The Heat of the Day

by Elizabeth Bowen

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The characters in Elizabeth Bowen’s novel of World War II are English and Anglo-Irish people living in London.

Stella Rodney, the protagonist, is a middle-aged Englishwoman of Irish heritage. She is divorced and her ex-husband is dead; she has an adult son, Roderick. Although her husband has left her, leading to their divorce, she has assumed responsibility for the split, which she finally admits to Roderick. Stella works in the coding section at the War Office. For two years, she has had a lover, Robert Kelway. The plot revolves around the information that Robert Harrison provides, indicating that Kelway is a Nazi sympathizer. Stella faces the dilemma of telling Kelway of her knowledge, believing Harrison’s story and turning him, or accepting Harrison’s bargain to sleep with him in exchange for his silence.

Robert Kelway, Stella’s lover, is a British military officer who survived the fiasco at Dunkirk, where he received a leg injury that hinders his ability to walk. The plot revolves around his possibly being a spy for the Nazis, which he confirms after Stella confronts him. The next day he is found dead, after falling or being pushed off a roof.

Robert Harrison, who works for British military intelligence, is Stella’s original source of the damaging information about Kelway. She doubts his veracity, however, as he tries to lure her into a sexual relationship.

Roderick Rodney, Stella’s son, is a soldier in the British army. He has recently inherited an estate in Ireland from his mother’s cousin, a symbol of their Irish heritage and sense of distinction from their English side.

Louie Lewis is a working-class woman, possibly with an intellectual disability, who tries to befriend Stella. While her husband is serving in the military, she becomes pregnant by another unnamed man. As the novel ends after D-Day, her son has just been born; they symbolize the post-war generation that offers hope for rebuilding society.

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