Selected Stories 
by Elizabeth Bowen, edited by Tessa Hadley.
Vintage, 320 pp., £14.99, April, 978 1 78487 715 6
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The Hotel 
by Elizabeth Bowen.
Anchor, 256 pp., $16, August 2020, 978 0 593 08065 8
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Friends and Relations 
by Elizabeth Bowen.
Anchor, 224 pp., $16, August 2020, 978 0 593 08067 2
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There are​ more weird households per novel in the work of Elizabeth Bowen than in that of any comparable writer. She liked to imagine the nuclear family as radically estranged from itself – by the death of a parent or a child, by childlessness, by emergency or neglect. Twenty-year-old Roderick Rodney in The Heat of the Day (1948) ‘would have esteemed, for instance, organic family life’. He’s come to the wrong novel. At least he still has a mother. Elsewhere in Bowen’s work, homeless orphans abound, as do children disowned or mislaid by a surviving parent. The fiction posts these unfortunate offspring like parcels to remote destinations within a far-flung kinship network. Portia, the abandoned child in The Death of the Heart (1938), is to be stored for a year with her brother Thomas Quayne and his wife, Anna, in their desirable residence at 2 Windsor Terrace, Regent’s Park, in the expectation either that they might grow to like her, or that she’ll somehow acquire a husband (she’s sixteen). If all else fails, Portia will ‘go on’ at the end of the year to spend time with an aunt abroad. A whole novel – The House in Paris (1935) – is devoted to the convergence of two similarly mislaid children in a pop-up household in a narrow uphill street on the Rive Gauche. One child has been sent by her sole surviving parent from London to Menton, where her grandmother will collect her; the other by his foster parents from La Spezia to Paris, for a putative reconciliation with the mother he has never known.

It could be argued that the most productive family relationship in Bowen’s kinship network is not husband and wife, or parent and child, or brother and sister, but cousinhood. Roderick Rodney inherits an estate in Ireland from his father’s cousin, whose wife – and cousin – subsequently reveals that she had always liked him much better as a cousin than as a husband. The last we hear of Roderick’s mother, Stella, the novel’s protagonist, is that she has become engaged to the cousin of a cousin. A World of Love (1955), the novel in which Bowen most thoroughly enjoyed being Bowen, boasts the weirdest household of all. Antonia has inherited a sprawling, dilapidated manor in North Cork from her dead cousin and lover, Guy Montefort. She now lives there with Guy’s former fiancée, Lilia, whom she has married off to Fred Danby, an illegitimate cousin. Fred truculently farms the estate. He and Lilia have two children, Jane and Maud. Cousins, of course, bring with them a plentiful supply of aunts and uncles. Nothing could have done more to convince us that the formidable Lady Waters will play a decisive role in the lives of the protagonists of To the North (1932) than the genealogical flourish with which she is introduced: ‘Lady Waters had had no children by either marriage. Her first had made her Cecilia’s aunt-in-law, her second, Emmeline’s first cousin once removed.’

Bowen’s father, Henry, chose to practise law in Dublin rather than manage the family estate, Bowen’s Court, an archetypal Anglo-Irish Big House in the North Cork countryside at Farahy. (The original Anglo-Irish Bowen had arrived with Cromwell in 1649.) Elizabeth inherited Bowen’s Court on her father’s death in 1930. The Big House had been from the outset a troubled birthright. In the winter of 1906, when Elizabeth was seven, Henry suffered the latest in a series of breakdowns and was certified at his own request. Elizabeth and her mother, Florence, went to live in England, on the Kent coast, where they found themselves less cast away than they might have expected. ‘A grapevine of powerful Anglo-Irish relatives instantly took us into their keeping, passing us from hand to hand.’ In September 1912, with Henry gradually recovering, Florence died of cancer. Elizabeth was subsequently to be brought up, as her biographer Victoria Glendinning puts it, by ‘a committee of aunts’. There was no shortage of cousins, Irish and English. One of them, Audrey Fiennes, became her lifelong friend and confidante.

