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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324

In The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen, Henrietta is an eleven-year old girl who is traveling to her grandmother’s house. She stops in Paris and meets Miss Fisher, an acquaintance of her grandmother’s. They stop at Miss Fisher’s mother’s house, which she uses to house wealthy young girls for...

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In The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen, Henrietta is an eleven-year old girl who is traveling to her grandmother’s house. She stops in Paris and meets Miss Fisher, an acquaintance of her grandmother’s. They stop at Miss Fisher’s mother’s house, which she uses to house wealthy young girls for extended visits. Along the way, Miss Fisher tells Henrietta about Leopold, the nine-year old son of one of her good friends who has never met his mother. She cautions Henrietta not to ask him too many questions.

Henrietta meets Leopold, who is going to meet his mother for the first time. Henrietta talks to him briefly before spending time with Mme Fisher and Miss Fisher, during which Leopold goes through Miss Fisher’s purse hoping to find information about his mother. He reads letters not meant for him. When Miss Fisher and Henrietta come back downstairs, they receive a telegram and learn that Leopold’s mother isn’t coming after all.

The second part of the book is the story of Leopold’s mother, Karen, and father, Max, meeting after years apart and having the affair which resulted in Leopold’s conception—while Leopold’s father was engaged to Miss Fisher and his mother was engaged to Ray Forrestier. They talk of breaking off their engagements and marrying, but this doesn’t work out. Ultimately, Max takes his own life, and Karen leaves to have Leopold and marry Ray. Karen gives up Leopold for adoption.

In the third section of the book, Ray comes to pick up Leopold and bring him to his mother. He and Karen have always had problems because of Leopold’s existence and adoption, and Karen is too afraid to meet Leopold. Ray decides to do what he believes is right and comes to bring Leopold to his mother. He and Leopold leave the house together, dropping off Henrietta at the train station on their way.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1153

Eleven-year-old Henrietta arrives at the Gare du Nord uncomfortably early in the morning. She has never been in Paris before, but she is to be there for one day only, between two night trains. By a previous arrangement, the girl is met at the station by Miss Naomi Fisher, an acquaintance of Henrietta’s grandmother, who will look after her during her day in Paris.

Clutching her plush toy monkey while the taxi bumps through gray Paris streets, Henrietta drowsily absorbs Miss Fisher’s nervous chatter. The flow of comments, however, is not entirely pointless: Henrietta is presently made to comprehend that her stopover will be affected by rather unusual developments at Miss Fisher’s house. Miss Fisher’s mother is ill, although today she is feeling better, and Miss Fisher still hopes to take Henrietta out for a short sightseeing expedition after lunch. A more important complication seems to be the presence of Leopold.

Miss Fisher explains with obvious agitation that Leopold is an added responsibility, which she did not foresee when she agreed to meet Henrietta. He is nine years old, and he comes from Italy to see his mother, a very dear friend of Miss Fisher. Apparently, Henrietta gathers, he has never seen his mother before, a fact that strikes the little girl as being odd and mysterious. Miss Fisher agrees that the circumstances are rather unusual, but she evades a more direct explanation. She is careful to tell her that Leopold is naturally excited and anxious; Henrietta might play with him, if she likes, but she must not question him about his mother.

Upon arriving at the house in Paris, Henrietta has breakfast and a nap on the sofa before she awakens to find Leopold standing across the salon and gazing at her curiously. The children make wary approaches to acquaintanceship and tentatively compare notes on their respective journeys. In spite of Miss Fisher’s injunction, Henrietta manages to learn that Leopold lives at Spezia with his foster parents. Before she can find out more about him, she is summoned upstairs to meet Madame Fisher. She seems a strange person to Henrietta; her manner is ironic and penetrating, and, to her daughter’s distress, she insists on discussing Leopold’s father. Once, Madame Fisher intimates, he broke her daughter’s heart. Now he is dead.

Left alone below, Leopold rummages through Miss Fisher’s purse in a vain search for information about his mother. After Henrietta rejoins him, the children have lunch and play aimlessly at cards. While they are occupied, the doorbell rings, and Miss Fisher is heard to go to the door. A few minutes later, she enters the room, her face suffused with regret and pity. Leopold struggles to affect nonchalance when she tells him that his mother is not coming, after all.

Leopold has no way of knowing that his mother is the Englishwoman Karen Michaelis, who is now married to Ray Forrestier. She became engaged to Ray more than ten years earlier, and their friends rejoiced in what seemed an ideal match. They planned to delay their marriage, however, until Ray completed a diplomatic mission in the East. Shortly after his departure from England, Karen visited her aunt in Ireland. Upon returning home, she had found a pleasant surprise awaiting her, her friend Naomi Fisher, who was spending a few days in London.

Karen and Naomi had been close friends ever since Karen as a schoolgirl spent a year under the roof of Madame Fisher in Paris. There she perfected her French and lived under Madame’s keen-eyed supervision, along with other English and American girls who were accepted into the establishment from time to time. There, too, she first became acquainted with Max Ebhart, a dark, taut, brilliant young man whose conversation and intellect Madame Fisher found stimulating. Rather unaccountably, Max became engaged to the unassuming Naomi and accompanied her to England to aid in the settlement of an aunt’s estate. Karen welcomed the opportunity to see Naomi, but she expressed reluctance to encounter Max, whose strong self-possession and penetrating mind always affected her strangely.

Naomi’s persistence prevailed, however, and on the final day of her stay in London, she succeeded in arranging a meeting of the three. While Naomi prepared tea inside the almost empty house of her dead aunt, Max and Karen sat outside on the lawn. Little was said, but both were conscious of the tension that always existed between them. That night, as Karen said good-bye at the station, she looked at Max, and when their eyes met it was with the mutual admission that they were in love.

One month later, Max telephoned from Paris, asking Karen to meet him in Boulogne the following Sunday. There they walked and talked, the thought of Naomi shadowing their conversation. Before they parted, they arranged to meet again at Hythe on the next Saturday. They spent the night together and decided that they must marry, in spite of their unwillingness to hurt Naomi. Max went back to Paris to impart the difficult news to his fiancé.

Karen never saw Max again; word of his suicide came in a telegram from Naomi. Weeks later, Naomi crossed the channel to tell Karen how Max had slashed his wrists after a trying interview with Madame Fisher. When Karen confessed that she was going to bear Max’s child, the two considered the plans she must make. Karen already tried to break off her engagement with Ray, but he wrote that he would never give her up. Nevertheless, she intended to be gone when he returned to London; she would travel to Paris with Naomi and then go on to Germany for perhaps a year. She and Naomi would find a good home for the child. Meanwhile, no one—except possibly Karen’s mother—should ever know.

These are the facts about his parents that Leopold never learned. Now, when his mother failed him by not coming to get him at the house in Paris, he stands, for a moment, immovable, steeped in misery. His air of resolution and determined indifference gives way and, crossing to the mantelpiece and pressing himself against it, he bursts into sobs. Henrietta tries to comfort him, but he ignores her. Recovering from his spasm of grief, he is sent upstairs to endure Madame Fisher’s careful scrutiny. He finds her surprisingly sympathetic. She tells him something of his mother’s marriage to Ray, and he confides his determination not to return to his foster parents in Italy. Some inner force seems to stiffen and encourage him.

Downstairs the doorbell rings once more, and Miss Fisher comes running swiftly up the steps. She directs Leopold to the salon where he finds a tall, pleasant-looking Englishman. It is Ray; overruling Karen’s doubts, he comes to accept Leopold as his own son and to restore him to his mother.

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