Elizabeth Bowen Quotes (4)


Systematic Quotes from all Elizabeth Bowen Novel Chapters and Stories (Part Four).

It felt funny to come in twice, because once I am in I am generally in. When I came in after buying the stamp I felt still odder than I generally do, and the house was still more like always than usual. It always gets more so in the afternoon. When Thomas comes in he looks as though he was smelling something he thought he might not be let eat. This house makes a smell of feeling.

From Part I  (9) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


When I woke my window was like a brown stone, and I could hardly see the rest of the room.  The whole house was just like that, it was not like night but like air being ill.

From Part I  (9) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938

Then he gave me the last macaroon to finish, and put his head on my lap and pretended to go to sleep, but he said, don’t drop crumbs in my eyes.  When he woke up, he said that if he was a lady’s fox fur and I was him, I would certainly stroke his head.  While I did, he made himself look as if he had glass eyes, like a fur.

From Part I  (9) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938

Unwritten poetry twists the hearts of people in their thirties. To the person out walking that first evening of spring, nothing appears inanimate, nothing not sentient: darkening chimneys, viaducts, villas, glass-and-steel factories, chain stores seem to strike as deep as natural rocks, seem not only to exist but to dream. Atoms of light quiver between the branches of stretching-up black trees. It is in this unearthly first hour of spring twilight that earth’s almost agonized livingness is most felt. This hour is so dreadful to some people that they hurry indoors and turn on the lights – they are pursued by the scent of violets sold on the kerb.

From Part II  (1) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


Daphne always brought down her comb with her and, while waiting for the egg or kipper, would straddle before the overmantel mirror, doing what was right by her many curls. She did not put on lip-stick till after breakfast because of the egg not to speak of the marmalade. Mrs Heccomb, while Daphne saw to her hair, would anxiously keep the coffee and milk hot under the paisley cosy that embraced both jugs. […] The Waikiki marmalade was highly jellied, sweet, and brilliantly orange; the table was brightly set with cobalt-and-white breakfast china, whose patterns derived from the Chinese. Rush mats as thick as muffins made hot plates wobble on the synthetic oak. Sunlight of a pure seaside quality flooded the breakfast table, and Portia, looking out through the sun porch, thought how pleasant this was.

From Part II  (2) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


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. […] West of Seale, you see nothing more than the marsh. The dead flat line of the coast is drawn out into a needle-fine promontory. The dimming gleaming curve is broken only by the martello towers, each smaller, each more nearly melted by light.  The silence is broken only by musketry practice on the ranges.  Looking west of Seale, you see the world void, the world suspended, forgotten, like a past phase of thought. Light’s shining, shifting slants and veils and own interposing shadows make a world of their own … Along this stretch of the coast, the shingle has given place to water-flat sands: the most furious seas only slide in flatly to meet the martello towers.

From Part II  (2) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


Full moonlight drenched the city and searched it: there was not a niche left to stand in.  The effect was remorseless: London looked like the moon’s capital – shallow, cratered, extinct.

From ‘Mysterious Kôr’ 1944

 The Corona was very full at this hour; the fashionable part was upstairs, looking down on the High Street. Only outsiders drank their coffee downstairs. And how bright it was up here, with the smell of hot roasting coffee, the whicker of wicker chairs. A stove threw out a roaring heat: sun streamed through the windows, curdling the smoke of a few bold cigarettes. Ladies waiting for ladies looked back through back numbers of the Tatler and Sketch. Dogs on leads wound themselves round the table legs. Paper tulips in vases, biscuits in coloured paper on the tile-topped tables struck bright notes.

From Part II  (3) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


The wall made a high causeway on which the walkers walked between sea and land: here you smelled no only the sea but a land breath – from the market gardens, the woods in clefts of the chalk hills, the gorse budding in its spiny darkness up there on the links where Dickie and Clara were. The crests of two airy tides, the sea’s and the land’s, breaking against each other above the asphalt, made a nervous elation, so that you spun, inwardly, in the blue-whiteness of the quiet and thrilling day. […]

The others waited for Evelyn. The act of stopping sent a slight shock through the party, like the shock felt through a train that has pulled up. They were really more like a goods than a passenger train – content as a row of trucks, they stood solidly facing the way they would soon walk. Over still distant Seale, crowned by the church, smoke dissolved in the immature spring sun. The veil etherealized hillside villas with their gardens of trees; behind the balconies and gables the hill took a tinge of hyacinth blue and looked like the outpost of a region of fantasy.

