A World of Love (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) Paperback – 2 Dec 1993
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"In the first rank of the brilliant women writers."--"The New York Times
""In 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." "Time
"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
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.
In 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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There are two aspects to Bowen's work which attract me. First, her language. On almost every page there is something to leave one breathless. Here's a sample:
Their tide had turned and was racing in again: here was the universe filling up -- all there had been to be, do, know, dare, live for or die for at the full came flooding to this doorstep.
That's writing of the highest sort.
Also, unlike many second-rate writers, her novels center around the relationships between the characters, not only what type of people they are, but how they know each other and how they are related. One feels they are real people, not just devices to fill up space in the plot as dictated by the author, and as with real people, things are rarely nice and tidy, and feelings get hurt. This gives her work a third dimension which is crucial to the unfolding of her novels.
No, it is not really a ghost story, although at one time and another in the three-day duration of the novel, each of the women imagines that they see him. The trigger is a bundle of love letters found by Jane in an old trunk. Clearly they were written by Guy; it is less clear to whom. But their very presence provokes a crisis in each of the older women, and catalyzes Jane's self-awareness on the brink of womanhood. Jane is an especially lovely character who illuminates every scene she is in; she is beautifully contrasted with her sister Maud, an obsessive little girl preoccupied with the Old Testament. I can't say that Antonia or Lilia are either that attractive or that amusing, though they become more likable as the book goes on. Fred, the highly competent farmer, is out of his depth amid the female undercurrents, though he is pleasant and well-meaning. The impoverished gentility at Montefort is contrasted, largely for comic effect, with the high life at the nearby castle, occupied by Lady Latterly and her various hangers-on.
Beautiful as it is, and quintessentially Bowen, this short novel is not one of the author's greatest works. Mainly because it is too artificial. The set-up between Antonia, Lilia, and Fred depends upon a blatant piece of social engineering that you simply have to accept and move on. As you must accept the way Bowen spins out the letters, glancing at one, hiding them again, passing the packet with agonizing slowness from person to person, but never letting you read them. Amusing though they are, the interactions between Jane and Lady Latterly seem as arbitrary as the whims of the hostess itself. And the ending, though lovely, comes literally out of thin air. So I would only recommend this to die-hard Bowen fans. But we know who we are, and we cannot get enough of her!
I am in full disagreement with anyone who gave this book a low rating. Bowen can be a bit beyond modern readers. She is really a writer's writer. Her subject matter is the inner life of her characters, and so you find brilliant passages of prose that dramatize the inner workings these characters: all every bit as tense and suspenseful as a more externalized drama. Bowen was a mistress of the primitive power plot, in which the predicament or situation of the character drives the story. I saw a bit of that here in this work.
Of all her novels that I've read so far, A World of Love has to be the most hopeful. I kept thinking of The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim, while I read this book. In both novels you have a cast of characters living in an old castle that has seen better days. In both, the characters are waiting for the same something, to regain their sense of expansiveness and possibility, their lost hopes. And in both novels, the characters do work through enough personal baggage to gain some insights into their souls and their predicaments, and come out the better for it in the end. Just like The Enchanted April, A World of Love has some surprises in the end that seem to hint at the hand of God at work, or at something larger and beyond the characters, perhaps the force of love itself. I won't give away what it is, but I will say that I find this type of novel very important. I don't subscribe to the modern hypothesis that happiness is inconsequential fluff, and that misery and pain are "more real". Truly, happiness and hope are more important and necessary to life. For that reason, works that treat themes of happiness and hope rise to the top of my list.
I'd like to see this novel published in Reader's Digest condensed books as it badly wants editing. As it is, I agree with another reviewer that the writing is tedious, at least much of the time. But then while struggling to get through a passage there will be a real gem or two thrown in of insight and 'poetry'. And, it does have me a bit curious, so I may skim through the rest of it just to see what happens, though that isn't really the point of the story as it's quite introspective.