Elizabeth Bowen Quotes (7)


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

THE QUOTES (PART ONE) START HERE: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/elizabeth-bowen-quotes-1/

Jeremy watched Paris, this further movie. At this hour, it exhausted the resources of Technicolor, and exceeded them. Creamy buildings transmuted to honey yellow as the sun came languidly down the sky, dazzling half the city out of existence. Viridian shadow clothed such trees as were not in the sun’s path. Rainbows of traffic frayed into splintering whirlpools. Flowers spumy like sherbets though more brilliantly chemical in colour effervesced from their artificial settings. Lancing its way through Paris, the steel-bright Seine magnetized leaners over its parapets.


‘Life is an anti-novel.’


Constantine leaned back. With a middle finger, he softly rubbed the site of an eyebrow, meditating. He then whetted his lips.


Transfigurations never repeat themselves. One need not be frightened of growing old; to the last, there will always be something new.

He shaded his eyes. ‘You look like a statue, up there against the sky! Whatever I do or say, or don’t do or say, do forgive me, Eva! More, everything’s gone to my head: this place, you – drink in the afternoon, I should think, too? — Where are the strawberries?’

All above From Part II (4) of  ‘Eva Trout’ 1968


Was he never to see anything but blazing steps, and these myriads of burning, whirling, infinitesimal particles of sound and colour around him that he doubted to be Rome?

–from “Moses” (1923)

He put a hand in front of his eyes and began to grope back, back. The paths he had trod were lonely as death, clammy, forgotten but now once more his familiar. He shut out the rich warm room, the stir and scent of Nancy, they fell away from him; Bloomsbury, life, hope, dreams, ambition and Daphne fell away from him, too; he ran on alone to the edge of the Pit. Within him there was an absolute silence, a blank across which shadows doubtfully shivered and fled.

–from “Just Imagine…” (1926)

In glittering films of crystal the citrons, oranges of Italy and Spain were staked as for a banquet, triumphant from their syrupy ordeal. There was a something of triumph, too, in repose of that whole side of a split pig, reclined voluptuously on a bank of moss; a stuffed Oriental bowed above a lacquer bowl of tea.

–from ‘The Pink Biscuit’ (1928)

Days came and went, he perceived no longer the Wednesdayness of a Wednesday, the uniqueness of ten o’clock; the sun became a mere busy planet, odious, jumping the skies like a Kruschen grandfather; the fire was genial without intimacy.

–         from ‘Flavia’ 1931

As from thoughts of the mayonnaise and the trifles of which he partook too heartily coming back in their eggy stickiness to afflict the bilious sufferer, Henry was in revolt, with a violent queasiness, from much that he and Magdalen had in common. Swinburne, for instance, dripped thickly over his nerves like an upset custard.

–         from ‘ She Gave Him’ 1932

Enormous stalactites, shaped like cocoanut cones, hung from the roof of the cave, now and then a drop fell from the tip of a stalctite on to a torch, which would fizz horribly.

–         from ‘Brigands’ 1932

Besides being so dull, the two Fairy Godmothers were a nuisance throughout the christening party. They would not sit down to lunch, but moved about restlessly, nibbling moth-wing sandwiches out of their reticules.

– from ‘The Unromantic Princess’ 1935

. . . . Outside, beyond the blacked-out houses, stretched the unmoved snow. And across the snow’s silence, hour by hour, he heard the clock strike.

–         From ‘Comfort and Joy’ (1945)


The wet ran from the fringe of the women’s shawls and penetrated into the men’s bones. There was no wailing or keening; the Castle forbidding us with its shut eyes. No weeping was heard louder than the Lough tide creeping upon the stones. From awaiting the Steamer this long we were become still as the stones themselves.

–         From ‘The Good Earl’ (1946)


Seale was, o him, timeless, but at the same time drenched in something amicable distilled from time. He loved the place, perhaps as one loves a place in art – immune.  […] …I believe all writing to be the overflow of a delight, even though it be a delight in pain.

