Roy Foster in his introduction to this book writes: “Her fiction had already shown a preoccupation with the fracture of things below a surface just beginning to crack, the progress of slippage and collapse, the psychology of betrayal.” And this book is full of betrayal, but I see it essentially as a book that tried to capture the mood of people in London during the war, between the time when bombing began ant seemed, after El Alamein, that the war would be won not lost.
The war, writes Bowen in the novel, “thinned the membrane between the this and the that…. The wall between the living and the living became less solid as the wall between the living and the dead thinned.” Elsewhere she wrote about her experience during the war: “I felt one with, and just like, everyone else. Sometimes I hardly knew where I stopped and somebody else began…Walls went down; and we felt, if not knew, each other. We all lived in a state of lucid abnormality.”
Almost everybody in the book can be described as “a soul astray,” a phrase that recurs. Mostly it’s night, sometimes so dark because of the blackout that it’s hard to find your way home. Most people are lost.
I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed The Death of the Heart—perhaps because this novel is more on one note and doesn’t have the considerable comedy that there is in The Death of the Heart. I thought too that the book didn’t include so many sharp observations, but now that I’ve copied them out—see below—I see that there were many.
Note by note, drop by drop, then steadily, the music entered sense, nerves, and fancies that had been parched.
There had been moments, heightening towards the end, when the Sunday’s beauty—for those with no ambition to cherish, no friend to turn to, no love to contemplate—drove its lack of meaning into the heart.
She had found all men to be one way funny like Tom—no sooner were their lips unstuck from your own than they began again to utter morality.
Generous and spirted to a fault, not unfeeling, she was no wholly admirable; but who is?
His mind was, where she was concerned, a jar of opaquely clouded water, in which, for all she knew, the strangest fish might be circling, staring, turning to turn away.
Some ideas, like dandelions in lawns, strike tenaciously: you may pull off the top but the root remains, drives down suckers and may even sprout again.
“Sentiment,” said Colonel Pole, “is the devil. Has made more mess of men’s lives, if I may speak so plainly, than drink or women.”
…the first London air raids. Never had any season been more felt; one bought the poetic sense of it with the sense of death.
Habit, of which passion must be wary, may all the same be the sweetest part of love.
Though singly each of them might, must, exist, decide, act; all things done alone can be no more than simulacra of behaviour: they waited to love again till they were together, then living took living up from where they left off.
Nothing they saw, knew, or told one another remained trifling; everything came to be woven into the continuous narrative of love; which, just as much, kept gaining substance, shadow, consistency from the imperfectly known and the not said.
War time, with its makeshifts, shelvings, deferrings, could not have been kinder to romantic love.
In the two most poignant seasons—in spring, in autumn everything telegraphs its mystery to your senses; nothing is trite.
The rules of fiction, with which life to be credible must comply.
No return can ever make restitution for the going away.
I should doubt whether there’s any such thing as an innocent secret. Whatever has been buried, surely, corrupts. Nothing keeps innocence but daylight.
There must be faces which attract aspiration just as others sensuous dreams.
What’s unfinished haunts one; what’s unhealed haunts one.
Life selects its own methods of going on.
Questions to which we find no answer find their own.