A rather claustrophobic novel that takes place in the subconscious maneuvering of the main characters, Antonia Montefort and Lilia Danby primarily, A World of Love culminates in their half-verbalized, partially conscious realization of the true nature of their relationship to each other. The story takes place in the confines of a run-down country estate over the space of a few days. A World of Love might be better entitled “A World of Obsession,” “A World of Misunderstood Motives,” or “A World of Convolution.” Inasmuch as this is a modern novel, offering insights into the complications of love, perhaps all four titles are appropriate.
While the plot and the locale seem ripe for a traditional gothic romance, Elizabeth Bowen, with her imposing prose style, never lets the reader forget that this is a modern psychological novel:The month was June, of a summer almost unknown; for this was a country accustomed to late wakenings, to daybreaks humid and overcast. At all times open and great with distance, the land this morning seemed to enlarge again, throwing the mountains back almost out of view in the south of Ireland’s amazement at being cloudless.
The last four words of the above passage allude to the contrast between the “cloudless” family facade and the stormy disquiet they all feel underneath. This unspoken tension is the crux of the novel. The three adults—Lilia, her husband (Fred Danby), and his cousin Antonia—conspire to keep alive the fantasy of Guy Montefort, the dashing dead hero, sweetheart of Lilia, beloved cousin of Antonia, the man in whose footsteps the “illegitimate” Fred must tread, the phantom in whose shadow they all live. The air in the seedy, once splendid manor they all share is thick and stale with the effort (“humid and overcast”). The three are wedded in their complicity: the lie of Guy’s continued existence simultaneously sustains and enervates them. The realization that he is dead and gone is precipitated by the children: first, by Jane Danby (Lilia and Fred’s daughter) unearthing a...
(The entire section is 852 words.)