–         From ‘The Lost Hope’ (1946)


Dresses seen in our dreams came to us complete from her fingers lifeless: to become happy in them took as long as the making burn up of a fire in a stone-cold grate.

–         From ‘I Died Of Love’ (1946)


Could this be, only, the sunshine?  Sunshine indeed there was: slipping between the half-drawn curtains, it floated her bed and the whole of her room in light. Hands under her head, she lay basking, blinking: slowly and – how amazingly – without pain, there returned those memories of the night before.

— From ‘So Much Depends’ (1951)

In the corridor, she was at pains to skirt the somewhat dangerous head of the spiral staircase, connecting this floor of the Wing with the one below. For under the bedroom suite was a vault-like ballroom – vast, and in décor not unlike the surroundings for a Black Mass. […]

His morale had reached its lowest ebb when unearthly flute-notes began to curdle the air. This, no doubt was the overture of the Worst.

— From ‘Emergency In The Gothic Wing’ (1954)


At this hour, seen by the wobbling light of the dim carriage-lamps, our streets appeared to be those of an unknown city. Past me went unidentified archways, snowdrifted porches and blinded shopfronts. It was slippery going, downhill, till we reached the quay. There, we whipped up and went bouncing over the cobbles. Ahead beamed the festive house; on our flank, below, lay the water, silent and dark.

I did not know how I felt: I was in turmoil. Through the tight-closed window I sent a glance up the crowded face of our town. Then, all was well. Yes, above me still burned the sentinel candles! Steadily, tier on tier, gleamed those points of light; each flame on its coloured wax stem, a symbolic heart shape. Each stood for a home! It was still Christmas, going with me, encircling me. Nothing was left behind.

— From ‘Candles In The Window’ 1958

Candlelit, at the far end of the dark barn, “Our Castle” consisted of boughs, leaning together. Only faith and trust, out of which it was built, can have kept “Our Castle” from falling down. Open in front, it was something between an arbour and a fragile cave. The two keeping house in it, Blinks and Carol, using Scarlet quilts as mantles for the occasion, were engaged in doing honour to Cissie, who sat between and above them, enthroned on pillows. Mother recounted, was transformed. She revealed a responsive lovely face, from which piteous sillinesses were all gone.

from ‘Happiness’ (1959)


Hot brown light came through the canvas roof of the tent; Mrs Bude’s patent leather shoes began to pinch: she sat down on a chair behind the stall, her face on a level with the sweet-pea. Her thoughts took coral pink wings and began to fly far away. She had a half-crown and a florin in one saucer, seven pence halfpenny the other. How odd, she thought, if this were my livelihood.

from ‘The Bazaar’ (1925 – 1930?)


You know I used to wonder how people who got all over the papers felt. The times I’ve spread the Sunday News on this floor. Mr Wallace used to laugh, he said I crawled on the news…

from ‘Miss Jolley Has No Plans For The Future’ (date?)



I’ve just read for the first time an unfinished story by Elizabeth Bowen: ‘The Man and The Boy’, just published in ‘The Bazaar and Other Stories’ (2008) by Elizabeth Bowen (Edinburgh University Press). Discovered handwritten on ten sheets of ruled paper. May date from the late 20’s?  One wonders where this universe of reality was heading. The story ends:

“They had the nearest window in the restaurant opened; what air there was came through and fanned Antonia’s arms. She”

The following is a nice baroque passage, I feel from this story:


“This town sat on a rock rising out of one of those plains of immense France. A river doubles glinting past the foot of the rock: over the river there is a steep drop. One flank shelvcs, with grey jumbled roofs, yards, an embanked road for motors zigzagging down between. Down where the road flattens there is a dusty faubourg, 10 across the river, linked to town by a bridge. A boulevard dark with trees runs round the top of the rock, broadening out at the river side into municipal gardens. A cathedral church of flamboyant gothic gives the town interest: it is without charm – that quickness and air of secret pleasure many little French towns have it quite lacks. It has a limestone greyness and with the end of summer grows sluggish and sinister: glare beats on its restless slate-grey trees; wind creeps under the heavily dropping sky; straws blow about the cafes; dust hardens one’s lips. Michelin gives three gables to the hotel – so here, yesterday, Theodore, amateur of late gothic, directed Antonia’s party across the plain from the more smiling, peach-coloured town of Albi. He collected, he indexed aesthetic experience, though rapture had never flowered in his precise mind.