From Part II  (4) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


The week was very sunny – her eyes dazzled as she fitted piece into piece, and a gull’s shadow flashing over the puzzle would make her suddenly look up.  The planes massing against an ultramarine sky began each to take a different symbolic form, and as she assembled the spectators she came to look for a threat or promise in each upturned face.  One evening Dickie offered to help her: the table was moved in to under the lamp, and Dickie completed an ambulance she had dreaded to tackle.

From Part II  (5) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


As it was, there was a silence over the Timpsons’ place like there is overhead when a doodlebug has cut out: that or something or other gave me gooseflesh.

From ‘The Dolt’s Tale’ 1944


The tiger was glad Mrs Jones had left. ‘She was too fat,’ he thought, ‘and not a friend.’

From ‘The Good Tiger’ 1965

In a top front room of one of those grander houses, a young woman woke to find herself standing in the middle of a carpet.  She often woke like this, and was not surprised; but she asked herself to what room the carpet belonged this time.

From ‘I Hear You Say So’ 1945


Striking, to any eye, was the hyper-congestion of antique gravestones. These, so closely set edge to edge that you could not have slipped the blade of a knife between them, flocked up in serrated ranks, each rank being not more than inches behind another.

From ‘Gone Away’ 1946


Today, the effort required seemed to have been too much for Aunt Elysia, who collapsed on her pillows, faintly blue in the face.  ‘Rats in the attic,’ she muttered.  ‘I’ve heard them, rats in the attic! Now where’s my tea?’

From ‘Hand in Glove’ 1952


My conversation with Miss Banderry did no end where I leave off recording it. But at that point memory is torn across as might be an intolerable page.  The other half is missing. For that reason my portrait of her would be incomplete if it were a portrait.  She could be a novelist’s material, I daresay – indeed novels, particularly the French and Irish (for Ireland in some ways resembles France) are full of prototypes of her: oversized women insulated in little provincial towns. Literature, once one knows it, drains away some of the shockingness out of life. But when I met her I was unread, my susceptibilities were virgin. I refuse to fill in her outline retrospectively: I show you only what I saw at the time.  Not what she was, but what she did to me.

From ‘A Day in the Dark’ 1956


So end above the quotes from all my short stories, unless you can tell me I have forgotten any.




The set of temple bells had not yet been struck for dinner, so Portia sat down near her chest of drawers and looked hard at the pastel-portrait of Anna.  She did not know what she looked for in the pastel – confirmation that the most unlikely people suffer, or that everybody who suffers is the same age?

But that little suffering Anna – so much out of drawing that she looked like a cripple between her cascades of hair – that urgent soul astray in a bad portrait, only came alive by electric light. Even by day, though, the unlike likeness disturbs one more than it should: what is it unlike? Or is it unlike at all – is it the face discovered? The portrait, however feeble, transfixes something passive that stays behind the knowing and living look. No drawing from life just fails: it establishes something more; it admits the unadmitted. All Mrs Heccomb had brought to her loving task, besides pastels, had been feeling. She was, to put it politely, a negative artist. But such artists seem to receive a sort of cloudy guidance.  Any face, house, landscape seen in a picture, however bad, remains subtly but strongly modified in so-called real life – and the worse the picture, the stronger this is. Mrs Heccomb’s experiment in pastels had altered Anna for ever.  By daylight, the thing was a human map, scored over with strawy marks of the chalks.  But when electric light struck those shadeless triangles – hair, the face, the kitten, those looking eyes – the thing took on a misguided authority.  As this face had entered Portia’s first dreams here, it continued to enter her waking mind. She saw the kitten hugged to the breast in a contraction of unknowing sorrow.

