Part Two of my review of this novel as continued from here:-
Friends and Relations by Elizabeth Bowen

All my reviews of Bowen novels will be linked here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/11/27/elizabeth-bowens-novels/

All my links of Bowen stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/31260-2/

My gestalt real-time review will be conducted in the comment stream below:


8 responses to “*

  1. Part 1 (8)

    ‘Why are we all in the dark?’

     Edward and Jane somehow create an obliquely disputatious hiatus of one day, explaining the earlier rumours of a Rodney/ Janet rending of their engagement,,, Janet and Laurel sororal for 50 years!

    “Feeling his way from switch to switch he [Edward] turned on all the lights.  He blinked; the darkness gone from the room seemed to inhabit him.”

    “The long low little room, left alone with Janet, was mortally disconcerted; the lamps staring. A room does not easily re-compose itself,…”

    “They must get back somehow. She [Janet], however, not looking again at him, allowed two clocks to tick and the last outgoing traffic – lorries, what sounded like a removal in furniture vans of entire London – to drag its slow iron chain down the Brompton Road.”

    Zeno’s Time parallel with itself as well as with any civilised living spaces for which removal vans are hired…

    They do indeed somehow ‘get back’.
    Lady Elfrida, you see, ends up helping Janet into a gold dress for the wedding, after Lewis drives Janet to Cheltenham via Uxbridge then followed by a period of calm succession towards the wedding…

  2. Part 2: The Fine Week

    “Colonel Studdart and Lewis Gibson were at Batts for this weekend; Mrs Studdart had a bazaar coming on and could not leave Cheltenham. The Tilney children were here, convalescent from measles, to give Laurel a rest.”

    Some remarkable Bowenesque passages in this crucial chapter. What it describes is unclear, but we know it is important in its unimportance, also its being reefed with implication. About a half-eaten arm. By an ungood tiger. Perhaps stopped in its course by an elbow?

    Ten years gone since Janet married Rodney, and their daughter Hermione, an only child who had not got used to being alone, pesters for attention!….while the Tilney children themselves pester Considine for tales….

    “Anna and Simon Tilney, crouching among the bushes, bit into the sharp green gooseberries that turned their palates to blotting-paper. They spat the gooseberries out again: this was just for sensation. Their cousin’s great-uncle Considine, stretched between the low spiny branches, lay almost relaxed beside them. Between his head and the earth Anna had slipped a cabbage leaf. His hands, on the leaf, were clasped loosely under his head; one eye was closed, one glassy with light reflected the sky where a hawk swung and dropped a little. […] He had been telling them a story about a tiger. […]
    ‘So then what did you do?’
    ‘I took it off,’ said Considine.  The children hugged themselves, squatting lower. ‘Does a black man’s arm go blacker when it goes bad, or does it go blue? Describe.’ […]
    ‘Tell us about an imaginary tiger getting into a girls’ school.’”

    Much about gooseberries and tummy aches and who is at Batts today, and why. I let if flow over me. It feels good so far. Important and unimportant alike.

    “The white afternoon, undisturbed by wind or sunshine, undeepened personally by any hostility or attraction, hung gently, heavily over Batts. The large yellow stone house was quiet, with loud clocks. […] …a fine dark shadow.”

    “Before death she [Janet] had ghosts all over the house; she was preceded and followed.”
    What does that mean; nothing it seems.
    “Janet had all a busy woman’s power of being nowhere.”

    “Apart from the exigencies of Whitehall, the times when Edward could visit at Batts were circumscribed. Naturally he must not meet Considine. Though he could not prevent his mother’s going to Batts, her coincidence there with Considine….”
    That assonance of words at the end there, predicted earlier in this Lewis real-time review.

    “Between these whirlpools of sensibility, these reefs of umbrage, the two families had, however, steered for ten years an uneventful course.”

    Bowen novels have more text texture and touching moments than any other, I guess.. literally and literarily…

    ‘Her [Janet’s] hand moved slowly over the chair-back, not touching the wicker, moulding the air above; she did not quite smile. So, intimate, she could have been. In proximity to the beloved one caresses the chair – in speaking or not speaking – the curtain, or else the grass, the tree-trunk, glad of texture that electrifies curiously to the touch. What passed under her fingers now? […]
    Some telescope brought her up to Lewis’s eye, distinct but unforgettably distant.  His view of her was unique: he could not account or this. Then he understood; solitude is in its nature invisible; he had never looked for so long at anyone who was alone.”