Benjie saw no reason to change his shirt: how much simpler it was to avoid his mother. He left the hotel and made for the market square, where he stared at objects aggressively. He was twelve, man enough to feel an angry vacuity: he hoped never to cross the English Channel again. Kicking an apple drearily past the stalls till it rolled under an old Renault parked by the kerb, he missed Tom’s company. He sidled into a garage yard and stood silently watching two silent mechanics: here his contempt for the French lifted a little. With an obscure feeling of outrage he saw his mother, her pink nightdress slipping off her shoulder, running her hand up Tom’s stiff arm, saying: “You won’t.” The voluptuous delicacy of women, embodied in her, antagonised him: he would rather have had a grim aunt who scrubbed his ears. Wait till I am in the army, Benjie thought.

Two nuns streamed past with a sanctimonious bustle. Avoiding their stuffy skirts, Benjie walked head on into Theodore, coming from the cathedral, eupeptic, bland.”


Re the word ‘eupeptic’ the editor writes:

“Eupeptic: having good digestion. But I have had to guess. The handwriting being illegible, the word looks like ‘emphatic’ and might be anything at all.”


Her voice stopped. Len felt his face change, as though it knew more than he did.

from ‘Story Scene’ (date?)


Through the thin dividing wall, Doris could hear her mother rustling round in her bed with brisk canine movements. Doris herself lay like a bar of iron, with her hands knotted under her head. She heard traffic drag past the end of their hollow street. Light from a street lamp made a square on the dark. Through the floor there came up intermittent voices – Mrs Benger, below, had someone with her again.

from ‘Flowers Will Do’ (late 1930s)


The bus traversed, in a series of these convulsions, the saucer of land above which the watchers stood. “Sounds to me,” said the woman impartially, “like it’s conking out.” Her companion, for his part, was beyond words. The bus attempted to breast the hill towards them: change of gear tore a final screech from its vitals – it stopped dead. Triumphantly, silence fell.

The woman hitched up her parcels, the man regripped his despatch case: the two of them started downhill, as though in expostulation, towards the hulk, in whose dimmed blue inside were astir like uneasy ghosts.  One by one, the passengers got out, following the driver and the conductor: a despondent crowd began to form round the bonnet.

from ‘The Last Bus’ (1944)



It was here that the Unknown joined them. The wrong-looking little figure – beret pulled down over wisps of brittle blonde hair; “loud”, shabby tartan overcoat, preposterous scarlet bootees, mock-fur gauntlets – edged its way into the forefront of the group round the font, and there stood firm. Impossible to account for, utterly impossible to displace by stares, frowns, murmurs or courteous nudges, this cuckoo among the godparents held her ground.

from ‘Fairies at the Christening’ (date?)


Peals of bells being rung from an ancient steeple mingled with the throbbing inside her head; she was dazzled by the many lights of small shops – windows a-shimmer with tinsel, slung with paper chains, cast their reflections on to the damp pavements, till she felt herself lost in a mirror maze. Good-humoured townsfolk, gathering late to talk, formed an obstruction at every corner…”

n  from ‘Christmas Games’ (1954?)

