The Death of the Heart
- Author: E. Bowen
- Title: The Death of the Heart
- Published: 1938
- Genre: Novel of manners and morals
- Trivia: Nr 84 on Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels
- Trivia: #20BooksOfSummer Challenge
1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
a. The title indicates that something will die in the story
b. ….it is a challenge to the reader to discover it
2. Who are the main characters?
b. Love child Thomas’s father, upsets Quayne’s posh London lifestyle
c. Thomas and Anna Quayne:
d. Anna weds Thomas on the rebound.
e. It is a undemanding marriage lacking passion.
3. How does the story get started?
a. Thomas and Anna Quayne open the door with no enthusiasm
b. to find a 15 yr orphaned half sister of Thomas on the doorstep.
c. Portia is an outsider who disrupts their orderly and quiet life.
d. The Quaynes have an arranged marriage.
e. Anna who is childless settles for other admirers,
f. St. Quentin, Eddie and Major Brutt,
g. who will entertain her without the need for physical rewards.
4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading characters?
a. external – Thomas and Anna show brittle sophistication accepting outsider Portia.
b.They feel they are doing the right and proper thing.
c. internal – Thomas and Anna suffer from insecurities; collapsing marriage
d. Portia does not need the right thing (a polished education for society)
e. but needs the good thing (love and attention)
f. Thomas and Anna struggle to understand the difference.
g. external – Portia is desperate to find her place in her new world.
h. internal – Portia struggles with illusion of romantic love (affair Eddie; Maj. Brutt)
i. and her loss of innocence.
5. What is the structure of the book?
a. 3 parts – The World – The Flesh – The Devil (temptations for Portia)
b. 3 seasons – Winter – Spring – Summer
c. 3 places – London – Seale-on-Sea (Kent coastal village) – London
6. Does this story create any special mood?
a. Setting: Bowen goes into great detail describing houses and rooms.
b. Windsor Terrace: gleaming marble (cold, hard); fireplace with a ‘hard’ glow
c. House lacks real warmth.
c. Seale-on-Sea: plumbing pipes that gurgle, people tumbling down stairs, parties.
d. House is filled with emotions.
7. What is the general theme of the story?
a. Isolation: each character flees to private space in the house
b. Portia: her room with barred window
c. Anna: her room to read love letters kept in locked drawers or bathroom
d. Thomas: his downstairs study
e. Mother-daughter relationship:
f. motherless girl needs Anna
g. childless woman needs Portia
h. ….but they have difficulty finding each other.
- This is Elizabeth Bowen’s masterpiece.
- She describes pre-WWII British upper-middle class.
- Bowen’s words are satirical and at times humorous.
- Yet….the book did not sweep me off my feet.
- The book was a sea of pauses, silences, a few clever
- gestures to reveal character and a diary that upset so many lives
- ….but not much else.
- I missed words that sent chills down my spine.
- For example: Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (pg 173)
- “What Lily craved was the darkness made by enfolding arms,
- …silence which is not solitude but…compassion.”
- Nowhere in The Death of the Heart did I read such depth of thought.
- On a positive note…it is an remains a classic, like it or not.