    Lewis surveys her. Janet had forgotten it was her father in the chair….

    “…Lewis’s eye, distinct but unforgettably distant.”

  3. Part 2 (2)

    “– This in parenthesis –“

    These, not this.
    At first the two women, Lewis’s sister, Marise, and our well-remembered, still big-boned, short-sighted Theodora…

    “She [Marise] lived in a flat with Theodora, off Ebury Street. The claims of this rather neutral friendship of Theodora’s were a relief to Mr and Mrs Thirdman, who enjoyed without any disturbance their cottage in Sussex.”

    Blending into what we might call these women as subconscious or subtle Sapphickness? Blending, too, another separate but connected parenthesis, another subtlety among subtleties…

    “Janet came from the fire and halted, for no reason, where Lewis leaned on the window, his elbow along the sash.”
    “But Lewis remembered a look, an equally even and dark look, that, leaving the window, she [Janet] had exchanged with the night.”

    Yet another blatantly subtle scene, Anna’s childlike, dual-schoolgirl midnight-feast-at-Batts, her “Wazzat?”a (another Theodora in girlish bud?) Hermione Meggatt….

    “But the house was once again not on fire. Nothing had stopped, either; she could hear a train round off its curve of sound in the hollow distance. The night was fixed: she just saw the windows, Hermione’s low little oval mirror.  The white glossy curtains moved now and then, like someone taking a step forward then standing still. Anna had heard of fear but marvelled at it. She sat up now to stare, vigorous as a crocus in her little sheath of assurance.”

    Hermione’s earlier parenthesis within this late night parenthesis, about her relationship with Lady Elfrida…

    “…Hermione had stampeded the Siamese, screamed in Harrod’s (she thought she was lost), screamed at Maskelyne and Devant’s (not a fortunate choice of Lady Elfrida’s) and when she was left at home played Jezebel with a teddy-bear on the balcony,…”

    H now promises Anna to call Lady E ‘un-grandmother’…and not demand that that ‘un’ be shed…
    Janet, annoyed, tells them to count sheep to get to sleep…

    “And why, meanwhile, was Hermione looking up at the high mild ceiling? She lay, so still, with that black moral line all round her; a bad little girl.”

    A chapter enmisted in the brume of its own brackets …


  4. Part 2 (3)

    “…he sat turning his half-crowns over and kicking the gear gently.”

    And he, Simon, Laurel’s son, bought a ‘bespoke saw’ and some ‘Seccotine’, but what is Seccotine other than perhaps a hidden metaphor for this whole book? Even for Bowen in toto?

    Simon ponders upon Rodney and Considine back at Batts Abbey, while Janet, with him in the car, having delivered leaving visitors Lewis and Col Studdart to the railway station…. And he also ponders other imponderables.

    “…Considine himself, rigidly carved as a pew-end, leaning a little forward during the prayers and groaning into his hat.”

    A pen picture worth a milion other authors…

    “…the rector’s eye seldom kindled; he was much alone with theology, half into his roll-top desk. A poor companion, even to his Maker.”

    And this passage of the day below should be read by all hopeful novelists, chewed over, sawed and refined in a bespoke fashion in the sump of creativity, while consoling one’s elbows, I guess…

    “Today this surely was the wettest village in the world: the poor late lilac was sodden; its leaves ran like gutters.  Rain fell over dark doorways; the plaster cottages were distraught with it; the brick cottages sullen. Smoke from the dinner fires hung heavy, clotting the trees, and where under dark eaves the old woman still did not die, geraniums stifled, pressing close to the panes. The International Stores, full of cocoa, stood over its red reflection. No one crossed the street o even came to a door: a quenched, drenched day, thought Janet.  And in the village, something suspended, perhaps finally over: evening brightly dissolving the roofs, the hourless blank of sunshine, dark lamplight, the bucket swinging up bright from the cold well. There would be worse days here, some better; none, you had to believe, final. To be consoled it was better to live indoors, without spectacle.”


    “As Rodney gained in maturity, Considine receded to a second, happier adolescence.”

