Form and Content
Set during the Blitz in the fall of 1942, The Heat of the Day is more than a spy thriller or a war novel. Although it has some elements of both, these genres rarely have a woman as the protagonist. Bowen makes the war a backdrop for Stella Rodney’s ordeal and the issue of Robert Kelway’s treason secondary to his betrayal of her. Stella faces the mutability and dislocation inherent in twentieth century life as she struggles to keep herself intact in a world that seems to be crumbling around her. Amid destruction and danger, class distinctions are broken down and emotions intensified. The people who have remained in London live without a past or a future. Caught in this external atmosphere of chaos, Stella’s story is essentially the narrative of her expulsion from her self-defined Eden and her reconstruction of a new life.
As the story opens, Robert Harrison waits in Regent’s Park for his meeting with Stella. Louie Lewis, a married working girl in the habit of picking up men in the park on Sundays, approaches Harrison. He rudely rebuffs her advances, but Louie’s perception of Harrison as “funny” sets the stage for Harrison’s obscene proposition to Stella. Stella has seen Harrison only once, at Cousin Francis’ funeral, where he appeared looming over tombstones under a darkened sky. She imagines he is either a madman or a salesman. When he comes to her with his proposition that she become his mistress in order to stop or at least postpone her lover’s exposure as a spy, Stella is overcome by uncertainty. She dismisses Harrison without an answer, but she cannot dismiss the seed of doubt that he has planted. The relationship that has sustained her and been the center of her life has been called into question. Stella is not horrified by Robert’s treason so much as by what it reflects about the man she thought she knew perfectly. If Harrison’s accusations are correct, Robert has betrayed more than his country.
The novel traces Stella’s growing knowledge of the man she thought she knew. She...
(The entire section is 833 words.)