A World of Love

A World of Love

by Elizabeth Bowen

In a writing career that spanned the 1920s to the 1960s, Anglo-Irish author Elizabeth Bowen created a rich and nuanced body of work in which she enlarged the comedy of manners with her own stunning brand of emotional and psychological depth.In A World of Love, an uneasy group of relations are living under one roof at Montefort, a decaying manor in the Irish countryside.

Soon, a girl on the brink of womanhood, a mother haunted by love lost, and a ruined matchmaker with her own claim on the dead wage a battle that makes the ghostly Guy as real a presence in Montefort as any of the living.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.34
  • Pages: 160
  • Publish Date: August 12th 2003 by Anchor
  • Isbn10: 1400031052
  • Isbn13: 9781400031054

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Those letters are written by Guy, a ghost from the past, fallen in the Great War. He was Jane's mother's fiancé. For Jane, the love story of the past brightens up her dull present tense, until the novel abruptly closes with the beginning of her own future love: "They no sooner looked than they loved." That last sentence leaves the reader wondering whether the story about to start could possibly live up to the imaginary perfect love it suggests and hints at.

Eventually Guys cousin Antonia persuades her to marry Fred, a roving farmhand, and take possession of Guys house. The older, Jane, one day finds some old letters in the attic and Guys ghost is let loose into the house. Lilia is a familiar Bowen character, the disappointed woman who has married beneath herself. They compete for influence over Lilias daughter Jane whose sexuality is awakened by finding and reading the letters.

Troubled that Guy had died without leaving a will, and without marrying his fiancée, Lilia, Antonia finds herself interfering in others lives. Fred and Lilia have two daughters the beautiful, golden haired Jane, and the younger, rather resented and ignored Maud. Indeed, for me, the central relationship of the novel is that between Lilia and Antonia, which Bowen writes wonderfully. One day, in the heat of summer, Jane discovers a packet of love letters from Guy, which triggers all sorts of memories and passions from those in the house.

The premise ofA World of Loveis that a twenty-year-old woman named Jane Danby, living in a crumbling old house in County Cork, Ireland, finds a package of old letters in the attic. The Hunt Fete, which drew the entire country, now was the sole festivity of the lonely year, for Montefort the only annual outing - which, more and more each summer, required nerve.' The Vintage edition ofA World of Loveis introduced by Selina Hastings. Hastings praises Bowen's protagonist; she notes that she 'has an almost wilful independence of spirit very different from the other solitary young girls who people Bowen's novels.' The family dynamics at play throughout this novella are deep and somewhat complicated. The letters which Jane discovers quite by chance, wrapped up in a muslin dress which she takes a fancy to in the attic, provide a crux in the novella, causing - or perhaps just providing a means for allowing - the characters to quarrel amongst themselves. Each of Bowen's creations is unusual in some way; Maud, for instance, has an imaginary friend of sorts named Gay David, who is banned from entering the dining room, and Lilia has 'a neurosis about anyone standing outside a door.' Whilst not overly plot heavy, there is a lot to consider withinA World of Love, and it is a novella which I am sure to be thinking about for a long time to come.

There's nothing wrong with teasing us with the letters and then having the novel be about the relationships between the characters both living and dead. I did learn a new word, or maybe just one Bowen made up: wadge. "By the time she looked to see what was happening, the wadge of letters was in his hands..." She also introduces a brand new character in the last couple pages, which is just wrong.

That sounds very similar to a previous book of Bowen's I read; both have the same intensity of feeling and very little actually happens in either, but they are not all that similar in feel.

The tension between these people is one of the major themes in the book.

A World of Love is the first of Elizabeth Bowen's work that I have read and I found her to be quite the wordsmith, with sophisticated punctuation and unusual sentence structure; ie: "Heavy was the scent, rank the inside darkness which filtered through." And heavy is the psychological drama of this short novella which delves into the complicated emotional relationship between several people living together in a crumbling manor house in Ireland. The backstory is that Antonia has inherited Montefort from her cousin, Guy, who was killed in WWI. Now even Jane begins to fall under Guy's spell as he reveals himself to her in his love letters. Lilia now comes up smack against her latent emotions: "Sorrow was there in front of her like an apparition: she saw now, with belated dread, what life had proved to be, what it had made of her.

(Quibble: I always got it right if the question is "what do you think...", but unhappily that wasn't really the question.) The ending in this seemed quite out of the blue and felt totally unrelated to the rest of the novel. Refer to paragraph one: I can't read between the lines. This should have been a quicker read, even for this slow reader.