Bowen was later to recall that transplantation to England at an early and impressionable age established a ‘cleft’ in her between ‘heredity’ and ‘environment’. Heredity she continued to acknowledge as the more powerful force. But it was the environment she had to adapt to on the Kent coast that fired her curiosity by its difference: the cool, clear light, the unimpressive trees, the bijou residences gummed to a cliff edge. Villas for sale became a hobby. Like a true ‘Fagin pupil’, as she put it, Bowen snuck in through unlatched back windows so that she and her mother could inspect at their leisure the traces of previous occupation left on properties they had no wish to own. The pleasures as much as the perils of adaptation led her to suppose that the fundamental condition of human experience is a feeling of ‘amorphousness’ which prompts the ‘obsessive wish to acquire outline, to be unmistakably demarcated, to take shape’. Identity is made, not given; furthermore, what has been given (land, health, sanity) can also be removed, or go missing. Bowen did not settle in North Cork until the spring of 1952, when her husband, Alan Cameron, retired. A couple of months later, Alan died in his sleep. Unable to maintain the estate on her own, she sold up in 1959. The weird households had seeded themselves a long time before that in the childhood cleft between heredity and environment.

Few things annoyed Bowen more than questions about the symbolism or psychology of her novels. Why didn’t anyone ever want to know about ‘the where of them’? Was she not manifestly a writer ‘for whom places loom large’? The problem may have been that place in itself does not loom large in the novels and stories. Bowen’s North Cork is not a mythical terrain like Hardy’s Wessex. What matters, rather, is a relation of person to place – created as much in expectation and memory as in experience. Her plots are structured by arrivals and departures, by acclimatisation and decompression. ‘The Move-In’, the first chapter of the novel she was working on when she died, takes place entirely on a driveway leading up to a Big House (the ‘approach’, as it was known at Bowen’s Court). It was Bowen herself who pointed out that the characters in her novels ‘are almost perpetually in transit’, even if it is only from room to room. Her fiction’s uniqueness lies in its versatile, modern understanding of place as an ‘inner landscape’.

In the introduction to her astute selection of the short stories (a version of which first appeared in the LRB), Tessa Hadley notes that Bowen’s ‘writerly passion’ seems to have sprung initially from ‘the desire to catch in words a particular moment, amid a particular weather and light – in a landscape outdoors, or, more often, surrounded by the right furniture, inside a particular house’. So compelling are these ‘moments of conjured atmosphere’ that they overshadow, in some cases, the story’s action. The same is true of the novels. By this reckoning, atmosphere is what a person makes of a place, while in the process being made by it. An atmosphere is both inside us and all around us. It is local and diffuse, solid and airy, individual and collective, at once mood and milieu. Macbeth, steeling himself to the murder of Banquo and Fleance, looks out of the window: ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood.’ The milieu’s ominousness reflects his current mood and supplies a further reason to act on it.

The scene from Macbeth is the prime example of the creation of atmosphere provided by William Empson in Seven Types of Ambiguity. Empson had his suspicions about atmosphere, because its effects appear to exceed the patterns of sound and sense he proposed to investigate in his book. But he wasn’t going to deny that it works. Macbeth’s bodily absorption into his surroundings has somehow been rendered, Empson wrote, as a ‘sort of taste in the head’. Atmosphere did not gain a decisive momentum in literature until the end of the 18th century. Coleridge said that what he had most admired about Wordsworth’s early poems was their ‘original gift of spreading the tone, the atmosphere, and with it the depth and height of the ideal world around forms, incidents and situations’. Empson thought that too much atmosphere had ruined large swathes of 19th-century poetry. But its appeal proved hard to ignore. In The Heat of the Day, Roderick Rodney, arriving after dark at Mount Morris, the Anglo-Irish estate he has inherited, decides at once to inspect the land leading down from the house to a river. ‘Forms, having made themselves known through no particular sense, forms whose existence he was not to doubt again, loomed and dwelled within him.’ The taste that fills his head is at once mood and milieu. Mount Morris has ‘concentrated upon Roderick its being’. Bowen stands revealed on such occasions as a late Romantic writer. She could hardly not have been, since the Irish Protestant literary tradition was founded on Romanticism’s Gothic accessories. Her preface to Sheridan Le Fanu’s occult thriller Uncle Silas (1864) includes praise for its delineations of ‘atmosphere’ and ‘psychological weather’. Ghost stories have featured strongly in every previous selection of her short fiction and Hadley’s is no exception. In the novels and stories alike, atmosphere contours the ‘inner landscape’ that constitutes a person’s relation to place. Bowen’s Court was surrounded by rookeries.