From Part II (6) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938

Light, washing the stretching branches, sifted into the thickets, making a small green flame of every early leaf. Unfluting in the armpit warmth of the valley, leaves were still timid, humid: in the uphill woods spring still only touched the boughs in a green mist that ran into the sky.  Scales from buds got caught on Portia’s hair.  Small primroses, still buttoned into the earth, looked up from ruches of veiny leaves – and in sun-blond spaces at the foot of the oaks, dog violets burned their blue on air no one had breathed.

From Part II (7) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


It is queer to be in place where someone has gone. It is not two other places, the place that they were there in, and the place that was there before they came.  I can’t get used to this third place or to staying behind.

From Part II (8) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


She had had her way like a fury. Tensed on the knitting needles (for she could not even relax without some expense of energy) her fingers were bleached and their skin puckered, like the skin of old apples, from unremitting immersion in hot water, soda, soap. Her nails were pallid, fibrous, their tips split.  Light crept down the sooty rookery, through the bars of the window, to find no colour in Matchett: her dark blue dress blotted the light up. She looked built back into the half darkness behind her apron’s harsh glaze. In her helmet of stern hair, a few new white threads shone – but behind the opaqueness of her features control permitted no sag of tiredness. There was more than control here: she wore the look of someone who has augustly fulfilled herself. Floor by floor over the basement towered her speckless house, and a reckoning consciousness of it showed like eyes through the eyelids she lowered over her knitting.

Portia, looking through the bars of the window, said: ‘It was a pity you couldn’t wash the rockery.’

From Part III (1) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


Having been seen at the window, having been waved to, made Anna step back instinctively.  She knew how foolish a person looking out of a window appears from the outside of a house – as though waiting for something that does not happen, as though wanting something from the outside world. A face at a window for no reason is a face that should have a thumb in its mouth: thee is something only-childish about it. Or, if the face is not foolish it is threatening – blotted white by the darkness inside the room it suggests a malignant indoor power.

From Part III (2) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938

Beside her goddess-like friend, Portia walked with her head down, butting against the draughty air of the street. When they came to the crossing, Lilian gripped Portia’s bare arm in a gloved hand: through the kid glove a sedative animal feeling went up to Portia’s elbow and made the joint untense. She pulled back to notice a wedding carpet up the steps of All Souls’, Langham Place – like a girl who has finished the convulsions of drowning she floated, dead, to the sunny surface again.  She bobbed in Lilian’s wake between the buses with the gaseous lightness of a little corpse.

From Part III (3) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


She noted things she had not seen coming up – the scrolls, the tips of waves, on the staircase wallpaper, the characters of scratches on the olive dado, the chaotic outlook from a landing window, a typed warning on a bathroom door. For infinitesimal moments in her descent she paused, under Eddie’s hand, to give these things looks as though it helped to fix her mind on them. She felt the silent tenseness of other people, of all those lives of which she had not been conscious, behind the shut doors; the exhausted breath of the apartment house, staled by so many lungs, charged with dust from so many feet, came up the darkening shaft of the stairs – for there were no windows down there near the hall.

From Part III (4) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


If these houses give little by becoming hotels, they lose little; even when they were homes, no intimate life can have flowered inside these walls or become endeared to them. They were the homes of a class doomed from the start, without natural privilege, without grace. Their builders must have built to enclose fog, which having seeped in never quite goes away. Dyspepsia, uneasy wishes, ostentation, and chilblains can, only, have governed the lives of families here.

In the Karachi Hotel, all upstairs rooms except the drawing-room, have been partitioned up to make two or three more: the place is a warren. The thinness of these bedroom partitions makes love or talk indiscreet.  The floors creak, the beds creak; drawers only pull out of chests with violent convulsions; mirrors swing round and hit you one in the eye. Most privacy, though least air, is to be had in the attics, which were too small to be divided up.  One of these attics Major Brutt occupied.

