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