The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

Author:Elizabeth Bowen [Bowen, Elizabeth]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
ISBN: 9780385720175
Publisher: Anchor
Published: 1962-01-02T06:00:00+00:00

IV

IN CHURCH, during the sermon, Portia asked herself for the first time why what Mr. Bursely had said had set up such disconcerting echoes, why she had run away from it in her mind. There was something she did not want to look straight at—was this why, since the party yesterday night, she had not once thought of Eddie? It is frightening to find that the beloved may be unwittingly caricatured by someone who does not know him at all. The devil must have been in Mr. Bursely when he asked, and asked with such confidence, if she had not been told she was a sweet little kid. The shock was that she could not, now, remember Eddie’s having in effect called her anything else. Stooping down, as she sat beside Mrs. Heccomb, to examine the stitching on her brown mocha gloves—which in imitation of Mrs. Heccomb she kept on while she sat, wrists crossed on her knee—she wondered whether a feeling could spring straight from the heart, be imperative, without being original. (But if love were original, if it were the unique device of two unique spirits, its importance would not be granted; it could not make such a great common law felt. The strongest compulsions we feel throughout life are no more than compulsions to repeat a pattern: the pattern is not of our own device.) Had Mr. Bursely had, behind that opaque face, behind that expression moulded by insobriety, the impulse that had made Eddie write her that first note? Overlaid, for the rest of the party, by the noise and excitement, was dread that the grace she had with Eddie might reduce to that single maudlin cry. This dread had haunted her tardy sleep, and sucked at her when she woke like the waves sucking the shingle in the terribly quiet morning air.

Everything became threatened.

There are moments when it becomes frightening to realise that you are not, in fact, alone in the world—or at least, alone in the world with one other person. The telephone ringing when you are in a day dream becomes a cruel attacking voice. That general tender kindness towards the world, especially kindness of a young person, comes from a pitying sense of the world’s unreality. The happy passive nature, locked up with itself like a mirror in an airy room, reflects what goes on but demands not to be approached. A pact with life, a pact of immunity, appears to exist. But this pact is not respected for ever—a street accident, an overheard quarrel, a certain note in a voice, a face coming too close, a tree being blown down, someone’s unjust fate—the peace tears right across. Life militates against the seclusion we seek. In the chaos that suddenly thrusts in, nothing remains unreal, except possibly love. Then, love only remains as a widened susceptibility: it is felt at the price of feeling all human dangers and pains. The lover becomes the sentient figurehead of the whole human ship, thrust forward by the weight of the race behind him through pitiless elements.



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