Millie at once saw, from the light on their bedroom ceiling, that snow must have fallen during the night. As though someone had spoken, she woke from a deep, plausible dream to the unreality of this unknown spare room silently glared into by the snow. The satin pattern of the blue wallpaper glimmered, and the white door through to the dressingroom, the white mantlepiece seemed to carved out of something solidly bright.

n  from ‘Home for Christmas’ (mid 1950s)

Holly, no doubt brought in by the butler, was stuck in the Sèvres vases each side of the clock. The oppressiveness of the gilded and crowded drawing-room was increased by the glare from the chandelier, and by the steadily roaring fire, which slowly baked the unused air. The door stood ajar – it was no one’s business to shut it – and a loud, halting tic-tac came from the hall clock.

n  from ‘Ghost Story’ (mid 1950s)

Instead of answering, she looked, behind and around her, at the dusky woodshed crammed with traditional, ancient, country junk – broken harness, a wheel propped up with a chicken roosting on it. [..]

‘I could never – no, I would not – do to a person a thing they would not forgive if they did know. They may know or not, but one’s injured them, all the same.’

n  from ‘Women in Love’ (1960?)

Quotes from fiction (19)

The church – for Markie an oppressive monument to futility – towered up high and frosty.  An idea of the stored-up darkness of its interior – only apart from them by a door and curtain – stale gilt, cold incense and peering images in the perpetual scarlet of hanging lamps, created for Markie a kind of suction, setting up in him a nervous frenzy unlike the coldness of disbelief.

From Chapter 18 of ‘To The North’ 1932

Marcelle Veness, an unhappy woman composer who had lately quarrelled with her best friend and could speak to no one, gloomed at Sir Robert’s right hand: she had spent the morning hatless out in the rain.  An apologetic white dog coasted round the chair-backs; he belonged to the house and desolated by too many departures dared form no more attachments, looking at newcomers with a disenchanted eye: a nervy luckless little white dog that yearned for a sweet routine.

From Chapter 19 of ‘To The North’ 1932

Parting the honeysuckle, Lady Waters looked into the summer-house: against the watery garden, in trailing green light from the creepers, she looked very large and marine, like the motherly spouse of Neptune.

From Chapter 20 of ‘To The North’ 1932

‘Luck’s funny,’ she said. ‘I don’t think it’s constantly good or bad, but it’s sun-y or moon-y, if you know what I mean, and one’s born with one kind or the other.  Mine’s moon-y.  I’d better go down.’

From Chapter 2 of ‘The Hotel’ 1927

Breaking off with a sigh she began to powder her nose.  Sydney meanwhile pushed open the jalousies; if she did not do this, Tessa would quite contentedly make up her face in the half-light and go downstairs like a nice little clown.

From Chapter 3 of ‘The Hotel’ 1927

For less than a minute Geraldine’s supper – the green goblets of milk, the Romary biscuits, the glossy strawberry-pyramid on a plate like a leaf – attracted Geraldine’s eye, her look dark with secrecy, with some conspiracy with herself.  Then she turned from it, pressing a strawberry to her bunched-up lips that slowly yielded as the fruit flattened and sweet red juice ran down her chin. ‘The Enemies. . .’ she said aloud, in a one of exaltation and terror, ‘the Enemies!’

She was alone in her room, that, softly pale-pink and full of friendly light from the garden, seemed to be enclosed by more than material walls, by volutions of delicacy and sweet living shadows: the inner whorl of a shell, the heart of a flower.  If stone sustained it, the very stone was kind.  Here was the secret form of her little-girlhood, tenderly animate by the spirit.  Here, round the smiling gold clock, time was captive, and only fluttered with little moth-wings; here, coming in, you distilled the whole sweetness of youth from a happy consciousness of mortality: the narrow bed was innocent as an early grave.  By falling asleep here, the little girl gave herself back to the centuries, to touch, from their heart, the very heart of your fancy, like a little girl in an epitaph.

From ‘The Little Girl’s Room’ 1934


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.



Elizabeth Bowen Article by DF Lewis


Her stories and novels are all that one needs; because knowing about Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) as a person may well undermine what they give you.  However to satisfy the curious: she was born in Dublin, travelled a lot, and lived at various times in Ireland and England (particularly London).  She wrote fiction about her sort of higher social class people and contemporary historical events that surrounded them.

