To The North by Elizabeth Bowen

Part Two of my review continued from HERE.

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11 responses to “To The North by Elizabeth Bowen

  1. VI.

    “Sir Robert in the country was like a dog; he liked to be taken for long walks (which was chiefly why Emmeline was invited);…”

    Farraways Farquarson bumptious Linkwater basilisk Gerda Bligh tennis house party – just absorb the words and characters and the distance to the country house involved, including Lady Waters as manipulative hostess. Markie was not there, nor Cecilia; they have in fact now since re-met after the train meeting, but it is Emmeline who is entrammelled by his basilisk, previously reptile, looks, and he by her. Emmeline receives a letter from Markie here at Farraways, and she replies and puts the two letters together (to mate?) rather than posting hers, while plot-sidekick or spear-carrier Tim Farquarson writes eight letters to various emotional centres and does not post them, then later reopens them as he feels he has not done full justice to himself!

    Emmeline’s “hair blown back, she had for a moment a curious distant look, not like a woman’s.”

    “She heard Markie’s voice and confronted his sceptical eyes, the eyebrows above them twitching up in a question: her faculties stood quite still. Seeing herself in the mirror she turned away, dreading the touch of a thought, even her own. She received from the glowing walls of her room an impression of space, of a vast moment.”

    A vast moment as Emmeline sees herself as Markie in the mirror, with the same exchanging of smiles by Portia and Eddie in the waxworks today in Death of the Heart.

    Earlier, in hindsight …

    “Emmeline’s standpoint was one of Cecilia’s few landmarks. When, some days after their journey, Markie had rung up and invited himself to see her, Cecilia, not wishing to meet him on these terms, had countered at once by an invitation to dinner,” – dinner with others, including Emmeline.

    Markie with “almost no neck.”

    “Cecilia shook out the sofa cushions that Markie had sat on and lay down among them herself. ‘But then,’ she continued, crossing her ankles, ‘whom does one really like?”

    Markie “sailed in her waters under Cecilia’s ensign. When Emmeline realized Cecilia no longer saw him she was alarmed;…”

    Past and present, two faraway trees or viewpoints, hindsight bending a mirror’s refraction?

  2. VII

    “‘Oh, yes,’ said Emmeline. She was so happy that she could have kissed the sundial; everything seemed to be painted on glass with a light behind. She smiled at the glint of sun on poor Gerda’s hair: grief was a language she did not know.”

    Emmeline’s happiness (created by thoughts of Markie?) in contrast to another emotional spear-carrier, as a guest at Farraways named Gerda whom I thought gratuitously to mention earlier in this review — Gerda Bligh(t) being a woman made lonely by marriage and steeped in morbidity, echoing Bowenesque themes of Ligottian Anti-Natalism that threaded The Hotel and Eva Trout…an Anti-Natalism that may resonate with Cecilia and possibly Markie, judging by a later passage in this important chapter (as quoted below).
    All subject to Georgina Waters’ meddling!?

    “Am I to watch them grow up and make the same frightful mistakes? Suppose they come to me and say they wish they had never been born?’” — says Gerda.

    Meanwhile, for Emmeline…

    “…the church bells struck on the air their invisible pattern, she thought less of Markie than had an intimate sense of his presence, quickening with confidence and delight: last week’s shock fell away. Sky crowded the arch with light, the hedge with its ardent young leaves was the burning green of May. She bent from the hedge one leaf, serrated, with delicate sappy veins, and looked through it at the sun. Her finger-tips went transparent: here and in the veins of the leaf ran the whole of spring …”

    The Spring that Anna was looking forward to in Portia’s Diary account in today’s review of The Death of the Heart…

    Markie had told Emmeline recently of his recent experience, almost one of today’s half-real co-vivid dreams, and it comes up in her mind now faraway at Farraways…

