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Authors: Elizabeth Bowen

The Death of the Heart

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ELIZABETH BOWEN

THE DEATH OF THE HEART

Elizabeth Bowen is widely considered to be one of the greatest novelists of the Twentieth Century. While her novels masquerade as witty comedies of manners, set in the lavish country houses of the Anglo-Irish or in elegant London homes, they mine the depths of private tragedy with a subtle ferocity and psychological complexity comparable to Henry James.

Ms Bowen was born in Dublin in 1899, the only child of an Irish lawyer and landowner. Her book
Bowen’s Court
(1942) is the history of her family and their house, in County Cork. Throughout her life, she divided her time between London and Bowen’s Court, which she inherited. She wrote many acclaimed novels and short story collections, was awarded the CBE (Companion of the Order of the British Empire) in 1948, and was made a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature in 1965. She died in 1973.

THE DEATH OF THE HEART

ELIZABETH BOWEN

©

Anchor Books A Division of Random House, Inc. New York

FIRST ANCHOR BOOKS EDITION, MAY 2000

Copyright © rgj8, copyright renewed ig66 by Elizabeth Bowen

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover m the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc , New York, in 1939.

Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress cataloged the Knopf edition as follows: Bowen, Elizabeth, 1899-1973. The death of the heart
Elizabeth Bowen. Published by A. A. Knopf, New York, 1939. p. cm. PZ3.B6738 DE4 10476084 CIP

ANCHOR ISBN: 0-385-72017-3

www.anchorbooks.com

CONTENTS

Part One
   
The World

Part Two
   
The Flesh

Part Three
   
The Devil

THE WORLD
I

THAT
morning’s ice, no more than a brittle film, had cracked and was now floating in segments. These tapped together or, parting, left channels of dark water, down which swans in slow indignation swam. The island stood in frozen woody brown dusk: it was now between three and four in the afternoon. A sort of breath from the clay, from the city outside the park, condensing, made the air unclear; through this, the trees round the lake soared frigidly up. Bronze cold of January bound the sky and the landscape; the sky was shut to the sun—but the swans, the rims of the ice, the pallid withdrawn Regency terraces had an unnatural burnish, as though cold were light. There is something momentous about the height of winter. Steps rang on the bridges, and along the black walks. This weather had set in; it would freeze harder tonight.

On a footbridge between an island and the mainland a man and woman stood talking, leaning on the rail. In the intense cold, which made everyone hurry, they had chosen to make this long summerlike pause. Their oblivious stillness made them look like lovers—actually, their elbows were some inches apart: they were riveted not to each other but to what she said. Their thick coats made their figures sexless and stiff as chessmen: they were well-to-do, inside bulwarks of fur and cloth their bodies generated a steady warmth; they could only see the cold—or, if they felt it, they only felt it at their extremities. Now and then he stamped on the bridge, or she brought her muff up to her face. Ice pushed down the channel under the bridge, so that while they talked their reflections were constantly broken up.

He said: “You were mad ever to touch the thing.”

“All the same, I feel sure you would have, St. Quentin.”

“No, I doubt that. I never do want to know, really, what anyone thinks.”

“If I’d had the slightest idea—”

“However, you did.”

“And I’ve seldom been more upset.”

“Poor Anna! … How did you find it, though?”

“Oh, I wasn’t looking for it,” said Anna quickly. “I should far rather not know that the thing existed, and till then, you see, I’d had no idea that it did. Her white dress came back with one of mine from the cleaners; I unpacked mine because I wanted to put it on, then, as Matchett was out that day, I took hers up to hang it up in her room. Portia was out at lessons, of course. Her room looked, as I’ve learnt to expect, shocking: she has all sorts of arrangements Matchett will never touch. You know what some servants are—how they ride one down, and at the same time make all sorts of allowance for temperament in children or animals.”

“You would call her a child?”

“In ways, she’s more like an animal. I made that room so pretty before she came. I had no idea how blindly she was going to live. Now I hardly ever go in there; its simply discouraging.”

St. Quentin said rather vaguely: “How annoying for you!” He had screwed round his head inside the folds of his scarf, to consider Anna with abstract attentiveness. For she had this little way of travestying herself and her self-pities, till the view she took of herself, when she was with him, seemed to concert exactly with the view he took of her sex. She wrote herself down like this, obligingly, to suit him, with a touch of friendly insolence. He saw in this overacting a kind of bluffing, which made him like Anna, whom he liked much, more. Her smoothness of contour, her placid derisive smile, her way of drawing her chin in when she did smile, often made him think of a sardonic bland white duck. But there seemed no doubt at this moment that, beyond acting, she was really put out: her chin was tucked inside her big fur collar, and under the fur cap she wore peaked forward her forehead was wrinkled up. She was looking down unhappily at her muff, with her fine blonde lashes cast on her cheek; now and then a hand came out of her muff and she dabbed at the tip of her nose with a handkerchief. She could feel St. Quentin looking, but took no notice: she detected the touch of malice in his pity for women.