The Hotel (1927), her first novel, set in an anodyne establishment on the Italian Riviera catering solely to the English middle classes, follows literary precedent in order to depart from it. Sydney Warren, the 22-year-old heroine, has no surviving family (her companion is, needless to say, a cousin). The only thing we know about Sydney is that she has passed a lot of exams. Like Forster in A Room with a View, Bowen organises enough expeditions and emergencies to exacerbate and ultimately resolve the social and erotic tensions that have previously simmered among the amenities of tennis court, umbrella stand, buffet sideboard and shared bathroom. In this case, however, heterosexual romance doesn’t quite take. Sydney’s suitor (a melancholy clergyman) is forced to acknowledge in relinquishing her that she remains ‘incomplete’. This is a good thing, he thinks, since it situates her, for the time being at least, ‘beyond the doom of limitation’. For incompleteness is not neutrality. Sydney knows all about the obsessive wish to acquire outline. The gossip in the hotel drawing room is that she has been ‘much absorbed’ by an older fellow guest, the elegantly captivating Mrs Kerr:

‘I have known other cases,’ said somebody else, looking about vaguely for her scissors, ‘of these very violent friendships. One didn’t feel those others were quite healthy.’

Sydney’s absorption intensifies rapidly before reaching its inevitable crisis in a beautifully observed scene in the local pasticceria. Amid all the tepid acknowledgment of casual acquaintances and the delicate hovering with poised fork over cannoli, it gradually dawns on Sydney that Mrs Kerr is about to break up with her. The realisation induces a profound panic. ‘She could not command the few words, the few movements which should take her away from Mrs Kerr, or imagine where, having escaped, she would find a mood, room, place, even country to offer her sanctuary.’ The comedy of manners was Bowen’s mode. But she never lost sight of the rawness of such discomfiture.

It’s fair to assume that in dumping Sydney, Mrs Kerr, whose son has recently arrived at the hotel, is mindful of social convention – or at least of what Bowen was elsewhere to call the ‘dulling pressure of circumstance’. A mood cannot outrun circumstance. Cut off even from the recollection of heredity (of ‘organic family life’), the orphans and near orphans who follow in Sydney’s footsteps in Bowen’s fiction are obliged to grow up quickly. The weird household is an assault course in atmosphere. Here, to take shape is to adapt to an environment that almost invariably proves in some measure inhospitable. Darwin, not Freud, presides over these comedies of the connectedly disparate. In The Death of the Heart, Matchett, who keeps house for the Quaynes at 2 Windsor Terrace, is heard to lament that in the ‘home of today’ there is ‘no place for the miss: she has got to sink or swim’. Misses sinking or swimming was one of Bowen’s most resonant themes.

In her second novel, The Last September (1929), the emphasis is as much on milieu – on social, political and moral habit – as on mood. Lois Farquar, the as yet ‘unformed’ lead orphan (there are two: cousins, of course), lives with her uncle and aunt, Sir Richard and Lady Naylor, at Danielstown, an Anglo-Irish Big House in North Cork modelled on Bowen’s Court. Summer season guests come and go. Among them is the forceful Marda Norton, in whom Lois eagerly confides. ‘I like to be related; to have to be what I am,’ Lois explains. ‘Just to be is so intransitive, so lonely.’ To become transitive is what Bowen’s protagonists most want. Marda reckons that Lois will enjoy marriage and motherhood: ‘It’s a good thing we can always be women.’ Lois is not so sure:

‘I hate women. But I can’t think how to begin to be anything else.’

‘Climate.’

‘But I would hate to be a man. So much fuss about doing things.’

The most seasoned Bowenologist might struggle to grasp exactly what Marda means, in this context, by ‘climate’. But the scope of the term does indicate a significant broadening of Bowen’s conception of atmosphere. Lois, Marda thinks, should seek out a sanctuary more expansive than Sydney’s ‘mood, room, place’. For what she confronts at Danielstown is the environment constituted if not quite by a ‘country’, then by the efforts of a particular political class to exert its influence over one.