Let’s get to the point.  Elizabeth Bowen is my favourite writer of all time.  Many have been surprised at this, when I have enunciated the fact over the years.  A lot of well-read people have never heard of her; she is frequently ignored by those in the English Literature world where she often finds her place.  I claim that her work more naturally resides in the Horror genre of fiction and that her huge volume of Collected Stories (1980) – containing seventy-nine stories published in various separate collections from the twenties to the fifties – is a seminal work of this genre.

Each story needs special care and attention to wring out the horror and, once wrung out, lodges in the mind and haunts you most effectively.  Not always wrung-out horror, but often delightfully in your face.  The language itself sets traps and surprises you with unexpected turnings of structure and meaning — giving a ivy-like grip upon the reading mind, insinuating within you and fortifying the concentration required to open the prose’s dark charms.  The stories consistently have this special tentacular power in style and subject-matter, teetering on the edge of a subtly surreal and/or fragmented world, a world that is contrastively generated by her high social (and sometimes more mundane) world of events — comprising, typically, tales of childhood and evocative depictions of the London blitz era.

One has to infer ghosts.  Otherwise, many of the stories’ plots wouldn’t make sense.  Some have real ghosts without the need for inference, as in “The Demon Lover”.  There is also a visionary strength similar to Arthur Machen, as in “Mysterious Kôr”. The one entitled “Love” has the puckish absurdism but enduring nightmarishness of Robert Aickman.  “The Cat Jumps” horrifies me beyond words.  “The Apple Tree” applies falling apples – thump thump… equally horrifying.

The streets of lonely seaside towns.  The opening of a silver cigarette case, the match flaring.  The characters with inexplicable (or gratuitous) motives: for instance climbing into a stranger’s car or spurning the one they love as bombs rain down like spilt hot jam.  London’s second world war is made to appear paradoxically more real by giving it an unreal veneer – as if that sort of history  (one only witnessed in monochrome newsreels) is simply waiting to be brought back to life with some instinctive flourish of the fictional art.  And fiction, at its best, disfigures as well as reflects.  We are ever in a nightmare of angst.  Life without disfigurement would lack humour as well as credibility: it can only be brought truly to life with the ominous imagination.

Elizabeth Bowen’s imagination is ominous, leaning out to grab you back before even you know that you are about to fall down the flight of ivied steps that she has just created.  But will she lean far enough?  Elizabeth Bowen (as I infer) didn’t understand her own powers; she is a conduit for a creative force that yearns to bring to life the figments and fragments of our recent history with the added ingredient of alternately subtle and blatant elements of supernature.  Her many fine novels often demonstrate these features, too.

In the end, one has to return to the language, the incredible rich texture of the prose, the syntactic/semantic traps – because these elements, above all, are where the previously mentioned ‘conduit’ resides.  One cannot do justice to all these stories, written along different threads of subject-matter and in different strengths of horror as they are.  They do contain, in varying degrees, the fissured soul of someone who was Elizabeth Bowen or, equally, someone who was not Elizabeth Bowen.  The stories do carry her label, however.  I return to her work at all times.  Peter Ackroyd compares her to a hybrid of Saki and Edgar Allan Poe.  I compare her to Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Walter De La Mare, Sarban ….  She is, in fact, a major figure in the universal reservoir of creative fiction that underpins and is underpinned by our beloved Horror fiction, a genre that rightly comprises all manner of styles and methods to create that Horror.

“Ivy gripped and sucked at the flight of steps, down which with such a deceptive wildness it seemed to be flowing…”

from the story Ivy Gripped The Steps

ABOVE ARTICLE BY DF LEWIS FROM HORROR: ANOTHER 100 BEST BOOKS edited by Stephen Jones & Kim Newman (Carroll & Graf Publishers 2005)

MORE ELIZABETH BOWEN QUOTES AND MISCELLANEA: http://weirdmonger.livejournal.com/156039.html

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One response to “Elizabeth Bowen Quotes (7)

  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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