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The Death of the Heart Paperback – May 9, 2000
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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.
--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
Top Customer Reviews
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 ›
Portia is a 16-year-old orphan sent to live with her half-brother and his cold and catty wife in their lovely Regency Park-fronting home in 1930s London. Having been raised in a succession of continental hotels (an experience Bowen herself had for about a decade, starting at age 12), she is wholly unprepared for the invisible and unspoken rules of the game operating in the upper-class English home she's entered. With her distant half-brother and cold sister-in-law, she struggles to locate some kind of human connection, and only manages to find it in unsuitable people such as an older head servant, or a dissolute young male "friend" of her sister-in-law (he's apparently based on the Welsh writer Goronwy Rees).
It is this latter relationship that inevitably leads to tears at the end, as her naive dreams are dashed by the self-absorption of everyone around her. It's all pretty bleak stuff, as there is not a single character in the book who lives in anything approaching happiness.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
very sensitive and moody story about a young girl in the care of some uninterested upper-class adults in Britain in the 20s or 30s. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Amazon Customer
This is a beautifully written story. The rich and complex characterization engulfs the reader in the inner lives of the characters, unlike so many recently published novels I've... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kenneth Willard
What sort of ridiculous, nannying, pearl-clutching, trigger-warning, health-and-safety-gone mad rubbish are you up to, Amazon, by asking me whether this magnificent piece of... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
Fascinating characters and portait of another time and place. Not a skimmable easy read - don't bother unless you're willing to slow down and savor the beautiful language, subtle... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Jane Solie
Very boring - the review I read in a magazine was most misleading -hard to finishPublished 22 months ago by J. Hulett
I have awarded three stars for this book by Elizabeth Bowen, but at the same time I was torn and can quite understand other reviewers being more generous. Read morePublished on October 15, 2014 by Annie
I'd never heard of Elizabeth Bowen when I ran across a mention of her as a favorite novelist of a famous contemporary novels (Martin Amis? Read morePublished on August 27, 2014 by Beth Quinn Barnard
Our library fiction book group read this book. I hadn't read Bowen before and her writing style is to be savored. That's what I liked best about this book. Read morePublished on April 26, 2014 by L. M. Keefer