By Bowen’s account, there was no shortage of atmosphere in the Anglo-Irish Big House. Each member of these isolated households was ‘bound up’, as she put it in the book she wrote about her own, ‘not only in the sensation and business of living but in the exact sensation of living here’. Bowen’s Court (1942), however, is the history of a colonial land-grab rather than of an exact sensation. The tale it tells is that of the Anglo-Irish property-owning class: from Cromwellian origins through a ‘vital, growing, magnetic’ development during the 18th century to a gradual and mostly inglorious decline into siege mentality. A class, she observed, ‘like a breed of animals, is due to lapse or become extinct should it fail to adapt itself to changing conditions – climate alters, the feeding grounds disappear’. Her own mesh of allegiances was complicated: Irish, Anglo-Irish, pro-British, anti-English (sometimes), pro-Welsh (the Bowens had migrated to Ireland from the Gower peninsula). The completion of Bowen’s Court coincided with the compiling of secret reports on Irish political opinion on behalf of the Ministry of Information in London, for which she was paid handsomely. Yet the book includes a plea for ‘an undivided Ireland’. It is said to have been rejected by one potential publisher on the grounds that it was too ‘subversive’.

Bowen explicitly conceived The Last September as ‘fiction with the texture of history’. Set in 1920, during the war of independence, it reverberates with military manoeuvre, with news of atrocity and counter-atrocity. The occupants of Danielstown are uneasily complicit not only in the operations of the British state in Ireland but in the project of empire. Strolling in the grounds with one of them, Lois realises that they still exercise a distinctive Anglo-Irish ‘magnetism’ over her simply by ‘being static’. She finds herself unable to explain ‘how, after every return – or awakening, even, from sleep or preoccupation – she and those home surroundings still further penetrated each other mutually in the discovery of a lack’. The ‘staticness’ of a scene, Bowen once explained, can reveal immobility as immobilisation, as the product of a failure of resolve. Henceforth, in her fiction, the most exact sensation of all was to be that of no longer living here. Lois, like Portia in The Death of the Heart, will ‘go on’ at the end of the novel: in her case, to a family in France.

In the novels, atmospheres form, develop, intensify and then exhaust themselves – more often than not towards the end of a long, hot summer. Their final condition, we might say, is one of atmospheric entropy, of formlessness without perceptible variation. Everything has come to a ‘phenomenal stop’, as Bowen put it in The Death of the Heart. Friends and Relations (1931), her third novel, lacks the social and political scope of its predecessor, but it does very effectively establish a method for the exploration of atmospheric entropy. The plot turns on Janet Studdart’s gradual recognition of her love for her sister Laurel’s husband, Edward Tilney. Its crisis occurs when Edward arrives suddenly at Batts Monachorum, the country estate belonging to Janet’s husband’s uncle, who once had a scandalous affair with Edward’s mother, Lady Elfrida. The mood at Batts is one of desultoriness, torpor, ennui. Shortly before Edward’s arrival, Lewis Gibson, best man at Edward and Laurel’s wedding, observes Janet drift across the lawn, where her father lies fast asleep in a deckchair. Janet’s hand moves slowly across the back of the chair, without touching it. Lewis’s analysis of this gesture is a sentence slowed down to near opacity by a scattering of commas. ‘So, intimate, she could have been.’ Janet seems to want to caress the chair in the way that we caress materials enfolding or adjacent to someone we love, ‘glad of texture that electrifies curiously to the touch’. She has clearly forgotten all about her slumbering father. Whose presence, then, sitting in that chair, might once have electrified her touch on its back? A kind of telescope, Bowen explains, has ‘brought her up’ to Lewis’s eye. For that is what style does in the novels: bring inner landscape up to the eye – and to the ear. Atmosphere in Bowen’s fiction has the sense the term began to acquire in the 1930s in the sound engineering manuals, of incidental noise (Alan Cameron worked for the BBC). Style lets us in on Janet’s ‘anguishing’ knowledge of her ‘no-presence’ in the life she currently leads. As in the two previous novels, this knowledge is really the sum, in its abiding rawness, of the protagonist’s emancipation as a person.

