Elizabeth Bowen Death of the Heart

ISBN 13: 9780099276456

Death of the Heart

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9780099276456: Death of the Heart

It is London in the late 1930s, and into a coterie of rather grand early-middle-aged people the sixteen-year-old orphan Portia is plunged beyond her depth. Disconcertingly vulnerable, Portia is manifestly trying to understand what is going on around her and looking for something that is not there. Evident victim, she is also an inadvertent victimiser - her impossible lovingness and austere trust being too much for her admirer Eddie, who is himself defensive and uncomfortable in this society which has managed to bring them together. In the midst of the rising tension is set perhaps Elizabeth Bowen's most brilliant piece of social comedy, when, at a seaside villa full of rollicking young people, Portia experiences at least temporary relief from the misery Eddie seems determined to bring her.

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Review:

Five words of advice on reading Elizabeth Bowen: Resist the urge to skim. In The Death of the Heart, Bowen's writing rolls ever onward, accruing the sensations and ironies of conscious living till the final effect is massive. This is not prose for people who like their fiction with a cool, Calvin Klein-like minimalism. Bowen's people are keenly aware, and she seems to catalogue every sweaty moment, every betraying glance. The reader must stay right there with her, because hidden among lengthy descriptions of sea air and drawing-room politics are pithy asides worthy of great humorists: "Absence blots people out. We really have no absent friends." Skimmers miss out.

The Death of the Heart is Bowen's most perfectly made book. Portia, an orphan, comes to live in London with her half-brother, Thomas, and his wife, Anna. A child of sin raised in a series of shabby French hotels, Portia is possessed of a kind of terrible innocence. Like Chance the Gardener in pigtails, she literally can't comprehend evil or unkind motives. Unfortunately for her, she falls in with Anna's friend Eddie, who seems to be made entirely of bad motives. Though the plot follows Portia's relationship with Eddie, the novel's real tension lies between Portia and Anna, as the girl comes to grief against the shoals of Anna's glittering, urbane cynicism. But the book transcends the theme of innocence corrupted. As in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Bowen inverts the formula to show the destructive power of innocence itself:

Innocence so constantly finds itself in a false position that inwardly innocent people learn to be disingenuous.... Incurable strangers to the world, they never cease to exact a heroic happiness. Their singleness, their ruthlessness, their one continuous wish makes them bound to be cruel, and to suffer cruelty. The innocent are so few that two of them seldom meet--and when they do, their victims lie strewn all around.
Bowen has a fine eye for such shadings of morality, but finer still is her understanding of the way humans bump up against the material world. Her writing on weather, both emotional and meteorological, compares with the best of Henry James: "One's first day by the sea, one's being feels salt, strong, resilient, and hollow--like a seaweed pod not giving under the heel."

Always a sensitive observer of the way we live, in her lesser books Bowen deals in mind games and then delivers trumped-up, bloody endings. In The Death of the Heart, she keeps all the action between her characters' ears, and comes up with one of the great midcentury psychological novels. --Claire Dederer

From the Back Cover:

Elizabeth Bowen is widely considered to be one of the greatest novelists of this 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 reminiscent of Henry James.

The Death of the Heart, a story of adolescent love and the betrayal of innocence, is perhaps Bowen's best-known book. When sixteen-year-old Portia, recently orphaned, arrives in London and falls for an attractive cad -- a seemingly carefree young man who is as much an outsider in the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of 1930s drawing rooms as she is -- their collision threatens to shatter the carefully built illusions of everyone around them. As she deftly and delicately exposes the cruelty that lurks behind the polished surfaces of conventional society, Bowen reveals herself as a masterful novelist who combines a sharp sense of humor with a devastating gift for divining human motivations.

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Elizabeth Bowen
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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. It is London in the late 1930s, and into a coterie of rather grand early-middle-aged people the sixteen-year-old orphan Portia is plunged beyond her depth. Disconcertingly vulnerable, Portia is manifestly trying to understand what is going on around her and looking for something that is not there. Evident victim, she is also an inadvertent victimiser - her impossible lovingness and austere trust being too much for her admirer Eddie, who is himself defensive and uncomfortable in this society which has managed to bring them together. In the midst of the rising tension is set perhaps Elizabeth Bowen s most brilliant piece of social comedy, when, at a seaside villa full of rollicking young people, Portia experiences at least temporary relief from the misery Eddie seems determined to bring her. Bookseller Inventory # AB99780099276456

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. It is London in the late 1930s, and into a coterie of rather grand early-middle-aged people the sixteen-year-old orphan Portia is plunged beyond her depth. Disconcertingly vulnerable, Portia is manifestly trying to understand what is going on around her and looking for something that is not there. Evident victim, she is also an inadvertent victimiser - her impossible lovingness and austere trust being too much for her admirer Eddie, who is himself defensive and uncomfortable in this society which has managed to bring them together. In the midst of the rising tension is set perhaps Elizabeth Bowen s most brilliant piece of social comedy, when, at a seaside villa full of rollicking young people, Portia experiences at least temporary relief from the misery Eddie seems determined to bring her. Bookseller Inventory # AB99780099276456

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Book Description Vintage/Ebury (a Division of Random. Book Condition: New. 1998. Paperback. When sixteen-year-old Portia is orphaned she is plunged into the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother's home. There she encounters the attractive cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and he fears her gushing love. To her, Eddie is the only reason to be alive. Num Pages: 368 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 130 x 22. Weight in Grams: 262. . . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Bookseller Inventory # V9780099276456

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Book Description Vintage/Ebury (a Division of Random, 1998. Book Condition: New. 1998. Paperback. When sixteen-year-old Portia is orphaned she is plunged into the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother's home. There she encounters the attractive cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and he fears her gushing love. To her, Eddie is the only reason to be alive. Num Pages: 368 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 130 x 22. Weight in Grams: 262. . . . . . . Bookseller Inventory # V9780099276456

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Book Description Vintage Publishing. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen, It is London in the late 1930s, and into a coterie of rather grand early-middle-aged people the sixteen-year-old orphan Portia is plunged beyond her depth. Disconcertingly vulnerable, Portia is manifestly trying to understand what is going on around her and looking for something that is not there. Evident victim, she is also an inadvertent victimiser - her impossible lovingness and austere trust being too much for her admirer Eddie, who is himself defensive and uncomfortable in this society which has managed to bring them together. In the midst of the rising tension is set perhaps Elizabeth Bowen's most brilliant piece of social comedy, when, at a seaside villa full of rollicking young people, Portia experiences at least temporary relief from the misery Eddie seems determined to bring her. Bookseller Inventory # B9780099276456

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