    And much else Bowenesque about these two men, as well as, later, the problematic dilemma faced in inviting Elfrida to Batts to coincide with Considine remaining there, with perhaps an obliquely ulterior motive of an ‘unmatched’ Considine who relegated the ‘flowery intermission’ of women to appeal to his still semi-philandering heart. But to do this by means of an Elfrida visit! — bearing in mind their backstory! And Edward and Laurel’s possibly knotty reaction to such a move?! Considine seen also in interface with Janet herself in this semi-philandering light?! And as with the mystery of ‘Seccotine’, what is a débdâle? And, oh yes, Laurel writes a letter about all this as well as carpets…and, meantime, her daughter Anna’s reaction to pen wipes in further interface with Hermione… this chapter teems with its own slow intermissions and flurries…

    “Batts had known flowery intermissions. Rooms long dark were unshuttered to daylight and animation; mirrors barely wiped clear of their film reflected a galaxy. Extravagant skirts brushed the lawns not then innocent of a daisy, parasols tilted this way and that on the landscape corollas of sunny silk. […] ….candles flattered the decolletage even at midsummer;”

    Such Intermissions were ever re-shuttered, thus being in the nature of intermissions!
    Even a ‘sick-room’ is mentioned in the same breath as Paris in one passage.


    “‘No one wipes pens nowadays,’ remarked Anna.
    ‘Bags I do the flowers.’ Hermione was setting in early to be the daughter at home. She made pen-wipers, hair-tidies and lavender bags she forgot to fill.”

    Elfrida, as a potential ghost landing…

    “She produced confidences and estrangements, like a ghost rumoured, perhaps seen.”

    But even intermissions need to cease?…

    “…the present relaxed its grip on the house.”

  5. Part 2 (4)

    “…the question always was at her elbow.”

    This inevitably great novel has been for too long underrated as less than great — underrated at least by me!

    “The lake, bending round the contour of the rise, had a rushing sluice at each end; the stream released from artifice went its way in curves through the shallow valley with a glad air of being its narrow self again. Over these flat meadows, pricked with budding flags and dark orchises, and over the mild ascent beyond, hung the whole bloom of June.  Sky and earth married in light; blue on the trees and grass, a gold obscurity, like pollen, over the sky.”

    A lake or fish pond at Batts Abbey, often fished for carp, if not for tench, by Hermione… as Elfrida, basking in her own delinquency or mischief in coming here at all, complicit, now, with Considine in trying to avoid another visitor: Theodora Thirdman!
    Why does TT call Edward Maisie, I ask, and is the ‘tallboise’ what my parents once called a tallboy in the 190s?

    TT “glanced at the company casually, superciliously – Elfrida’s damaged beauty, Considine’s dry polish – like someone’s notable tame panther loaned with its cage for the afternoon to a village entertainment.”

    TT’s tête-à-tête with Janet, getting annoyed at the latter’s attention being diverted by letter writing and a blotter. TT’s cigarette dance: rhythmically clicking the cigarette case, “And Theodora, in ironic patience, ground out cigarette after cigarette…” and Janet “Brushing Theodora’s ash off the cretonne…”

    “As they crossed the bleach-green a bell swung high up in the stable cupola, knocking sparks from the blue air. One or two pigeons wheeled. ‘Twelve o’clock,’ said Janet.”

    “‘And of course,’ went on Theodora, ‘Lady Elfrida does bore me. She’s the most tiresome kind of cathédrale engloutie, full of backwashes and large drowned bells.’”

    Laurel’s children and Hermione view Elfrida…
    “She had certainly sinned, if only in lying now in her lace Dutch cap in a stream of mature sunshine,…”

    Thoughts on Edward and Janet, to whom Janet writes…
    And TT thinks she is still in love with him to the point of a TT tantrum in a tête-à-tête…
    “…a large possibility of destruction; when Janet’s composure became something precariously but calmly held, some very delicate glass or a dish piled high with fruit that balanced curve on curve just not tottering. To splinter the vase, to knock the dish out of Janet’s hand,…”

    “But the silent question was at her elbow still.”

  6. Part 2 (5)

    “….brought out curious people, like toads after rain?”

    Anna and Simon Tilney to the hairdresser in a wondrously, even comically depicted Market Keaton, taken by Elfrida and Considine! — as interrupted by a phone call at the chemist dark as inside the camera Simon hoped to be bought, a call stating that Edward had arrived to take the children home! Another chapter that shines out as a literary gem, whatever the abeyances involved, and whatever strange adolescences in side-references about TT and Hermione Meggatt… another chapter teeming with unmissable passages, some of which are shown below… the ices given to the children in particular before being snatched away….