Bowen greatly admired Jane Austen’s ‘unabstract’ intelligence: an intelligence that ‘impregnates’ the matter of her novels, ‘functioning in every comma, adding colour, force, light’. Her own similarly unabstract intelligence, cratering a more or less faithful observance of realist convention with intractable idiosyncrasies of grammar, syntax and idiom, can often seem obtrusive. No reader of the novels will not at some point or other have been non-plussed by a dizzying triple negative. Some of her neologisms (‘ungentleness’, ‘unintimacy’, ‘unindifference’) do no more than swerve teasingly from expected usage. Others need to be picked out of the flesh of the prose as carefully as a piece of glass from a wound. What exactly does the young heroine of A World of Love have in mind when she reflects on her mistrust of ‘the past’s activity and its queeringness’? We could describe these idiosyncrasies as ‘modernist’: an authorial signature or calling card. But their real interest lies in their specific narrative function. They alert us to atmospheric entropy: to a lack or no-presence which is all that remains of variation in an otherwise comprehensive torpor. At times, they do so jarringly. My favourite WTF moment occurs in A World of Love, at the height of a stiflingly hot summer. The household assembled around the kitchen table in the run-down Big House is about to learn the identity of the woman to whom long-dead Guy Montefort had addressed some love letters, to the evident consternation of the husband of one of the prime candidates. ‘Fred raised his eyebrows, whistled a silent bar, let go the chair back and followed Maud out. He was to be felt gone.’ This arcane passive construction is the past’s queeringness in action. Poor Fred. Still, to have been felt gone is about as good as it gets for many of Bowen’s protagonists: a better fate, presumably, than not to have been felt gone, or not to have been able to go.

The most unremittingly atmospheric of all Bowen’s inner landscapes is that generated by the passionate affair between Stella Rodney and Robert Kelway in The Heat of the Day. Visiting Stella in her flat in 1942, Roderick Rodney re-enters the very particular ‘climate’ in which his mother dwells. ‘Of this, the temperature and pressure were gauged by no other person, unless Robert.’ Stella and Robert, who had first met during the night-time raids of September 1940, seem to have achieved near Big House levels of ‘exact sensation’ in bomb-shattered London. ‘From the moment of waking you tasted the sweet autumn not less because of an acridity on the tongue and nostrils.’ But a habitat is more than a taste in the head. ‘The relation of people to one another is subject to the relation of each to time, to what is happening.’ If Stella and Robert’s relation to one another and to what is happening constitutes a habitat, then the feeding ground most at risk within that habitat, in the autumn of 1942, was collective faith in the justice and efficient conduct of a war whose outcome still hung in the balance. Where there had once been faith, Bowen thought, there was now an undercurrent of ‘disaffection’: ‘a raw black bitterness’, as she put it in a later essay, ‘in the disarmed army back from Dunkirk’. For Stella, it turns out, there will be more than one way to sink, and more than one way to swim.

Bowen’s understanding of place as inner landscape – as at once mood and milieu, exact sensation and habitat or climate – equipped her to write fiction with the texture of history such as The Last September, The Heat of the Day and the wonderful ‘Summer Night’, which Hadley rightly includes in her selection. Of equal significance for her career were the virtual environments generated by the rapid proliferation during her lifetime of new media such as broadcast radio and the telephone. Modern lives, she once wrote, are ‘telephone-ridden’. It wasn’t the gadget itself she found compelling so much as the opportunities it afforded to acquire outline and so take shape as a person by means of hitherto inconceivable engineerings of milieu. Exploration of this new kind of transitivity demanded a new kind of protagonist. In Friends and Relations, we first meet Theodora Thirdman, the 15-year-old daughter of drab lower-middle-class parents, as a guest at Edward and Laurel’s posh wedding. ‘Large-boned’, obnoxious, unafraid, Theodora appears to suffer from a surplus rather than a deficiency of outline: ‘her personality was still too much for her, like a punt-pole.’ Telephony alone will mop up that surplus. Theodora’s favourite pastime is to make random phone calls to prominent people while posing as one Lady Hunter Jervois. ‘Passionately passing along the wire she became for those moments the very nerve of some unseen house.’ Definitely the ‘odd man out’, quite possibly a ‘bounder’, Theodora will subsequently be spared the courtship ordeals that Sydney and Lois endure by her unequivocal ‘passions for women’. Her role in the novel is as an interloper or agent provocateur. A constant irritant to friend and relation alike, she stalks Janet in particular, alert, as no one else seems to be, to the strength of her hidden feelings for Edward. While by no means averse to the flying visit or the poison pen letter, her favoured method of attack remains the cold call.

