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Summary of “The Heart of the Day” by Elizabeth Bowen

Updated on March 3, 2017

The Heart of the Day is a 1948 novel written by Elizabeth Bowen. It was first published in the United States of America in 1949 and in the United Kingdom in 1948. The novel centers on the relationship between Robert Kelway and his lover Stella Rodney, with interference by the presence of Harrison during the years of unrest and tension following the London Blitz. In this matter, Harrison is an agent for the British intelligence who strongly believes that Robert is not who he appears to be but is a spy for the German. He uses this conviction to get in between Robert and his lover and neutralizes Robert ultimately. Poor Stella suddenly finds herself torn between an agent and a spy and the narrative reveals the insoluble interviewing of the national, political, personal and individual. This paper seeks to compare these three above named novels and analyze them in detail.

Even though this novel largely depends on the plot as compared to other novels by Elizabeth Bowen, it is thematic nonetheless, just like all other novels and has the themes of loss and dislocation as well. Places in this novel serve as symbols of emotional and psychological loss. The family homes, Mount Morris of Nettie and Francis and Holme Dene of the Kelways are glacial opposites. The visit Stella made to Holme Dene serves as the beginning of her knowledge about Robert and end of ignorance. Anyone that sets foot into the place is greeted with a caution sign that reads “concealed drive”. For the unfortunates that live in there, the “drive” turns inward. This place seems like the kind of place where middle class values of frankness and honesty are touted, while deceit, spying in corners and lies are prevalent. As Stella observes, Holme Dene is a man eating house that is filled with sterility and pretense and is truly middle class, however, she wonders, it is the middle of what?

Mount Morris is on the other hand an impression of countryside innocence. According to Roderick, it exemplifies a future filled with possibilities which most of the other characters lack in the novel, and this becomes the epicenter of his fictional life. He understands the responsibilities of heritage and possession in ways that Holme Dene inhabitants do not. He observes that Holme Dene can be sold perpetually but Mount Morris is not for sale. Nonetheless, it is the same place where Nettie encountered and saw too much and became mad. Bowen being an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, is well aware of colonial mentality like the one shared by Francis the cousin. The visit by Stella to Mount Morris renews her since it restores her vision about her heritage but, she realizes just like Nettie that she cannot live there.

Just like many other writers, who emerge in a novel from a short story, Bowen wrote a fiction which is highly symbolic and wound tightly with acres of meaning crowded into silences and disjunctions of day to day conversations. Her work and literary style is compared favorably to Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’. Just like to the lighthouse, it helps one make a bridge between the 1939 fiction and the literary style that transformed during the post-world war. It was also ranked among the top 100 best novels of the 20th century due to its literary style.


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