Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Demon Lover” can be read as a modern retelling of the folk legend and the ballads concerning the return of a lover from the dead to reclaim his earthly bride. As such, the story fulfills the finest demands of the tradition, for K. returns from the dead to exact from Kathleen the promise she made to him twenty-five years earlier. The taxi ride into an Unreal City at the story’s end suggests that the lover has found his bride and is holding her to her bargain, to be his in death as in life. However, this is perhaps not the most rewarding meaning of Elizabeth Bowen’s story.
In a postscript to The Demon Lover (1945), a collection that contains “The Demon Lover” along with other stories that examine the effects of war on those who stay at home, Elizabeth Bowen addresses the central theme of the volume: “life, mechanized by the control of war-time . . . emotionally torn and impoverished by change.” In “The Demon Lover” the intensity of an emotion lived in one period of war is revived twenty-five years later by the pressures of another war. The essential meaning of the story can then be interpreted as a nervous collapse brought on by war. Insofar as most novels and stories dealing with war concentrate on the conflict itself, Bowen’s view of the effects on civilians of war’s devastation is remarkable.