An author takes a great risk creating a story focused on a character who has no sense of self and has almost no language in which to describe her feelings and desires. Eva Trout is a large, unformed presence in this novel, yet it is possible to know her character through the perceptions of others. Iseult Arble is aware of Eva’s untrained intelligence and tries to help Eva give voice to her unhappiness; Eric Arble is drawn to the latent sensuality evident in Eva’s statuesque proportions. Of all who know Eva, perhaps Henry Dancey understands her best. Through him, readers can see Eva’s sensitivity, her desire to be free and to exercise control over her own life. Toward the end of the novel, Eva increases her self-awareness through the help of a priest and a sympathetic French doctor. Talking to them, she explains her hostility to Constantine and Iseult for the first time.
Elizabeth Bowen relies heavily on nuance to create her characters in this novel. Much information is conveyed through conversation, during which many things are only implied. Constantine’s contempt for women is revealed through his sarcastic comments on Iseult’s choice of food at a restaurant; Eric’s growing desire for Eva is conveyed by his vague worry over her health. Allusions to the past, clear only by the end of the novel, supply necessary information about Eva’s psychological makeup; influenced by her mother’s desertion, her father’s liaison with Constantine and his...
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