    “Down there, between the dreary trunks of the beeches, houses lay like a sediment in the cup of the misty valley: great gabled carcases, villas aping the manor, belfried garages where you could feel the cars get cold. There were no lights, not a thread of smoke from a chimney. Afternoon stupor reigned; there was nothing more that they wanted; down there they all sat in the dark. Gardens extensive and cultured, with paved paths and pergolas, ran up the sides of the valley, some had lakes where a punt could measure its length, not turn, some bird-baths for sparrows to drown in. To Markie the foreshortened villas appeared enormous, bloated as though by corruption … Then someone’s wife opened a cold piano: she tinkled, she tippetted, she struck false chords and tried them again. God knew what she thought she was doing. The notes fell on his nerves like the drops of condensed mist all round on the clammy beech-branches. Markie’s left shoulder-blade had begun to itch violently: he ground it against a tree. Penetrated by all these kinds of discomfort he had raged in the bare meek woods … The piano stopped, he went downhill again to tea.”

    I have quoted that at length as it is important to any study of Bowen’s work, based on what I have found already in my ongoing triangulating journey through it.

    “Emmeline, considering this when he angrily came to an end, had inquired: ‘Is it a ghost story?’”

    This chapter ends with some talk about a proposed visit from Farraways to a Roman Villa … I wonder if that will be akin to the empty Russian Villa in The Hotel?

    • And of course this famous passage that struck me in my first reading of this novel a few years ago …

      “The straight sunny tombstones looked sociable, fresh wreaths were laid on the breasts of the graves. You could almost see the dead sitting up holding their flowers, like invalids on a visiting-day, waiting to hear the music. Only the very new dead, under raw earth with no tombstones, lay flat in despair: on one grave a whole mass of flowers had wilted; no one had had the heart yet to put any more …”

  3. VIII

    “… though they had lain on their stomachs on the lid of a kind of cucumber frame they could see through ground glass and wire-netting nothing but their own shadows on what looked like cement.”

    At the start of this chapter’s visit to the Roman Villa, a scene which is in past-future ironic counterpoint with the chapter’s ending as Emmeline returns (north?) to London, when offered a lift by Tim Farquarson…
    “They swerved north a little at Uxbridge and spun into London by the great empty by-pass of Western Avenue. Small new shops stood distracted among the buttercups; in the distance aerial glassy white factories were beginning to go up among forlorn may trees, branch lines and rusty girders: here and there one was starting to build Jerusalem.”
    Taken back to London by Tim Farquarson – not an emotional spear-carrier as I remember him to have been when first reading this novel?…

    Meanwhile, Emmeline and Sir Robert had stayed behind at Farraways and talked to RIP Van Winkle’s vicar as everyone else went to the villa which was “The dead house, less than a plan in masonry, tightened its hold on the fancy, the living eye with its colours, the heart with its quickness to clothe an unknown hill. Here, where exiles had lived, today’s little party of exiles cast round in spirit, to find nothing…”

    Meanwhile, again, back and forth in time, I go, with another loud ticking of a clock in this chapter, Lady Georgina Waters “was seriously annoyed with Sir Robert and Emmeline for staying behind, though circumstances had forced her to conceal her annoyance. She had relied on Sir Robert to stroll with Gerda among the ruins, on Emmeline to engage Gilbert while she had her long-postponed understanding talk with poor Tim.”

    The Gerda and Gilbert couple is a brilliant portrayal of marriage that Tim F had managed to escape…Lady W having been instrumental in his breaking off with someone called Jane before marrying her…yet, with another ironic twist, “A sort of dependence in Gerda’s tottering movements had made him nostalgic: there was something in having a woman come after one, even to quarrel.”

    Before leaving this chapter to its own devices, I must record in real-time for my memory’s future weakness, the Vicar’s own memory of how motoring used to be…
    “I wore a dust coat and goggles; the ladies were heavily veiled. I am still surprised by the speed at which things fly past. But nowadays the whole incentive to motoring seems an anxiety to be elsewhere.”

