Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Elizabeth Bowen penetrates the minds of both Alban and Valeria, it is the change in Alban that involves the theme of the story. Valeria is immature, childish, ruled by whims, perhaps a bit simple, but she is at least fully alive. Although her dreams of a visit from the naval officers are based on the flimsiest of chances, both her initial joy and her later grief indicate that she is certainly a woman.

On the other hand, Alban is aware that he is not fully a man, but he blames his lack of feeling on the other sex. In the first sentence of “Her Table Spread,” Bowen points out that Alban dislikes women. The reason for his dislike becomes clear after he discovers that the candles, the delayed dinner, the air of expectation are all evidence that the guests to be truly honored are the officers who Valeria hopes will come to the Castle. Evidently, Alban is generally ignored by women. As a result, he dislikes them. Surely, he feels, some woman could have caused him to love her and, thus, could have cured his emptiness.

Bowen makes it clear, however, that Alban’s unattractiveness to women is not their fault. When he plays the piano, he swings around on the stool “rather fussily”; later, in the boathouse, he runs away from the bat; he worries about his evening pumps, which are soaked by the rain. Clearly he projects the image of a male spinster, waiting for life to come to him but only on his terms. His loneliness is his own doing....

(The entire section is 461 words.)