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The Death of the Heart (1938)

by Elizabeth Bowen

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,417329,148 (3.79)101
The Death of the Heart is perhaps Elizabeth Bowen's best-known book. As she deftly and delicately exposes the cruelty that lurks behind the polished surfaces of conventional society, Bowen reveals herself as a masterful novelist who combines a sense of humor with a devastating gift for divining human motivations. In this piercing story of innocence betrayed set in the thirties, the orphaned Portia is stranded in the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother's home in London.There she encounters the attractive, carefree cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and her fears her gushing love. To her, Eddie is the only reaason to be alive. But when Eddie follows Portia to a sea-side resort, the flash of a cigarette lighter in a darkened cinema illuminates a stunning romantic betrayal--and sets in motion one of the most moving and desperate flights of the heart in modern literature.… (more)
  1. 20
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both have the feeling of restraint/seil-restraint foregrounded.
  2. 00
    A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor (shaunie)
    shaunie: A Game of Hide and Seek is much more similar to Bowen than Taylor's other books, which are usually much more straightforwardly enjoyable. Here, as with Bowen, the writing's very impressive but it's frequently hard going.
  3. 00
    What Maisie Knew by Henry James (Nickelini)

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» See also 101 mentions

English (27)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Latvian (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Bowen's masterpiece. ( )
  StephenCrome | Oct 13, 2019 |
Just plain awful. ( )
  DanielSTJ | May 5, 2019 |
It took me a long time to read this slow, patient novel, but I'm very glad I took the time. An elegaic tribute to lost innocence and a deeply moving meditation on the ways in which adulthood both educates and diminishes our hearts, the novel tells the story of sixteen year old Portia Quayle, a shy and delicate girl who lodges with her well-do-brother Thomas and his wife Anna in Edwardian London following the death of her parents. As Portia falls in love with Anna's acquaintance Eddie and takes a trip to the seaside with family friends, the scales - one by one, with heartbreaking care and patience from Bowen - are removed from her eyes and adulthood, in all its selfish, messy and "mature" guises is revealed to her. The book would undoubtedly bore some, but give it time to sink into you and it will be worth it. A sad and beautiful novel. ( )
  haarpsichord | Nov 5, 2018 |
Not my type of book -- none of the people struck me as real and Portia was the only character that I could understand... ( )
  leslie.98 | Sep 9, 2018 |
"The Death of the Heart" takes place in England, circa 1930’s. It’s the story of Portia Quayne, a typical sixteen year old coming of age. She’s self-conscious, sensitive, innocent, impressionable, and idealistic. And amidst the uncertainty and discomfort of growing up to be a respectable young woman, she has the added burden of suddenly becoming an orphan- sent to live with an estranged step-brother and his snobby, bourgeois wife- Thomas and Anna.

In many ways the turmoil Portia experiences is trivial and trite. Not to say her feelings aren’t important, but rather typical of any teenager. Portia is busy establishing new relationships, falling in love for the first time, and making a sincere effort to fit into a new household where she gets the distinct feeling of not being wanted. Suddenly thrown into new and unfamiliar surroundings, she views everyone and everything through the eyes of an outsider. She badly wants to take people for their word, but Thomas and Anna seem cold and uncaring. She trusts her own instincts, but is shocked to find false sincerity and a lot of hypocrisy.

The trouble begins when all Anna’s single male friends begin to fuss over Portia. Problems escalate when Anna finds Portia’s diary and discovers included in her daily entries some very unkind descriptions of Thomas, Anna, and their superficial lifestyle. Needless to say, within a couple months family relations are turned upside down with disloyalties discovered, secrets revealed, and feelings hurt all around.

"The Death of the Heart" is listed as number 84 on Modern Library’s list of 100 best novels which leads me to believe this list needs to be updated. The plot of the story is fine, though the final outcome is uncertain. It has a very abrupt ending with every character left suspended in time as though the final chapter was never written.

The style of writing is antiquated… long winded and overly descriptive in the fashion of Henry James and D. H. Lawrence. I have nothing bad to say about those authors. Their writing reflected the time frame during which they were published. But Elizabeth Bowen’s out-dated cryptic and slang British dialogue is difficult to decipher. Did everyone really talk like that? Would a young man ever really say on his first date with a nice girl, “There is nothing intellectual between us. In fact, I don’t know why I talk to you at all. In many ways I should so much rather not”? Or was Elizabeth Bowen just exaggerating to emphasize to the reader that the character was simply a pompous cad?

On the positive side, the novel does a very good job of illustrating a variety of characters just trying to get by and make the most of their own lives… all with different levels of experience, intelligence, and integrity. One interesting quote is from a young man lecturing Portia on accountability. He advises her that he judges people by their character. Portia asks if that was “always a good way to judge people, as people’s characters get so different at times, and depend so much on what happens to them”. The young man responds, “What happened to people depended on their character.” This astute observation definitely applies to all the characters in "The Death of the Heart". ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Dec 25, 2016 |
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