Thursday, June 24, 2010

363. A World of Love – Elizabeth Bowen

History: This book was published in 1955, and is considered to be a turning point in Bowen’s writing career, and is considered negatively in comparison to her other books.
Plot: This is the story of a family, and how the past effects family’s relations. The family resides in Montefort, a crumbling mansion in the countryside that has seen better days. Antonia Montefort, a photographer in her early fifties, the owner of the dilapidated Montefort manor in the south of Ireland. Antonia inherited the manor from Guy Montefort, her cousin, who was killed in action in World War I at the age of twenty. Antonia lives in London but occasionally visits the manor, where she is served by the Danbys: Fred runs the manor farm, and Lilia, his wife, manages the housework in a dilatory way. Antonia, having arranged their marriage, keeps them on the manor out of a sense of responsibility. Guy was engaged to Lilia, and they were deeply in love. When he died in the war, Lilia was left unprepared, depressed, and changed. Antonia, out of guilt (it seems she and Guy had had a sort of affair as well), arranged the marriage. Fred, the illegimate cousin of Guy and Antonia was a ladies man, but fell in love with Lilia, and asked her to marry him under Antonia’s urging. It took Lilia a lot of time to say yes, and her reluctance continues until the present tense, after two children born, she is still very unhappy. Fred continues to have affairs, but remains in love with Lilia and especially with his oldest daughter Jane.
Jane is beautiful, and is just coming out of childhood. Her younger sister Maud is the comic relief of the novel. Jane finds some letters, and a wedding dress in a trunk in the attic. The letters are love letters from Guy, supposedly to Lilia. As the novel progresses, we learn that the recipient could be Antonia (Lilia even knew of the affair), or even another woman.
Jane becomes obsessed with the dead soldier, and Antonia as well has regrets of the past and her effect in them. Fred and Lilia’s crumbling marriage, Lilia’s depression, and the curiosity of Jane and Maud about the past are the subjects of the novel.
In the end, Fred protects Lilia from the letters and this brings them closer. Jane goes out in the world, getting drunk for the first time, and in the end does meet a man.
Review: Antonia Montefort and Lilia Danby primarily, A World of Love culminates in their half-verbalized, partially conscious realization of the true nature of their relationship to each other. The story takes place in the confines of a run-down country estate over the space of a few days.
An uneasy group of relations are living under one roof at Montefort, a decaying manor in the Irish countryside. When twenty-year-old Jane finds in the attic a packet of love letters written years ago by Guy, her mother’s one-time fiance who died in World War I, the discovery has explosive repercussions. It is not clear to whom the letters are addressed, and their appearance begins to lay bare the strange and unspoken connections between the adults now living in the house. 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.
Opening Line: “The sun rose on a landscape still pale with the heat of the day before.”
Closing Line: “They no sooner looked but they loved.”
Quotes: “For worse or better, they were in each other’s hands. Such a relationship is lifelong.”
Rating: Moderately good.

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