Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Bowen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bowen. Show all posts

21 July, 2016

Elizabeth Bowen, "The Working Party"

From sometimes in the 1920s, "The Working Party," shows a twenty-one year old new bride, Mrs. Fisk, who has finally invited the ladies of the town to come out to her farm that "commanded the valley." The working party is a sewing circle making bed jackets. She has worried herself silly but when the ladies finish their work and are ready for their tea, all has gone reasonably well until the cow herd shows up dead on the short staircase between the parlor and the kitchen. This unnerves Mrs. Fisk so much that she flees the house when the ladies ask for more tea that would require her to return to the kitchen. "'William! I'm frightened--frightened--I don't dare stay in the house--all alone with him--all alone--William!' She had forgotten the Working Party." Oh, goodness, one can only imagine what eventually took place. What a fun read this one was.

17 July, 2016

Elizabeth Bowen, "The Secession"

"The Secession" takes place in Rome. Miss Lena Selby, thirty-some years old, is on a vacation in Rome and has written a letter to Mr. Humphrey Carr, requesting he meet her. He'd proposed to her some years ago and she'd put him on hold, with bad timing, he has come to realize that he doesn't want to marry her. Instead he wants to take up with Miss Mildred Phelps. Everyone secedes, Miss Selby leaves, Miss Phelps leaves, and Mr. Carr had decided to secede from Miss Selby. What Elizabeth Bowen does so well is portray the subtle and complicated emotions, feelings, and customs, between men and women, as well as women to women. We never learn exactly what happened to or where Miss Selby went. In my mind, she's committed suicide. We do see some violence, Miss Selby wrote in her journal, about Miss Phelps, "I wonder, now that she has gone, why I have not pushed her though the window. It was so much in my mind to do this, and I see now it could have been done more easily than I thought."

One of my favorite characterizations is "...she seemed not an eccentric but a diffident, cultured person, with a thin back and shoulders, who would have visited Shelley's grave." She refers to Percy Bysshe Shelley who died in 1822 and was buried in Rome.

Another great characterization, this time of Mr. Carr. "Ever since he had come to Rome he had been like this; something had died as he entered the salon of the Pension Hebe and she rose up to greet him from among her friends."

"For himself, he felt bereaved; it was almost as though she were dead: his thoughts having lost their bourne of many years, wandered in confusion."

In the end, Mr. Carr wants Miss Mildred Phelps, but she leaves as well. "Humphrey Carr raised his eyes slowly, but Mildred did not stay to meet them. With another of those wild movements so foreign to herself, she was gone; he heard the door swing to, and his isolation once more sifted down upon him. He did not see Miss Phelps again; she left that evening with her friends--he was told, for Florence."

Elizabeth Bowen's papers at held at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.

15 July, 2016

Elizabeth Bowen, "A Day in the Dark"

The story is told in first-person POV and some time after the fact, much later. In fact, the narrator tells us, "My conversation with Miss Banderry did not end where I leave off recording it. But at that point memory is torn across, as might be an intolerable page. The other half is missing. For that reason my portrait of her would be incomplete if it were a portrait. ... But when I met her I was unread, my susceptibilities were virgin. I refuse to outline her retrospectively: I show you only what I saw at the time."

July 1957 cover
Barbie, the narrator, is only fifteen years old at the time of the story. She's staying with her uncle, who she is infatuated with, for the summer and he's sent her on an errand to return a magazine and to ask to borrow a thistle cutting implement from Miss Banderry, the last of a line of wealthy mill owners.  Miss Banderry toys with people; when she demanded her monetary share of the estate her brother inherited, he killed himself because he couldn't pay his bills. At first she says that she doesn't want any of her tools leaving her farm, which she rents out. Then she decides to have Barbie tell her uncle that Miss Banderry will think about it. "There might be a favorable answer, there might not."

The story, for me, is a coming of age story, one quick afternoon, when Barbie realizes that her uncle sees someone at the hotel and Barbie realizes that everyone in the little town must know as well. Miss Banderry is mean for no reason and hints at improprieties, when there are none. The story takes place in Moher, Ireland, on the western edge of the country. Barbie accepts the raspberry cordial because she knows it would be a breach not to. She leaves and feels the whole town is watching her and the bus she wants to catch is not there and she sees her uncle unexpectedly leaving the hotel and "He opened the car door and touched my elbow, reminding me to get in."