“All I did,” she went on, “when I had hung her dress up, was to take one look round, rather feeling I ought. As usual, my heart sank; I really did feel it was time I took a line. But she and I are on such curious terms—when I ever do take a line, she never knows what it is. She is so unnaturally callous about
objects
—she treats any hat, for instance, like an old envelope. Nothing that’s hers ever seems, if you know what I mean, to belong to her: which makes it meaningless to give her any present, unless it’s something to eat, and she doesn’t always like that. It may be because they always lived in hotels. Well, one thing I had thought she’d like was a little
escritoire
thing that came from Thomas’s mother’s—her father may well have used it. I’d had that put in her room: it has drawers that lock, and quite a big flap to write on. The flap locks too: I hoped that would make her see that I quite meant her to have a life of her own. You know, though it may seem rash, we even give her a latchkey. But she seems to have lost the keys—nothing was locked, and there was no sign of them.”

“How annoying!” said St. Quentin again.

“It was indeed. Because if only—However … Well, that wretched little
escritoire
caught my eye. She had crammed it, but really, stuffed it, as though it were a bin. She seems to like hoarding paper; she gets almost no letters, but she’d been keeping all sorts of things Thomas and I throw away—begging letters, for instance, or quack talks about health. As Matchett would say, it gave me rather a turn.”

“When you opened the desk?”

“Well, it looked so awful, you see. The flap would not shut—papers gushed out all round it and even stuck through the hinge. Which made me shake with anger—I really can’t tell you why. So I scooped the papers all out and dropped them into the armchair—I intended to leave them there, then tell her she must be tidy. Under the papers were some exercise books with notes she had taken at her lessons, and under the exercise books this diary, which, as I say, I read. One of those wretched black books one buys for about a shilling with
moiré
outsides… . After
that
, of course, I had to put everything back the way it was.”

“Exactly as it had been?”

“Exactly, I’m quite certain. One may never reproduce the same muddle exactly, but she would never know.”

There was a pause, and St. Quentin looked at a seagull. Then he said: “How inconvenient it all is!”

Inside her muff, Anna drove her hands together; raising her eyes she looked angrily down the lake. “She’s made nothing but trouble since before she was born.”

“You mean, it’s a pity she ever was?”

“Well, naturally, I feel that at the moment. Though I would rather, of course, that you didn’t say so—she is Thomas’s sister after all.”

“But don’t you think perhaps you exaggerate? The agitation of seeing something quite unexpected often makes one think it worse than it is.”

“That diary could not be worse than it is. That is to say, it couldn’t be worse for me. At the time, it only made me superficially angry—but I’ve had time since then to think it over. And I haven’t quite finished yet—I keep remembering more things.”

“Was it very … unkind?”

“No, not meant to be that. No, she’d like to help us, I’m sure.”

“Then, mawkish, you mean?”

“I mean, more, completely distorted and distorting. As I read I thought, either this girl or I are mad. And I don’t think I am, do you?”

“Surely not. But why should you be so upset if it simply shows what is the matter with her? Was it affected?”

“Deeply hysterical.”

“You’ve got to allow for style, though. Nothing arrives on paper as it started, and so much arrives that never started at all. To write is always to rave a little—even if one did once know what one meant, which at her age seems unlikely. There are ways and ways of trumping a thing up: one gets more discriminating, not necessarily more honest.
I
 
should know, after all.”

“I am sure you do, St. Quentin. But this was not a bit like your beautiful books. In fact it was not like
writing
at all.” She paused and added: “She was so odd about me.”

St. Quentin, looking frustrated, started feeling about for his handkerchief. He blew his nose and went on, with iron determination: “Style is the thing that’s always a bit phony, and at the same time you cannot write without style. Look how much goes to addressing an envelope—for, after all, it’s a matter of set-out. And a diary, after all, is written to please oneself—therefore it’s bound to be enormously written up. The obligation to write it is all in one’s own eye, and look how one is when it’s almost always written—upstairs, late, overwrought, alone… All the same, Anna, it must have interested you.”

“It opened at my name.”

“So you read straight on from there?”

“No, it opened at the last entry; I read that, then went back and started from the beginning. The latest entry was about dinner the evening before.”

“Let’s see: had you a party?”

“No, no: much worse than that. It had been simply her and me and Thomas. She must have bolted upstairs and written everything down. Naturally, when I’d read that I went back to the beginning, to see what had got her into that state of mind. I still don’t see why she wrote the thing at all.”

“Perhaps,” said St. Quentin mildly, “she’s interested in experience for its own sake.”

“How could she be, yet? At her age, look how little she’s got. Experience isn’t interesting till it begins to repeat itself—in fact, till it does that, it hardly
is
experience.”

“Tell me, do you remember the first sentence of all?”

“Indeed I do,” Anna said. 
‘“
So I am with them, in London
’”

“With a comma after the ‘them’? …The comma is good; that’s style. … I should like to have seen it, I must say.”

“Still, I’m glad you didn’t, St. Quentin. It might make you not come to our house again. Or, if you did still come, it might make you not talk.”

“I see,” said St. Quentin shortly. Drumming with stiff, gloved fingers on the bridge rail, he frowned down at a swan till it vanished under the bridge. His eyes, like the swan’s, were set rather near in. He broke out: “Fancy her watching me! What a little monster she must be. And she looks so aloof. Does she think I try to be clever?”

BOOK: The Death of the Heart
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