From Part III (5) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938


‘I swear that each of us keeps, battened down inside himself, a sort of lunatic giant – impossible socially, but full-scale – and that it’s the knockings and batterings we sometimes hear in each other that keeps our intercourse from utter banality.’

From Part III (6) ‘The Death of the Heart’ 1938 (End of this novel).

That Sunday, from six o’clock in the evening, it was a Viennese orchestra that played. The season was late for an outdoor concert; already leaves were drifting on to the grass stage — here and there one turned over, crepitating as though. in the act of dying, and during the music some more fell.

          The open-air theatre, shelving below the level of the surrounding lawns, was walled by thickets and a few high trees; along the top ran a wattle fence with gates. Now the two, gates stood open. The rows of chairs down the slope, facing the orchestra, still only filled up slowly. From here, from where it was being played at the base of this muffled hollow, the music could not travel far through the park — but hints of it that did escape were disturbing: from the mound, from the rose gardens, from the walks round the lakes people were being slowly drawn to the theatre by the sensation that they were missing something. Many of them paused in the gateways doubtfully — all they had left behind was in sunshine, while this hollow which was the source of music was found to be also the source of dusk. War had made them idolize day and summer; night and autumn were enemies. And, at the start of the concert, this tarnished bosky theatre, in which no plays had been acted for some time, held a feeling of sequestration, of emptiness the music had not had time to fill. It was not completely in shadow — here and there blades of sunset crossed it, firing branches through which they travelled, and lay along ranks of chairs and faces and hands. Gnats quivered, cigarette smoke dissolved. But the light was so low, so theatrical, and so yellow that it was evident it would soon be gone. The incoming tide was evening. Glass­clear darkness, in which each leaf was defined, already formed in the thicket behind the orchestra and was the other element of the stage.

                    The Sunday had been brilliant, without a stain of cloud. Now, the burning turquoise sky of the afternoon began to gain in transparency as it lost colour: from above the trees round the theatre there stole away not only colour but time. Music – the waltzes, the marches, the gay overtures — now began to command this hourless place. The people lost their look of uncertainty. The heroic marches made them lift up their heads; recollections of opera moulded their faces into unconscious smiles, and during the waltzes women’s eyes glittered with delicious tears about nothing. First note by note, drop by drop, then steadily, the music entered senses, nerves, and fancies that had been parched. What first was a mirage strengthened into a universe for the shabby Londoners and the exiled foreigners sitting in this worn glade in the middle of Regent’s Park. This Sunday on which the sun set was the first Sunday of September 1942.

          Pairs of lovers, fatigued by their day alone with each other, were glad to enter this element not themselves: when their looks once more met it was with refreshed love. Mothers tired by being mothers forgot their children as their children forgot them — one held her baby as though it had been a doll. Married couples who had sat down in apathetic closeness to one another could be seen to begin to draw a little apart, each recapturing some virginal inner dream. Such elderly people as had not been driven home by the disappearance of sun from the last chair fearlessly exposed their years to the dusk, in a lassitude they could have shown at no other time.

          These were the English. As for the foreigners, some were so intimate with the music that you could feel them antici­pate every note; some sat with eyes closed: others, as though aroused by some unbearable movement inside the breast, glanced behind them or quickly up at the sky. Incredulity, as when waking up from a deep sleep, appeared once or twice in faces. But in most of them, as they contin­ued to sit and listen, stoicism only intensified.

From Chapter 1 of ‘The Heat of the Day’  1949

Something speechless, tenacious, unloveable – himself – was during that instant exposed in Harrison’s eyes: it was a crisis the first this evening, not the first she had known of his emotional idiocy, and it was as unnerving as might be a brain-storm in someone without a brain.

From Chapter 2 of ‘The Heat of the Day’  1949

He sighed. In this flat, rooms had no names; there being only two, whichever you were not in was ‘the other room’. Proceeding into what he saw as the drawing-room, Roderick, grasping the tray, stood looking round again. Somewhere between these chairs and tables must run the spoor of habit, could one pick it up. […]

There was not much left for either of them to say, and in this room in which they sat nothing spoke, either – a mysterious flutter, like that of a fire burning, which used to emanate from the minutes seemed to be at a stop. The actual fire’s elements, vertical hot set lips, grinned away at the empty end of the room. At half-shadow level, some way above the lamplight, the photographs were two dark unliving squares. Outside the curtain-masked windows, down there in the street running into streets, the silence was black-out registered by the hearing.