Bowen’s interlopers take up the slack of the incompleteness in which the heroines of the early novels continue to languish. In doing so, they sketch a new subject for fiction. Inhospitable to ‘organic family life’, Bowen’s weird households provide plenty of scope – and reason – to pass passionately along the wire, so becoming for a moment the very nerve of some unknown other room, place or country. It’s been instructive to reread her fiction at a time of renewed attention to the Internet Novel as a distinct subgenre. Bowen certainly imagined the telephone as a social medium. In To the North, Cecilia, returning from a trip abroad, hasn’t even dipped her toe in a restorative bath before two people call up to find out if she’s home yet; a further two ring while she’s still soaking. For Cecilia doesn’t so much communicate by phone as ‘crystallise’ over it. This could be bad news for non-crystallisers such as Julian, her hapless fiancé, who turns out to be ‘really bad on the telephone’. Other more practised callers ring her up last thing at night to ask her out to dinner. A couple of technological revolutions later, Cecilia might conceivably have found a kindred spirit in the unnamed narrator of Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts, whose passage along the wire takes the form of slyly vibrant profiles designed to game a dating app.

Crystallisation could prove a scary experience, of course. Interloping Louie Lewis, in The Heat of the Day, finds the mood and milieu to suit her surplus of personality in propaganda. ‘Once Louie had taken to newspapers’ – that is, become ‘a person who really kept up with the news’, as the narrator of Fake Accounts might put it, ‘who was really dialled in to what was happening in the culture’ – ‘she found peace.’ People like her (war orphan, soldier’s wife, munitions worker) were just what the newspapers needed as an antidote to the post-Dunkirk black bitterness. Louie basks in an atmosphere of ‘warmth and inclusion’. Her unapologetic stalking of Stella Rodney has, however, exposed a lack in that atmosphere. Recognising in Stella a soul in torment, Louie feels herself ‘entered by what was foreign’. The peace she has found in the newspapers could prove short-lived. The ‘ununderstandable languages’ that seem to charge the very air she now breathes – ‘you did not know what you might be tuning in to’ – gesture at a thoroughly disconcerting alternative view of reality, one rife with bitterness. She tries to imagine the role that alternative view might assign to her. ‘Receiver, conductor, carrier – which was Louie, what was she doomed to be?’ Not quite QAnon levels of paranoia, perhaps, but enough to keep her guessing. ‘She felt what she had not felt before – was it, even, she herself who was feeling?’

In her final novel, Eva Trout, or Changing Scenes (1968), Bowen promoted the interloper to main protagonist. The perpetual changes of scene or milieu attendant on being the orphaned daughter of a wealthy, globe-trotting businessman whose male lover now acts as her guardian have left Eva with ‘no capacity to be homesick – for, sick for where?’ Unlike lower-middle-class Theodora and working-class Louie, Eva has ample funds with which to weaponise her formidable physique. ‘She wore the ocelot – yet somehow the cut of the jib of the massive coat made her less feline than paramilitary.’ But her surplus of personality, like theirs, requires a virtual environment. She promptly buys a Kentish villa and equips it with a top-of-the-range media suite. What is the point, a visitor inquires, of a computer? ‘“It thinks,” said the girl, looking aggrieved. “That is what you used to tell me to do.”’ Add some internet, and we arrive at the startling first sentence of Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking about This. ‘She opened the portal, and the mind met her more than halfway.’

In both novels, crisis takes the form of a trick played by nature on culture. Lockwood’s unnamed protagonist learns that her sister is carrying a child with Proteus syndrome. This is the thing ‘no one is talking about’ on social media. Eva’s son, Jeremy, who seems to have been bought on the black market in America at three months, is uncompromisingly described as a ‘deaf mute’. Both children possess a transformative physical and moral presence. But neither Lockwood nor Bowen wants simply to oppose nature to culture, presence to absence, real to virtual. It is after the child’s death at six and a half months, and explicitly in light of her life, that Lockwood gives us the clearest explanation of the protagonist’s motives for having entered the portal in the first place. ‘Because she wanted to be a creature of pure call and response: she wanted to delight and be delighted.’ Similarly, the eight itinerant years Eva and Jeremy Trout spend in America before returning to Britain have the ambiguous faux-mundane feel of a minor Nabokovian fantasia. They watch two films a day and a lot of television. ‘From large or small screens, illusion overspilled on to all beheld.’ And yet this most nearly virtual of all Bowen’s atmospheres can seem less like culture’s ultimate attenuation than a vividly extruded counter-nature. ‘Sublimated monotony had cocooned them, making them near as twins in a womb.’ Was that, perhaps, how Bowen herself had once felt, scouting Kentish villas with her mother? In Eva Trout, at any rate, monotony’s sublimation results in entropy. Jeremy delivers himself from it by learning to speak (in French, rather than his mother’s native English). He is the last of those to be felt gone from an atmosphere in Bowen’s fiction – but by no means the least.

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