The Death of the Heart (1938) by Elizabeth Bowen is in many ways an traditional English 1930s novelas well as an satire of mannersthe way of life in pre-war middle-class, upper-middle class London that Elizabeth Bowen (1899 – – 1973) was well-aware of. This review from The death of the Heart is taken in The Girls at Bloom The A Coming into Age in the mid-20th century Woman’s novel Written by Francis Booth, reprinted by permission.

The Death of the Heart is a coming-of age novel. Its main character, Portia Quayne, undoubtedly is part of the literary world of adolescents and their sexual encounters.

Portia is able to, in her way, mature through the tale, but she is not the protagonist of the entire novel all to herself. She is one of a group of non-appealing characters that are scrutinized in depth by the funny and brutal Bowen as he performs this serious funny chamber work.

Within her many works, Bowen had already included girls as main characters in two of her novels: The House in Paris (1926) is about a single day in the life of an eleven-year-old Henrietta Mountjoy and isn’t sufficient time to witness Henrietta growing up – and one of the main character of the novel The In the Last September (1929) is 18-year-old Lois Farquar, whose coming of age is only one of the characters in the sprawling, epic novel about a wealthy family in the Anglo-Irish turmoil of the day.

Portia Quayne

16-year old Portia Quayne is a recent orphan, and is raised as Jane Eyre, Fanny Price (of Mansfield Park), as well as other girls in the coming-of-age novels by uncaring family members who declare that they don’t need her. They are, however, more fortunate than the likes of abandoned orphans Fanny Hill or Moll Flanders with their only virtue to sell.

Since the death of her mother she was taken to stay with her younger half brother Thomas and his extravagant partner Anna in their chic Central London home. Thomas’s father was a long time absent. quit his mother in exchange for another woman from a less socially privileged background, who was later a mother to Portia The father later passed away and Portia was left to live with her mother who was a snob who moved about and living in hotels that were tinier. Thomas and Anna do not have children that they have their own. Anna is clearly not interested in Portia messing up her gorgeous home.

Portia’s only friend is old female assistant Matchett who was employed by Thomas’s father. She was given to Thomas in the will of his father in the form of a chattel as well as the furniture that had been her property.’ Portia seems to be aware that she is living in the house, but she is not part part of it. Despite the fact that she’s not a typical pouty Jane Eyre or Cinderella character, she is determined to remain seem as insignificant as possible by her ‘orphaned unostentatious’.

“Getting off the stool, carefully, Portia returned her cup and plate to the tray. After that, standing in such a position that she felt tense as she took long, gentle steps onto the soles of her feet as well as simultaneously, with an unassuming, unadorned manner she began to make her way towards the door. She walked sluggishly like she were royalty, never absconding from them and then, waiting for the moment she would be gone, sat …

Her body was concave and fluidly fluid lines. It moved with a suppleness that was with a loose thread. Every move was accompanied by a hint of exaggeration, like a mysterious power kept releasing. In the meantime, she looked sceptical, mindful of the world she was living. She was just sixteen and was losing her youthful majesty.”

The diary of Portia

In the beginning of the novel, Portia is talked about with Anna along with her friend, novelist St. Quentin. Anna discovered recently the diary of Portia where she wrote regarding her hosts and hostesses – it’s not because Portia wrote in a negative manner which has angered Anna but the fact that she’s written anything about her. Anna states that she was not searching at the book or looking around for the room where Portia was, she just went in to hang the dress she had been cleaned by the cleaners.

Her bedroom was like I’ve come to expect, shocking. She has all kinds of arrangements Matchett can’t ever be able to touch. It’s not surprising to know how employees do – they take care of one’s needs, and yet they make every allowance for temperamental animals or children.’
You would consider her to be a child?
In many ways, she’s more animal-like. I designed that room to be so beautiful before she arrived. I was unaware of how blindly she was likely to live. Today, I’m not go there, it’s just disconcerting.’

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Girls in Bloom by Francis Booth on Amazon*
Girls in Bloomon Amazon UK*
Girl Bloom Bloom available in its entirety on Issuu.
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What’s more trouble than nothing?

Portia is in the normal sense an intelligent, polite and respectful lady, however, when compared to Anna’s meticulousness Portia is a rebellious part of her perfectly clean home, particularly in how she maintains her bedroom. I really felt that it was high time I took the line. However, she and I have such a strange relationship that when I do draw a line she doesn’t know exactly what she is talking about. She’s so unnaturally elitist about objects that she is adamant about wearing any hat for instance like the old envelope.’

