Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
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.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Bowen wrote A World of Love a few years after returning from England to Bowen’s Court, her ancestral home in Ireland. A dilapidated and deserted farmhouse nearby served as a model for Montefort, the setting of A World of Love. The owner of Montefort is Antonia Montefort, a photographer in her fifties, who lives in London and only occasionally visits the house that she inherited from her cousin Guy. Killed in World War I when he was twenty, Guy had been loved by Antonia as well as by Lilia, his seventeen-year-old fiancé, and quite possibly by one or more other women. Out of pity for Lilia, who should have inherited the house, Antonia arranged Lilia’s marriage to Fred Danby, an illegitimate cousin of Guy and Antonia. Feeling responsible for this marriage, Antonia gave Lilia and Fred the use of the “manor” in return for its maintenance, an obligation that Fred diligently though not very successfully tries to fulfill. Meanwhile, Lilia, ostensibly the housekeeper, dreams of escaping from her dull, discontented, and stifling life. The Danbys have two children, both girls. Jane is now twenty and Maud is twelve.
The action of the novel takes place during two days in the summer of the early 1950’s. Life in this isolated, seemingly half-asleep house is dreamy, unreal, and filled with fantasy, especially to Jane and Maud. They are not alike or close to each other, but they share a tendency to live in their imaginations, and the house gives them plenty of material with which to get through the uneventful days. Jane, who has completed her education under Antonia’s sponsorship, is uncertain what she will do next. In the attic one day, she finds a bundle of love letters written by Guy to an unnamed lady. There is also a beautiful Edwardian dress, which Jane wears as she wanders in and out of the house, reading the letters, imagining that she is the one to whom they were addressed. This fantasy...
(The entire section is 786 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Austin, Allan E. Elizabeth Bowen: An Introduction, 1971.
Blodgett, Harriet. Patterns of Reality: Elizabeth Bowen’s Novels, 1975.
Glendinning, Victoria. Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer, 1978.
Heath, William. Elizabeth Bowen: An Introduction to Her Novels, 1961.
Lee, Hermione. Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation, 1981.