    “At such an hour, similes were postprandial; like gooseberry fool the silence closed in behind them; their speed soon jumbled the brightness of afternoon, turning it like a salad . . . But she had the town-dweller’s love of going to town: Considine beside her was all complaisance, a panama and a chin.  He could digest anywhere.  Hedges crisp with budding wild roses, banks in a high foam of cow-parsley soon gave way to allotments. Hoardings rushed up eager for their attention; scarlet and yellow petrol pumps, like a civic procession, marched out to meet them more than a mile from the town.”

    “A cat’s yawn gave the note of the afternoon.  Pavements sleepily glared; over the butcher’s a piano played in its sleep.  All down the streets the lettered awnings were low, and women, girls for the day in brief cotton dresses, crossed from shadow to shadow.  The town did not know itself; it became a seaside town high and dry; in contradiction to nature some bright shadow, some idea of unreal pleasure trailed over it.  Bow-fronted houses bulged here and there from the flat stucco; in shadow, the Gothic bank was cut out in slate on the glare; opposite, the brick ‘Plough’ flushed in a bacchic dream.”

    Hardware shops versus flowers, with hats in the town, and people and things as seen through the residual heat from the car’s bonnet, not from a hat!…

    “In the hot vibration going up from the bonnet dogs were like minnows, doors moved like reeds under water and ladies swam.”

    Cut the hair like a bell, face vibrations, but no people have faces here, Elfrida wondered. And a barber anointed Simon with violet oil…. Leading to a later possible reek on the train home with Edward….

    “Theodora herself had been a hideous little girl. Nowadays, though her figure was nice, something must be the matter. She pounced: it was curious – could she have wanted to marry Edward? She had been quite disqualified by that blue hat. Besides, she was then fifteen – and had they not met the first time at his own wedding? So it could not have been that. Besides, she had passions for women – awkward, such a tax on behaviour, like nausea at meals.”

    Considine with Aickman’s ‘gluey Zenoism’ and that lion again…as he and Elfrida vibrate in Bowenesque literary heat haziness of their subtle re-relationship…
    “…when he [C] had gone for less than a moment into abeyance – she [E] had let that less than moment eternalize itself and harden till, though so fine, it could be driven down through living heart and body without swerving. His metamorphosis? She had no place for the living dog: there could have been honey in the mouth of the dead lion.”

    “The three went into the teashop. In the inside, full of sun, marble tables looked warm to the touch; in the window flies thrust their long proboscises through muslin swathing the pastries and loitered, wistful, over the glass bells.”

    A hairdresser scene as ironically to appear in a later World of Love, and Pink Biscuit shopping, and a moth-eaten bear, Edward Bear or once Edward’s teddy?

    The crucial interruption that all novels expect, but not as crucial as when…
    “Elfrida had come in. Down the long shop, narrow and cumbered like the past, with its dull mirrors, she came very tall, distraite, balancing nervously in her speed like a ship just launched. Her bright hat focused the sunlight; she disturbed the stale enclosed afternoon that like a cake under glass night after night had covered without renewing.”

    “Simon paused. ‘There are two currants squashed on your elbow,’ he said to Considine.”

  7. Part 2 (6)

    “The position of the telephone here was characteristic: it was for barest communication only, and in the hall.”

    Edward obsessive and Janet, a no-presence, hanging onto the marble mantelpiece, in this chapter’s simmering tour de force. The acme of Literature, I say. Why now? Were E and J ever in love, before he married her sister Laurel? Why not let bygones be bygones, with Considine and Elfrida, as they themselves seem to be letting be with each other, being constructive after past destruction? Edward ever seems as if he has just missed a train, as if there is a funeral ever passing outside by having the blinds eternally down. So mindless with subtle, madness, he had been walking hatless in the heat at Batts. After that subtly cruel agonisingly bored catalyst of TT’s letter to Laurel, bringing him here hatless to Batts to fetch back home his children Anna and Simon. To outstare ‘the pediment of a candlestick’… “Nothing I say is myself.”

    “The cold, mounting excitement under her manner communicated itself to Edward and, like fever, effected a disembodiment. So that his thought, detaching itself from the self in anguish, ranged with delirious boldness; hardly thought at all, detached from feeling. And as when in fever the freed, weightless thought going down street after street or penetrating a forest, halts, finds one house or one tree and fuses with this utterly, becoming the house or tree past hope of escape, Edward’s thought stopped and flared at a point where dread and desire ran round the circle to meet.”

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