Anna has gifted Portia an “insignificant writing item’ that been Thomas’s mother’s lock drawers. She hopes it will help her realize that I really wanted her to have a future that was her own. The meaning behind the object appears to be not being understood by Portia. “Nothing that belongs to her ever appears like, if you’re aware of the meaning to belong to her.’ Anna should not be shocked since Portia has spent her childhood moving between hotels. another.

The thing that have the most angered Anna about her diary is the high-quality of the journal it was written in. Unlike many of the diary-keepers from the Girls In Bloom, Portia does not keep a stunning leather notebook, but instead ‘one of those awful black books that one can buy for one shilling, with moire exteriors.’ Anna is clearly shocked to have such unclean object in her home and she’s not been one to like Portia and her mother who died, who could have been expecting Portia after Thomas’s father ran off with her before Portia was allowed to move into her home.

“She’s caused nothing but trouble from the moment her birth.’ St Quentin replies”What do you mean by it being an pity that she was ever?’ Anna agrees that that is the way she feels. Thomas is also believed to have been resentful of Portia as well as her mother, prior to her birth. From the scandals of the marriage, he been affronted. Portia was, through her suggestion that during these visits of a sacred snooty lurking, looked at him like the kitten who is hoping to drown.’

St. Quentin’s love for

St. Quentin, as writer, is attracted to the style of writing more than the substance or physical format of the diary of Portia; his conversation with Anna lets Bowen to enjoy some authorial pleasure.

“Is it affected?”
‘Deeply hysterical.’
You must allow for style, however. The paper never looks in the same way it did when it first began and a lot of it is which never even started. Writing is always to scream a bit, even if you did understood what it meant but that appears unlikely. There are many methods of beating something up: one becomes more selective, but is not necessarily more truthful. You should be aware that, since I’m a human.’
‘I am sure you do, St. Quentin. But this wasn’t a much like your wonderful books. Actually, it wasn’t as if writing was at all. She stopped and said: ‘She seemed so weird about me. …’
A diary is, in the end, written for one’s own pleasure – so it’s bound to be extremely written. The obligation to keep it all lies in the eyes, and you can see at the way you write it – upstairs, in the late hours, by oneself.’

This is, naturally an excellent point to make concerning diaries that purport to be written by girls in their teens as they’re actually written by themselves and at night in their room, where their thoughts are free to run wild. Bowen enjoys diaries as a kind of fiction later in the novel. Portia is in conversation with St. Quentin.

“Now, what could have led me to believe that you kept an account of your diary? When I take a look at you, I’m not sure you’d do that.’
If I did keep one and kept it, that was an untrue secret. Why would that be so unwise?
It is a sin to record things.’
“But, you write those books that you write every day long, don’t’ you?
“But the thing that’s in them has did not happen – it may havehappened, but it never did. While what’s happening within them is possible but it’s far more probable in a frightening way more than the majority of people admit – it’s pretty unlikely. That’s why, as you can see that this is my game right from the beginning. It’s not my intention to record what happened… I’m tempted to claim”‘” told St. Quentin kindly, that what you write is not very serious however, all the same you’re taking a risk. You have set up traps to us. You violate our free will.’
“I record what’s occurred. I don’t come up with.’
“You construct things. You’re a risky girl.’

Writing, naturally is the most risky thing a woman is able to do.

A school specifically designed for “delicate girls”

As Rosamond Lehmann’s heroines Portia does not attend an ordinary school, but instead is enrolled in a tiny, exclusive private school for ‘delicate girls or girls who did not excel at school, girls who put on time prior to going abroad or even girls who did not want going to travel in the first place. However, this appears to be a very academic finishing school, and not one intended to produce dull young, faithful, married girls.

According to her diary, the typical day for her is”today we began Sienese Art, and did Book Keeping, and read the German play. There is only one person in her group: Lilian, whom Anna doesn’t think is’very desirable however this cannot be prevented.’

Lillian walks about with that somewhat fateful expression that seen in photos of girls who’ve later been murdered’, after she was removed from the boarding school she attended because of her falling in love with her cello lover that had left her extremely unwell to consume food.’

Though it was ten years after The Lehmann’s Dusty Answer, this is among the first come-of-age books that explicitly reference lesbianism however, not specifically in relation to the protagonist, but just in reference to a crush of a girl at school on an instructor.

