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Elizabeth Bowen’s "The Death of the Heart": Matchett’s Lack of Action

Updated on May 24, 2017
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Stephanie Bradberry is an herbalist, naturopath, and energy healer. Her academic career includes teaching, tutoring, writing and editing.

Elizabeth Bowen
Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart is very much a novel in search of truth as any other modern British novel. Unfortunately, the Quaynes and their unofficial family members are so disillusioned that they pass up the perfect opportunity for a coherent family where everyone’s needs can be met: Thomas needs a more feeling wife, Anna needs a child, Portia needs a mother and father, Matchett needs someone to look over and talk to, and Major Brutt needs stability. As seen in Nostromo, there are two categories of men, those of thought and those of action (Harrod 1). The same division can be applied to the females of The Death of the Heart, especially Portia, Anna, and Matchett.Unfortunately, Matchett unsuccessfully negotiates her thoughts and actions.

My copy of "The Death of the Heart"
My copy of "The Death of the Heart" | Source

Less Thought More Action

Thought alone does not make things happen. Matchett gives very practical advice to Portia, but her knowledge is lost on the still naïve Portia. One thing Matchett knows is that she would like to keep Portia for herself. Once Portia makes it clear she would not mind going back to Waikiki, Matchett says, “‘You don’t want to be in two places, not at your age’” (Bowen 304). It becomes interesting, then, that Matchett does not go to get Portia from her own volition, but is told to go by the Quaynes. She believes she will get Portia to come home with her, but her lack of action leads the reader to think otherwise. Blodgett believes the ending of the novel is “Matchett’s authoritative gesture” which “signals a victory” (123). The only action Matchett will complete here is “pushing” the door to the hotel open (418). Once Matchett opens the door, the same situation will occur that took place when Matchett used to visit Portia at night (Bowen 90). Matchett will realize that Portia cannot be her own little girl whose head she can fill with her random thoughts and beliefs.

Possibility of Motherhood

Matchett could be an “alternative maternal figure” to Portia but lets her pride and thoughts keep her from acting on her gut feelings (Corcoran 119). For example, Matchett gives information to Portia hoping that she will act on it, like telling Portia that Anna has been poking around her room or disclosing information about how life changed when Portia was born (Bowen 27). Much like Anna, as will be discussed in a later essay, Matchett does not actually help Portia avoid making certain mistakes in her life. Once Matchett senses Portia is beginning to come into her own and no longer needs her, she abandons her by not speaking to her at night anymore.

Wisdom Needs to Match Actions

While Matchett has plenty of wisdom to pass onto Portia, she rarely acts on her instincts. It is solely Matchett who is concerned about Portia’s exposure to the dangers of the world (Corcoran 119). For example, it is Matchett that realizes Portia is receiving letters from an admirer that can be detrimental (Bowen 104). But Matchett never goes as far as Anna in actually reading and truly invading Portia’s privacy (Bowen 4). Matchett’s lack of action prevents her from finding out how close Portia is to being consumed by the vices of Eddie. While it can be easy to blame Matchett for not intervening in Portia’s life more, Anna is more to blame for Portia’s need to find love in a figure like Eddie.

Works Cited

Blodgett, Harriet. Patterns of Reality: Elizabeth Bowen’s Novels. The Netherlands: Mouton & Co., 1975. Print.

Bowen, Elizabeth. The Death of the Heart. New York: Anchor Books, 1966. Print.

Corcoran, Neil. Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004. Print.

Harrod, Harvey. Class Notes. Feb. 21, 2007. The College of New Jersey. Print.

Stephanie Bradberry
Stephanie Bradberry

About the Author

Stephanie Bradberry is first and foremost an educator and life-long learner. Her present work is as an herbalist, naturopath, and energy healer. She spent over a decade as a professor of English, Literature, Business and Education and high school English teacher. She is the founder and owner of Naturally Fit & Well, LLC and former owner of Crosby Educational Consulting, LLC. Stephanie loves being a freelance writer and editor on the side.


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    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello Escape to the Sun. Thanks for stopping by and reading. Unfortunately (lol) you will see a lot of writings like this from me on HubPages. I actually just published another Elizabeth Bowen hub on Anna, and there is at least one more to come: that one will be about Portia, the main character.

      I never knew Bowen was such a prolific writer until I took a class on Modern British novels in my M.A. program. Unfortunately this is the only novel of hers I have had the chance to read.

      I hope you come back to read the others! But I must say I am ecstatic that I already have two comments on a topic I thought would be quite foreign :)

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello CloudExplorer...great to hear from you again! I did find this novel an interesting read as well. As stated, this novel is about many characters trying to find themselves, love, a place to belong, and a means for fulfill their needs.

      It's great that you can relate to various aspects of the novel, but that you also have the benefit of not living the negative aspects of the characters' lives.

      Hang tight because I will be covering two more female characters: Anna and Portia. Thanks for reading.

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 5 years ago from New York City

      I never read anything like this, I actually stayed away from many fictional books like this one, your writing is great here nonetheless, and its tough though to know much of anything when the feeling appear to be ping ponging around for both these characters in that book.

      Imagine if life was really lived out like that, wow that would surely such for one persons love to depend on that of the other persons. Well in my life anyhow things aren't that way, I enjoy loving people but if they haven't the will to love me back then I simply move on.

      Nice hub here voted up for interesting and useful for those who've actually read that novel.