Authors: Elizabeth Bowen
A World of Love
Catherine Pomeroy Collins
A World of Love,
Miss Bowen’s powers are at their summit … perception, wit, and beauty flash from every page.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“One of the handful of great English novelists of [her] century.”
—The Washington Post
“Bowen writes beautifully—sometimes, in fact, so beautifully it hurts.”
—The London Review of Books
A Division of Random House, Inc. New York
FIRST ANCHOR BOOKS EDITION, AUGUST 2003
Copyright © 1954, 1955 by Elizabeth Bowen, renewed 1982 by Curtis Brown, Ltd.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britian by Jonathan Cape, London, and in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1955.
Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows: Bowen, Elizabeth, 1899-1973. A world of love. [1
ed.] New York, Knopf, 1955 [cl954] p. cm. PZ3.B6738 Wo (OCoLC)933510 55005209
Anchor ISBN: 1-4000-3105-2
Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin in 1899, the only child of an Irish lawyer and landowner. Her book
(1942) is the history of her family and their house, in County Cork, Throughout her life, she divided her time between London and Bowen’s Court, which she inherited. She wrote many acclaimed novels and short-story collections, was awarded the CBE in 1948, and was made a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature in 1965. She died in 1973.
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.
A World of Love,
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.
ALSO BY ELIZABETH BOWEN:
The Death of the Heart
The Last September
The House in Paris
The Heat of the Day
A Time in Rome
The Little Girls
There is in us a world of Love to somewhat, though we know not what in the world that should be … Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation and desire of some Great Thing?
Centuries of Meditations
The sun rose on a landscape still pale with the heat of the day before. There was no haze, but a sort of coppery burnish out of the air lit on flowing fields, rocks, the face of the one house and the cliff of limestone overhanging the river. The river gorge cut deep through the uplands. This light at this hour, so unfamiliar, brought into being a new world—painted, expectant, empty, intense. The month was June, of a summer almost unknown; for this was a country accustomed to late wakenings, to daybreaks humid and overcast. At all times open and great with distance, the land this morning seemed to enlarge again, throwing the mountains back almost out of view in the south of Ireland’s amazement at being cloudless.
Out in front of the house, on a rise of rough grass, somewhat surprisingly stood an obelisk; which, now outlined by the risen sun, cast towards Montefort its long shadow—only this connected the lordly monument with the dwelling. For the small mansion had an air of having gone down: for one thing, trees had been felled around it, leaving space impoverished and the long low roofline framed by too much sky. The door no longer knew hospitality; moss obliterated the sweep for the turning carriage; the avenue lived on as a rutted track, and a poor fence, close up to the house, served to keep back wandering grazing cattle. Had the facade not carried a ghost of style, Montefort would have looked, as it almost did, like nothing more than the annexe of its farm buildings—whose slipshod gables and leaning sheds, flaking whitewash and sagging rusty doors made a patchwork for some way out behind. A stone archway, leading through to the stables and nobly canopied by a chestnut tree, sprang from the side of the house and was still imposing.
Montefort stood at a right-angle to the nearby gorge, towards which it presented a blind end—though in this the vestige of a sealed-up Venetian window was to the traced. In its day the window had overlooked the garden which, broken-walled, still projected over the river view. A way zigzagged steeply down through thickets and undergrowth to the water’s edge: the cliff arose from the water, opposite. The half-asleep face of Montefort was at this hour drowned in early light.
A girl came out of the house, and let herself through the gate in the fence. Wearing a trailing Edwardian muslin dress, she stepped out slowly towards the obelisk, shading her eyes. She walked first up the shadow then round the base of the monument: this bore no inscription and had been polished only by rubbing cattle, whose hoofs had left a bald-trodden circle in the grass. Having come to a stand-still, she drew a breath, propped an elbow on a convenient ledge of the stone and, leaning, began to re-read a letter; or, rather, ponder over what she seemed more than half to know by heart. Afterwards, refolding the letter, she took a long look round at all the country, as though following one deep draught up with one of another kind. Kindled by summer though cool in nature, she was a beauty. The cut of her easy golden hair was anachronistic over the dress she wore: this, her height and something half naive half studied about her management of the sleeves and skirts made her like a boy actor in woman’s clothes, while what was classical in her grace made her appear to belong to some other time. Her brows were wide, her eyes an unshadowed blue, her mouth more inclined to smile than in any other way to say very much—it was a face perfectly ready to be a woman’s, but not yet so, even in its transcendency this morning. She was called Jane and was twenty years old. All at once, stepping clear of the obelisk, she looked intently back at the house behind her, and in particular at two adjoining windows in the top storey. Across those, however, curtains were still drawn.