    And as Emmeline leaves Farraways with Tim driving his car in the early morning…
    “Mists still filled the valley; the tulips stood up asleep. Something caught at her heart as they started, though she told herself she was leaving nothing behind.”

  4. IX

    “As Emmeline felt her way up in her long yellow dress, like a ghost astray, a door shut above and with firm, quick steps, well knowing her way, a woman began to come down.”

    Emmeline, back from Farraways, visits Markie in the house he shares with his sister. Their discretely insulated domestic arrangements are striking, even hilarious, as E dares cross on the stairs with M’s sister going the other way, the nature of a very strange encounter that ends with the sister frugally ensuring the light Is switched off after E reaches M’s half of the house, and such faraways of a relationship almost continues to pervade the actual encounter between M and E, a manoeuvring encounter that is released finally by a kiss. The machinations between the two of them are so subtle and tantalisingly hilarious, I was confounded by most of it! —
    “Respecting so much and regarding so steadily the unconscious Markie, she could but be appalled when Markie spoke of himself.”
    Until that aforementioned neuro-diverse release —
    “Markie began to talk very quickly, as though she had been a whole roomful.”

    The most hilarious highlight of this chapter of faraways of relationship was, however, the dinner provided by a cook from elsewhere, courses that arrived, helping by helping, south to north or north to south perhaps, on a lift… a sort of unspoken ‘dumb-waiter’, I guess!
    “– when from the neighbourhood of the bookshelves a reedy, ghostly whistle made Emmeline jump.”

  5. X

    “The gardens were planted like rows of neat little graves, someone had a cement rabbit, someone had built a sea.”

    This chapter has mention of a “half-ghost”, and I think Bowen characters are either that or aliens from a literary space in this author’s head, with half glimpses and half innuendos of character and intent and shadow, and it takes a Boweneer to scry them properly. I am not yet a full-fledged Boweneer, I hasten to add, and still finding my path towards this fantasy world as Bowen’s Whovian journey using the keyboard of words to transliterate a rarefied Bowenesque music as well as a plot’s events and people. And a faster than light journey in the 1930s, a journey through Buckinghamshire in a Bentley. How about you? Are you a Boweneer. Here we have Cecilia Summers and Julian Tower landed at a school of girls playing cricket, C with a womanly responsibility wanting to ensurie J’s niece Pauline is happy there. Not that C and J are ‘engaged’ as Pauline and her friend Dorothea with thick legs expected to find out, in a tea garden under the critical gaze of other girls and their parents, because J and C did not look like real parents at all. In the 1930s travelling along roads at seventy miles an hour was Indeed faster than light!

    “But Cecilia said no: Buckinghamshire was too small, not many times the length of his car; they would soon overshoot the school and run out of the county; they must not overshoot the school.”

    “Cecilia blinked; they were doing seventy on a straight stretch of road. Julian drove in silence; she raised her face happily to the sun.”

    “Cecilia found herself with Pauline: quite dazed by the violence with which the real succeeds the imagined she found Pauline less childish than she expected,…”

    “They approached the cricket ground and a small pavilion backed by a wood.
    ‘That’s our games captain,’ said Dorothea, pointing out a solid girl fielding point, in a panama hat. ‘That girl eating grass at longstop is called Summers: she says she must be a cousin of yours and thinks she has met you.’
    Pauline preserved a horrified silence.”

    “They turned in by a side door to the gymnasium, where Dorothea, with a flash of blue knickers, turned a dignified but dégagé somersault on the bar,…”

    The whole trip has been a catalytic fomenting of J and C who utter less subtle home truths, on the way to their respective homes, truths as wells as shadows of truths about each other, in perhaps an even faster drive than when coming, as fast as the beeches that flew….
    “‘I’m perfectly happy with Emmeline.’ Flying beeches sent shadows over her face. ‘I don’t love you, you don’t love me!’”

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