage and maintain the solitary and run-down country estate which belongs to Antonia who inherited it from her cousin Guy after he was killed in World War I. One night, after a Fête given by Lady Latterly at the neighbouring castle, Jane goes to the attics to fetch a hat which she remembered when she saw the lady with hers. On her way out an old trunk catches Jane’s attention and she can’t resist opening its lid to look inside. She finds a beautiful old muslin dress and when she takes it out a packet of letters drops at her feet. Back in her room Jane reads the letters lacking every hint at when or where they were written, who wrote them or whom they were written to. They are love letters and make the girl on the brink of womanhood dream. The following day she mentions the letters at table and unintentionally confronts her mother as well as her motherly friend and mentor Antonia with their past. All of a sudden the house is filled with Guy’s ghostly presence and the people at Montefort are forced to reassess their relations to him as well as to each other. Also Jane’s father Fred and her twelve-year-old sister Maud are drawn into the emotional whirl of memories, disappointment and grief coming to light. Jane is surprised by the repercussions of her find, but doesn’t give them much thought. She has her own future to engage her, especially after Lady Latterly has invited her to a dinner party at the castle and leads her step by step away from her limited childhood environment into the wide adult world.

A World of Love is a philosophical and psychological novel revolving around love, pity and the influence of time on people. Overall there isn’t happening much. The story comes alive rather through the atmosphere which Elizabeth Bowen’s poetic language creates than through the simple plot that spans no more than three days. The dilapidated manor, the picturesque landscape and the suffocating heat mirror the psychological condition of the characters and their memories. Guy is the omnipresent symbol of love sought, found and eventually lost. To my taste there could be a little more action and the unconvincing end comes a bit sudden, but for the rest it’s an interesting and easy-to-read novel.

Doing some online research on Elizabeth Bowen’s A World of Love I found that it probably isn’t her best work. For me it was a good read which I enjoyed enough to write about it here on my blog. At any rate, I wish to recommend this Irish author and this novel in particular to those among you who have a liking for the poetic and the psychological.

4 comments:

  1. I love the work of Elizabeth Bowen. I think her best works are her set in WWII short stories. I have not read this novel but hope to one day. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Mel U! I don't know the short stories you mentioned, but to my experience many literary works set in WWII are more powerful than others, especially if people wrote them who lived at the time. Well, I reckon that war necessarily is a very impressive and formative experience.

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  2. Who is lady latterly?

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    1. Yes, who is Lady Latterly... she's a neighbour of the Danbys, the lady who gives the Fête at the castle which Jane attends the night she finds the musslin dress and the packet of love letters and who takes such a fancy to the young girl that she invites her over to the castle regularly.

      Thanks for pointing out that my review left this unclear... I changed it, as you will see.

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