The Death of the Heart

by Elizabeth Bowen

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In The Death of the Heart, Anna has a job doing interior design before she is married to Thomas. Research the status of British women in the 1930s and whether it was typical for a young woman from a wealthy background to have a career. What kinds of work did women do in 1930s England? How did this compare to the United States in the 1930s?

In the novel, Portia comes to London with little or no formal education. Anna and Thomas put her in a school that appears to be for wealthy girls who have not done well at school. Investigate how women and girls were educated in England in the 1930s. Were there publicly supported schools for girls or only private and church-supported institutions? What subjects did the schools teach? How many girls continued their education at universities and colleges?

Choose one chapter from The Death of the Heart that you find particularly interesting; adapt this chapter as a scene in a play. Act out the scene with a group of students. What insight can be gained about the characters and their dynamics from this exercise? In what ways are the events of this chapter significant to the novel as a whole?

In The Death of the Heart, Portia runs away because she is upset by how Anna, Eddie, and others have treated her. Choose another literary work that features a teenage runaway and compare and contrast the works. Possible choices include The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger; Rite of Passage, by Richard Wright; and A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer. Present your findings in a Venn diagram or an essay.

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