"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Monday, January 24, 2022

Elizabeth Bowen's strange stories

The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen

Bowen's protagonists are resolutely upper class, full of their own importance and rightness. They are riding for a fall.

With spouses, friends, and children, they journey to unimaginable and devastating conclusions.

Below are some of my favorites.


Hand in Glove

....This trunk had two neat brass locks, one left, one right, along the front of the lid. Ethel, after fumbling, opened the first – then, so great was her hurry to know what might be within that she could not wait but slipped her hand in under the lifted corner. She pulled out one pricelessly lacy top of what must be a bride-veil, and gave a quick laugh – must not this be an omen? She pulled again, but the stuff resisted, almost as though it were being grasped from inside the trunk – she let go, and either her eyes deceived her or the lace began to be drawn back slowly, in again, inch by inch. What was odder was, that the spotless finger-tip of a white kid glove appeared for a moment, as though exploring its way out, then withdrew.

The Storm
    This is a story in the tradition of 'what went wrong for the English people vacationing in Italy.' The subject would make a great anthology, with works by everyone from Hartley to Aickman. Moral: never visit Italy.

The Shadowy Third
    Beautifully executed story: Bowen gives us a collage of dialogue and anecdote accumulating dread over previous events unknown to us. Bureaus in the attic are empty but locked; a sitting room is blocked-off; the new wife's thimble is too similar to another.

    ....'We're not safe and I don't believe we're even good. There isn't enough happiness in the world to go round. Suppose we had taken somebody else's happiness, somebody else's life …'

      'Pussy, hush, be quiet. I forbid you. You've been dreaming. You've been silly, imagining these horrors. My darling, there's no sin in happiness. You shouldn't play with dreadful thoughts. Nothing can touch us.'

The Back Drawing-Room
A cyclist in Ireland seeks shelter from rain

    .....'I had a hot whisky at dinner, and told them where I'd been. I told them exactly, and my cousin seemed puzzled, kept on contradicting. "No, no, you couldn't have been there . No houses along that road." That irritated me; I made him get his motor map, and I traced where I'd been, every turn. Just where I expected there was a place marked Kilbarran, and I put my thumb on it at once and said, "That's the house!" He laughed and said, "That's impossible, there isn't a house there." I said, "Why?" and he said there hadn't been one for two years. "Oh, there was one," he said, "and this marks it; this is an old map." I can't tell you how angry I felt – for no reason. He said. "There was a place, you see, until two years ago – very fine it was; then they came one night and burnt it, the winter before last. We had expected it would have gone sooner, and the Barrans – the people themselves – did too, though they never said a word. Those women went about looking green."

Dead Mabelle
    Amazing the number of haunted movie and haunted cinema stories. Would people really lose themselves in  Kardashian or Clooney simulacra today?

The Foothold
    An emotional triangle in a haunted country house. From the corner of the eye...

    A young man returns from colonial service in Ceylon. His family has locked the top drawer of the sideboard. And why does no one believe his confession?

The Cat Jumps
Bowen's masterpiece, an unsurpassed "house that dripped blood" story of insidious disintegration. As usual, Bowen fills in no blanks.

....The Harold Wrights, however, were not deterred. They had light, bright, shadowless, thoroughly disinfected minds. They believed that they disbelieved in most things but were unprejudiced; they enjoyed frank discussions. They dreaded nothing but inhibitions; they had no inhibitions. They were pious agnostics, earnest for social reform; they explained everything to their children, and were annoyed to find their children could not sleep at nights because they thought there was a complex under the bed. They knew all crime to be pathological, and read their murders only in scientific books.

The Disinherited

....I wouldn't mind so much if it weren't for the black beetles; I always think they try and run up my legs. My cat eats them, but you should see how they multiply; however, don't tell me a cat's not faithful. I bake the stuff myself; I'm a real home girl, I am; there's plenty of use for a gas-oven without putting one's head in it, as I always tell the girls.

10 April 2019

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