Portia has a difficult time at school. She can’t focus, she’s unable to keep her attention on the table and face as they would soaring across the dome of glass. As a result of her childhood, Portia is ‘unused to learning. She had never realized that one has to be able to learn. Also, she’s socially unpopular with the other debutantes. Having learned languages, art and social graces Portia as well as the mother of her Irene:

‘… was scurrying around in a wintery landscape of railway stations and rocks cleaning the wet decks of steamers that were floating on lakes, chewing on bone fragments of loups of mer as they giggling through Eiderdowns that smelt of the person who was before last. They were untrained and been walking together on city streets and at night had drawn their beds closer or shared a bed, despite, as far as was possible the disparity of birth. Rarely had they stepped their society.’

However, Portia must face up with her motherless and lonely state to society, but also older males; Anna is completely incompetent to act as a parent. Anna’s unchanging close friend Eddie who is an impoverished and abrasive Bertie Wooster’s Drones Club, and the somewhat shady Major Brutt, an older hanger-on each seem to be in love for her, but neither one seems keen to transform them into physical forms.

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The Death of the Heart on* and Amazon*
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Male attention and the pressures of society.

At firstglance, it appears that Portia has put her hat to Eddie. Portia’s past, until the present, was a soft and gentle compliance, however she had been apathetic and obedient without feeling guilty. She was now able to see with compassion and without resenting herself, the sacrificed individuals -for example, Major Brutt, Lilian, Matchett and Anna the day she crossed paths with to meet Eddie.’

Eddie isn’t willing to allow her to write about the man in her journal however, she informs him that now that she has him, she might not require the diary anymore. But she does write about her experiences and thoughts that Bowen shares with us in a style like her acquaintance Virginia Woolf.

However, things with Eddie aren’t working out He isn’t the kind of person who settles down. “I used to think we could have a good understanding. I’m still thinking you’re sweet however, you’ve given me the awes. I think you’re trying trap me into some kind of trap. I’d never think of sleeping with you. The idea is completely absurd.’

Near the close of the story, on the way back from Eddie or so, Portia tries to give her virginity to the Major which has been sending her gifts of jigsaws. She goes to his hotel, which is a bit shabby, and offers the marriage. “I can cook. My mother was a cook when she lived with us in Notting Hill Gate. Why wouldn’t you marry me? I can make you feel better. I will not stand into your way and we shouldn’t be at all lonely… You should think about it Please,’ asks Portia quietly.

With a rather fresh, unassuming appearance of occupying his space she set up small arrangements to be comfortable – took off his eiderdown removed her shoes and lay down on his pillow, and lifted the eiderdown to her cheeks. In this succession of events, she appeared to hide, to put her head there, and then to destroy herself. But the final… “I think you’re saying after a while you don’t know how to proceed.’

The Major, however, turns out to be a verified bachelor but it’s not always in the way “confirmed bachelor” was a term employed in the past to refer to homosexuality. She is looking at the wealth of shiny military shoes and suggests that she clean his shoes. “For reasons that aren’t clear women aren’t proficient at it. He grabs the brushes and starts cleaning the shoes himself.

Portia looking at him was able to see an unobstructed view of his masculine privacy, and of the profound abstraction with which every portion of his bathroom was being carried out. In a state of unconsciousness, he couldn’t have been more clear about his decision to live in solitude for the rest of his life. While rubbing the brushes together the man shook them with an erupting sound that caused them to both to start. I’m sure you’ll prepare a meal,’ declared I’m in favor of cooking. But not for a while but no, unfortunately, in my case.’

That’s it; Portia returns home. However, it’s just home as per Philip’s famous definition of home: “home is the place you go to when you must leave, the authorities have to allow you entry.’

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Written to the collection by Francis Booth *, the author of a variety of books on culture of the 20th century:

Amongst Those Left: The British Experimental Novel 1940-1960 (published by Dalkey Archive); Everybody I Can Think of Ever: Meetings That Made the Avant-Garde; Girls in Bloom: Coming of Age in the Mid-Twentieth Century Woman’s Novel; Text Acts: Twentieth Century Literary Eroticism; and Comrades in Art: Revolutionary Art in America 1926-1938

Francis has also written several novels, including The Code 17 series, set in the Swinging London of the 1960s , with an aristocratic spy lady Laura Summers; Young adult fantasy series The Watchers as well as the Young adult-oriented fantasy Mirror Mirror. Francis lives in his home on the South Coast of England. He is currently writing High Collars and Monocles: Interwar Novels written by Female Couples.

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