From Chapter 3 of ‘The Heat of the Day’ 1949


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.

From Chapter 4 of ‘The Heat of the Day’ 1949


They had met one another, at first not very often, throughout that heady autumn of the first London air raids. Never had any season been more felt; one bought the poetic sense of it with the sense of death. Out of mists of morning charred by the smoke from ruins each day rose to a height of unmisty glitter; between the last of sunset and first note of the siren the darkening glassy tenseness of evening was drawn fine. From the moment of waking you tasted the sweet autumn not less because of an acridity on the tongue and nostrils; and as the singed dust settled and smoke diluted you felt more and more called upon to observe the daytime as a pure and curious holiday from fear. […]

Most of all the dead, from mortuaries, from under cataracts of rubble, made their anonymous presence – not as today’s dead but as yesterday’s living – felt through London. Uncounted, they continued to move in shoals through the city day, pervading everything to be seen or heard or felt with their torn-off senses, drawing on this tomorrow they had expected – for death cannot be so sudden as that. […]

The wall between the living and the living became less solid as the wall between the living and the dead thinned. In that September transparency people became transparent, only to be located by the just darker flicker of their hearts. […]

To the place he suggested she, it happened, had never been: its name, from being familiar in so many of her friends’ many stories, had come to seem to be over the borderline of fiction – so much so that, making her way thither, she felt herself to be going to a rendezvous inside the pages of a book. And was, indeed, Robert himself fictitious?

From Chapter 5 of ‘The Heat of the Day’ 1949

Ernestine’s features, which taken one by one might not have been so very unlike Robert’s, were so arranged as to make her look rather like a dog. […]

The concentrated indoorness of the lounge was made somehow greater rather than less by the number of exits, archways and outdoor views; the staircase, lit from the top and built with as many complications as space allowed, descended into the middle of everything with a plump. […]

‘No option: on his insistence we were perpetually looking each other in the eye.  There used to be convulsions of awkwardness when we literally couldn’t unlock our looks. I suppose I could draw you a map today of every vein in his iris. The jelly of an eye, not to speak of whatever else there may be in it, has been unseemly to me ever since – haven’t you seen how seldom I look in your eyes? – at them’s an entirely different thing. Your mothy way of blinking…’

From Chapter 6 of ‘The Heat of the Day’ 1949


Stella walked back to her flat alone.  The country seemed to have followed her back into London and to be on her tracks like a disaffecting ghost, undoing the reality of the city; around her the unsubstantial darkness was quickened by a not quite wind. Shreds of leaves from the woods deadened the impact of her heels on the pavement; up out of basements came an autumnal mould smell; a loose gutter high on a damaged building now and then creaked overhead like a bough. […]

The darkness by force of being so long looked into resolved itself into particles, some lighter; air and solids just lifted apart; rooflines took on an uncertain form […]

By the rules of fiction, with which life to be credible must comply, he was as a character ‘impossible’ – each time they met, for instance, he showed no shred or trace of having been continuous since they last met.

From Chapter 7 of ‘The Heat of the Day’ 1949


True, she felt nearer Tom with any man, than she did with no man […]

It was a phenomenon of war-time city night that it brought out something provocative in the step of most modest women; Nature tapped out with the heels on the pavement an illicit semaphore. Alone was Louie in being almost never accosted; whatever it was was missing from her step; she walked, she strode, she bulked ahead through the dark with the sexless flat-footed nonchalance of a ten-year-old, only more heavily.

From Chapter 8 of ‘The Heat of the Day’ 1949


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One response to “Elizabeth Bowen Quotes (4)

  1. You can buy all these entrancing Elizabeth Bowen fiction quotes in print.
    Volume Three here contains them: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/contents-of-real-time-reviews-books/

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