Sylvia Plath interviewing Bowen, 1953
"A Day in the Dark" was published in the summer of 1957 in Mademoiselle magazine. It's also included in The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen. I've seen references that claim the story was first published in Botteghe Oscure in 1955. Then in a collection entitled, A Day in the Dark and Other Stories.

Favorite Lines:
"I'm sure he was. Busy day after day. In my life, I've known only one other man anything like so busy as your uncle. And shall I tell you who that was? My poor brother."

"As for me--how dared she speak of my uncle with her bad breath?"

10 June, 2015

Elizabeth Bowen, "Aunt Tatty"

"Aunt Tatty" was written in the 1920's. The story is
told in third-person POV with some shifts. Paul Pellew is in love with Eleanor. He's come to visit and get to know her mother, aunt and siblings. He and Eleanor think they are clever and that neither her mother nor her aunt suspect that Eleanor and Paul are in love. Well they are wrong. Aunt Tatty is astute when it comes to youngsters and love. "'You two are in love with each other, aren't you?' Pellew began laughing awkwardly, with self-derision. 'Were we so unnatural?'" In the end, Paul decides to take charge, find courage and tell Eleanor's mother he's in love with her daughter. "'Then come back to the house,' he said. 'There is something I must say, at once, to Eleanor's mother.'" Bowen has a particular talent for the observation and description of her characters' emotional states.

Favorite Lines:
"Pellew wondered if just such blind black moments as this preceded murder."

07 May, 2015

Elizabeth Bowen, "The Jungle"

A third-person story with two teenage girls, Rachel and Elise, experiencing boarding school and that jungle of crazy sexuality, comradery, status, friendship and Bowen handles these emotions and growing pains so clearly through realistic dialogue and a clear understanding of pubescent girls in the early twentieth century. Elise, probably a lesbian, knows who she is more than any of the other girls and she's got some power, metaphorically and physically in her athleticism. Rachel's power is that she can withstand being an outsider, even as she might not like it. The jungle is a place outside the school with a sensuality where these ideas of death, a cat then a girl, and acceptance and attraction haunt Rachel in her dreams. The school is all rules and regulations and the jungle is a place where a girl can be the type of girl she wants even as it is a place that is forbidden and has to be sought.

"The Jungle" was written in the 1920s.

Favorite Lines:
Here we see a maturity of assessment from Rachel. "She suffered sometimes from a constrained, bursting feeling at having to keep things so much to herself, yet when she compared critically the girls who had been her great friends with the girls who might be her great friends she couldn't help seeing that they were very much alike."

Another line that shows how intelligent Rachel is. "It was impossible to have a feeling for anyone who did so much and thought nothing."

link to Tessa Hadley's reading of "The Jungle"

Elizabeth Bowen, "Careless Talk"

"Careless Talk" was first published with the title, "Everything's Frightfully Interesting," in the New Yorker in October of 1941.

The dialogue in this story is effortless and realistic. It takes place during World War II and illustrates the concept of loose talk, "loose lips sink ships." And, rationing, Joanna brings three eggs to her friend, Mary Dash, in London. In England some invalids and children were allowed three eggs per week. The story takes place in a restaurant which had some rules imposed and generally rich people could eat better because they could eat out at restaurants more often. There is some talk of veal at another restaurant as well as mentions of the two fellows, Eric Farnham and Ponsonby, who meet Mary and Joanna for lunch as not being able to speak about certain things. "Oh, we mustn't ask him things...He's doing frightfully secret work."

The story is only four pages long and opens with the eggs and closes with the eggs. Three eggs, I suppose, could represent the holy trinity, holy ghost, the father, and the son. Or birth, new beginnings.  However, the eggs are carried away by the waiter for safe keeping until Mary has finished her lunch might represent people being carted off to concentration camps. The story ends with Mary wondering how her eggs are, whether or not they are safe. We do not see her getting them back.

The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen contains 79 of her stories. For some reason, the introduction by Angus Wilson is not in my paperback version, 2006 reprint by Anchor Books.

Wikipedia page about Elizabeth Bowen
a review of the collection in the New York Times