Buy New
  • List Price: $15.95
  • Save: $2.82 (18%)
FREE Shipping on orders over $35.
Only 9 left in stock (more on the way).
Ships from and sold by
Gift-wrap available.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

The Death of the Heart Paperback – May 9, 2000

See all 43 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
$7.50 $0.10
Mass Market Paperback
"Please retry"
Unknown Binding
"Please retry"

Frequently Bought Together

The Death of the Heart + The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents--The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2)
Price for both: $24.33

Buy the selected items together

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought


The Bone Clocks
David Mitchell's hypnotic new novel crackles with invention and sheer storytelling pleasure. Learn more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (May 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720175
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A witty, lucid, and beautiful psychological novel.. . . By far her best book."
--The New Yorker

"Bowen is a major writer. . . . She is what happened after Bloomsbury . . . the link that connects Virginia Woolf with Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark."                                                                           --Victoria Glendinning

"Bowen writes with both art and skillful artifice. . . . [The] quality of restraint, of the unsaid, gives her novel its curious tautness and intensity."                                                                                --The New York Times

"[The Death of the Heart] manages to make a major statement about human character. . . . We finish the book with that sense fiction nowadays rarely communicates, of life's having been mysteriously enlarged."                                                                                    --The New Yorker

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

It is well written and interesting from beginning to end.
Bowen makes it clear that they don't really want to know who they really are, and so the reader doesn't ever really get to know this either.
She has some very vivid prose as well as very spot on commentary on so many human emotions.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 22, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First off, let me say that the Anchor paperback edition is a pleasure to read, as are all the Bowen novels in this series. It has clean generous type, a binding that stays open, a cover that feels good in the hand, an attractive and totally relevant illustration, typography that captures both Bowen's elegance and her modernity, and -- wonder of wonders -- a back-cover blurb that brilliantly encapsulates the essence of this elusive novel. For example: "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."

Not for nothing does the book-jacket writer compare Elizabeth Bowen to Henry James. For this is a very Jamesian subject. The recently-orphaned 16-year-old Portia, Bowen's heroine, is significantly older than James' Maisie (WHAT MAISIE KNEW) and younger than his Isabel Archer (THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY), but like them she is thrust into sophisticated society as a naive observer, and the book is mainly taken up by the author's razor-sharp dissection of that society and sensitive exploration of the heroine's feelings.

What is surprising here, even in comparison to Henry James or to the other Elizabeth Bowen novels that I have read (THE LAST SEPTEMBER and
...Read more ›
8 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
64 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Amanda J Schick on July 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
I don't know what those who called this Bowen masterpiece "boring" expected of this novel. Perhaps they hoped for a simple, bland, beach-blanket novel they could skim in a day. I'm sure they were disappointed to find that this is an intense, at times intellectually difficult novel to read. Bowen's descriptions of the inner workings of an adolescent girl often require a second or third reading. This is not because her writing is dull or too enigmatic; it is because Bowen materializes the thoughts of an unconscious mind, thoughts that for some are difficult to understand because we do not realize we have them until they are before us on a white page. This is the genius of this novel; the poignancy of it is not in the plot but in Bowen's subtle display of humanity. This is not so much a novel as a psychological study, and it is brilliant. The simple-minded need not apply.
3 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
An extraordinary book--far and away Bowen's best, and one of the most perfectly constructed novels of all time. Perhaps its most astonishing achievement is to show not only the devastating effects of experience upon innocence but also the seriously alarming and equally destructive effects true innocence can have in a world of experience. Anna's sophistication and coolness make her no less vulnerable than the fifteen year-old Portia, and I don't think anybody who's read it can ever forget Anna's great speech at the end of the novel about how she would feel if she were Portia, or the famous scene with Portia discovering she's been betrayed in the movie theater. It's also a very funny book: the sequences with Mrs. Heccomb and her children at Waikiki are hilarious. I heartily recommend this novel.
2 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Talking about books on December 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
It feels perfectly ridiculous to be sitting here alloting stars to a writer as established in the firmament as Elizabeth Bowen. She is one of the great contemporary writers, and she was teaching when I was in college. We were too young to be in awe of her, but reading or especially rereading Bowen is one of the greatest pleasures of a lifetime. This is my favorite of her novels, but she hasn't written a single one I don't admire. Enjoy the winter with Bowen on hand!
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on June 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
Following the death of her parents, the sixteen-year-old Portia Quayne comes to live with her older half-brother Thomas and his wife Anna. Although they are brother and sister, Thomas and Portia have had very different lives. He, in his late thirties, is a wealthy advertising executive, who has also inherited money from his mother and lives in one of the elegant Regency terraces surrounding Regent's Park. She is the family's guilty secret, the daughter of Thomas's father by his second wife. The elder Mr Quayne, a seemingly respectable middle-aged businessman, was divorced by his first wife after getting his mistress, Portia's mother, pregnant. As a result he was banished from polite society in England, and Portia has spent her entire childhood living in various seedy hotels on the Continent.

The book is divided into three sections, entitled "The World", "The Flesh" and "The Devil". The first and last sections are set in London, the middle one in the Kentish seaside town of Seale-on-Sea, where Portia goes to stay with Anna's old governess, Mrs Heccomb, while Thomas and Anna are abroad. (Seale, a fictitious town probably based on Hythe near Folkestone, also features in a later Elizabeth Bowen novel, "The Heat of the Day").

Portia is a quiet, naive and unworldly girl, who finds it difficult to fit into the fashionable world of her brother and sister-in-law. Thomas is a rather dull individual whose main preoccupation is making money, Anna a glamorous and sophisticated, if cold and conventional, society hostess, with a number of suspiciously close male friends,. Neither of them welcome having Portia staying with them, and take her in reluctantly out of a sense of duty. Anna in particular resents Portia, whose innocence is at odds with her own worldliness.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Customer Images

Most Recent Customer Reviews

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?