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

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

My notes on "Near Zennor" by Elizabeth Hand

"Near Zennor" (2011 novella)

Elizabeth Hand

The Best of Elizabeth Hand (2021 Subterranean Press)

My underlinings and marginal notes are here.

What themes appear in the work? 

Missing/dilated time

Bigger on the inside



Spousal insecurity

What gives the work its structure or shape?

Just-widowed Jeffrey investigates an experience his wife had when a teen but never told him about. She tested him when they first got together by having him read one of Robert Bennington novels, the uncanniness of which alarms him. He does not respond the way Anthea did, so she drops the question. Would she have told Jeffrey about her Ravenwood experience with Evelyn and Moira if he had fallen under the Bennington spell?

Where does the work divide into parts? 




Zennor/Penzance/Golovenna Farm/Ravenwood


B&B called Cliff Cottage

What words and images are repeated? 

Three lights

Full moon

Flat stone








Tin fudge containers

What patterns do they form?

Tonal and location shifts each time Jeffrey finds a puzzle piece, or realizes he needs one he did not know was missing. 

How is the plot developed? 

Jeffrey backtracks based on clues in the 5 letters he finds cleaning out house as it is readied to go on the market.

Where is there any foreshadowing? 

Present events foreshadowed in past events narrated as flashbacks as Jeffrey investigates and interviews

What are the points of greatest suspense? 

Past: Ravenswood pasture

Present: in mound at Golovenna Farm

Which conflicts add tension? 

Conflict of Jeffrey needing to resolve Anthea's Ravenwood omission. Early on we learn that in 30 years of marriage they weathered affairs, losing their newborn, childlessness. Jeffrey does not seem to resent the omission, but it scares and threatens him.

How are they resolved? 

Jeffrey's experience at the mound at Golovenna Farm is not identical to Anthea's at Ravenwood, but it is of a similar intensity, insistence, and impact. At the end of "Near Zennor" as he heads to the airport Jeffrey seems to act like it is resolved.

Where does the climax occur? 

Golovenna Farm mound

What does the resolution accomplish?

Unstated. But… At the end of "Near Zennor" as he heads to the airport Jeffrey seems to act like it is resolved.

What do the various characters represent?

Jeffrey: architect. Order/technique/planning/collaboration

….He knew it wasn't rational; knew his response derived from his compulsive sense of order, what Anthea had always called his architect's left brain. 

     "Jeffrey would never even try to put a square peg into a round hole," she'd said once at a dinner party. "He'd just design a new hole to fit it."

     He could think of no place he could fit the five letters written to Robert Bennington…

What motivates them? 


Nights were a prolonged torment: he was haunted by the realisation that Anthea been extinguished, a spent match pinched between one's fingers. He thought of Houdini, arch-rationalist of another century, who desired proof of a spirit world he desperately wanted to believe in.

Anthea: 13 year Anthea old becomes infuriated with Robert Bennington over the course of the five letters she sends to him without response. Anthea tells Jeffrey she and Anthea were jealous when they imagined runaway Moira had cone to see Bennington.

"If she is there with you is it okay if I come too? I could come alone without Evelyn, her mother is a BITCH."

How is character revealed through dialogue, action, commentary, and physical description?

Anthea's letters

Jeffrey's memory of Anthea pressing Robert Bennington's books on him when they first made love.

Discussion with Evelyn


In what ways do major characters change? 

Jeffrey's understanding of Anthea changes.He comes to be better reconciled to her death.

What events and interactions bring about the changes?

Jeffrey has the luxury of exploring Anthea's secrets (as revealed in her teenage letters to Bennington) because he is wealthy enough to jet over to the UK. There he can interview Evelyn, then explore the landscape near Zennor with focused sifting discrimination.

What is the relationship between setting and


Anthea's experience as a teen near Zennor could only happen in the Ravenwood pasture. Jeffrey must act by going to that site and exploring it firsthand.

To what extent does setting mirror the characters' psychological states?

The Ravenwood pasture encounter experienced by Anthea, Evelyn, and Moira: dread-full moonlight, slowly approach of  lights that seem summoned by their pasture ritual with offering. 

Jeffrey's state as he approaches an understanding of Anthea's is mirrored by his approach to Cliff Cottage B&B: strange, confusing, vertiginous, deeply alarming. Physically he is being pulled/extracted from the atomized complacency of soporific grief.

Who is the narrator? 

Third-person-limited narration. The entire story is told by following only Jeffrey; he finds and reads Anthea's Bennington letters; flies to the UK to interview Evelyn, goes to Cornwall to find the Ravenwood pasture and Bennington's Golovenna Farm with its fogou mound. All Anthea's teenage experiences are investigated and collated in this way

What is the author's own point of view? 

Hand is rooting for Jeffrey to keep going ahead every time she recomplicates the mystery she has set him. Authorial sentiment, however, is never explicit.

What are the author's implied values and attitudes? 

Liberal, petty bourgeois professional.

Does the author show any biases? 

Hand only makes one misstep in "Near Zennor" that breaks the fourth wall.

     Evelyn laughed. "Yeah. And see where it's got me. I have no idea, Jeffrey. If you ask me, logically, what do I think? Well, I think it's just one of those things that we'll never know what happened. Maybe two different dimensions overlapped—in superstring theory, something like that is theoretically possible, a sort of duality."

     She shook her head. "I know it's crazy. Probably it's just one of those things that don't make any sense and never will. Like how did Bush stay in office for so long?"

     "That I could explain." Jeffrey smiled. "But it's depressing and would take too long. Thanks again, Ev."

Is there any discrepancy between the author's values and attitudes and those of the narrator? 


To whom in the work does the author grant the most status and consideration?


What about the work is ironic or surprising? 

Jeffrey's fogou experience emotionally replicates the Ravenwood pasture ritual experience of teenage Anthea: panic, confusion, dilation of time. Three floating lights are exactly the same, even though location and time of day are totally different.

Where is there a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant?


What role do figures of speech play? 


What metaphors, if any, are sustained and developed? 


What functions as a symbol? 

The student pencil imprinted with the word RAVENWOOD. The pencil, like comb and locket, symbolize the sacrifice ritual the teen trio conduct because they recognize the time and location are worthy of it. They rescue the objects and hold them dear for the rest of their lives. They christen the pasture Ravenwood.

      When Moira disappears or runs away later in 1971, we assume her Ravenwood pencil is lost.

How can you tell?

What happened to Moira's pencil between then and when Erthy throws it at Jeffrey at the train station as he is departing? Did Moira return to Ravenwood in 1971 on her own? Was she taken by the trio of lights? Or vanish in the Golovenna Farm fogou as Jeffrey might have? (Whose tin fudge container lid did he find in there?)

     How did Erthy find the pencil? Is it the same one?

     Hand demands a high capacity for readerly negative capability!

What flaws do you find in the work? 

Just the mention of George Bush.

Which elements fail to contribute to thematic development? 

Just the mention of George Bush.

Where does the work lose impact because ideas are stated directly rather than Implied?

It never does


16 March 2021

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