Inside the room, in the mantled claret-red dusk, nothing was in movement except the bluebottle now bumping buzzing against the ceiling. Here or there, sun spattered the carpet, rents in the curtains let through what were to be when the sleeper woke shafts of a brightness quite insupportable. The fourposter, of a frame immense, was overdraped with more of the damask stuff: at one side the hangings were tucked back to allow access to things on the bedside table—a packet of Gold Flake, a Bible, a glass with dregs, matches, sunglasses, sleeping pills, a nail file and a candlestick caked with wax into which the finished wick had subsided. A damaged Crown Derby saucer held strawberry husks, cigarette stubs, ash: some uneaten strawberries sweetly tainted the already unfresh surrounding air. The bed-end had during the night become a cascade of twisted rejected blankets; feather pillows too had been flung away—triumphant the sleeper now lay dead flat, flat out. A sheet traced the declivities of her body; her upturned face seemed to be sealed by the resolution never, if so it might be, to wake at all.
But the door opened; a step caught a creaking floorboard. A big blonde woman inched herself in then halted, with a look at once of uncertainty and affront. ‘Oh, then you’re still asleep,’ she at last said. The door swung and clicked on its latch behind her, and though she jumpily gave it a backward glance she seemed glad to have the decision made—advancing further into the room she began to pick feathers from the carpet, sighing and supporting her bust with one arm. Having thus arrived near the dressing-table she straightened up, put back some wisps of hair in front of the glass, and, as though egged on by her reflection, more loudly said: ‘I said, so you’re still asleep.’
The other woman shuddered from top to toe, then started to strangle with morning couching. She reared her head up blindly, finished the bout, then flopped back again, instinctively dragging with her a bed-curtain which she wound round her in a tent, in whose depths she vainly tried to submerge. Giving up, she asked in a charnel tone: ‘What is it?’
‘What o’clock, do you mean?’
‘No. What do you want?’
‘I wondered if Jane was in here.’
‘No. So I’ve no idea where she’s gone. However, it was only that Fred keeps asking.—Did you know your pillow was shedding, one of your pillows? I wonder which.’
‘Then do take the whole bang lot away!—No, not
(for the other approached the bed) ‘later on, Lilia, for heaven’s sake!’
Lilia continued, however, to search the lair with her large blue heavily-vacant eyes. ‘And how are you this morning?’ she asked unhopefully.
‘Oh, fresh as a daisy, thank you—as you can see.’
‘And you?’ reluctantly croaked the other.
‘After yesterday, how can you ask, Antonia?’
‘What happened yesterday?’
‘So it did. So you mean now you’re dead.’
‘In this heat how can I know what I am? Merely that Fête was the last straw—oh, imagine having to go to that! After those shoes also my feet are torture; but chiefly it is this everlasting buzzing inside my head, not to speak of waking drenching with perspiration. And in this heat this house gets more dreadful day after day. However— ‘ Lilia turned her attention to the bedside table. ‘It looks to me,’ she said in a brisker tone, ‘as though you’d again gone to sleep with your candle burning. Only look at it. Did you?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘I lie sleepless, sometimes, picturing you in flames.—Done with this glass, have you?’
‘If it’s empty.’
‘Then I think I might as well take it down. And this fruit seems to have started bringing in flies.’ Lilia reached for the glass, then for the saucer, then was struck by a thought. ‘But now that leaves you nowhere for your ash. I know what I’ll do, I’ll send Maud up with another.’
‘No, don’t do that, Lilia! Don’t let Maud in!’
‘Maud has come out in hives.’
‘Not Jane, too, I hope?’
‘The child over-ate at the Fête, then brought home more. You never ought to have given her that money.—No, I said, I haven’t seen Jane this morning, any more than anyone else seems to have done. As I said, that’s why Fred’s in a state—it seems she yesterday said she’d be sure to go out with him to his hay this morning. He can’t or won’t believe she could break a promise. “Well, I’m sorry for you,” I said, “but what ever do you expect after that Fête and staying there late dancing?” However, no, she’s not asleep in her room.—Now you
awake, I suppose you will want your tea?’
‘In a minute, if it could come up calmly.’
‘Come up what?’
‘Well I do mind, because I heard what you said. I can only say I am doing more than I can, night and day attempting always to have this, that and the other the way you want it, and if you’re
still not satisfied I am sorry. No one would be gladder than I would if things ran smoothly, but if
had ever attempted to keep this old terrible house, you would just see. Do you think I for a moment ever forget you have every right to be satisfied when you choose to come here? What upsets me is—’
at this hour!’
‘You don’t yet even know what o’clock it is.’