The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen

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Summary

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

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1,477 words.)