Mysterious Kor Summary
by Elizabeth Bowen

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Mysterious Kor Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Mysterious Kôr” is set in London during World War II on a night when, despite the bright moonlight, the sky is clear of bombers. Into the strange silence come a girl named Pepita and a soldier named Arthur, wandering through the night together, because in the crowded city there is no place where they can be alone. Pepita quotes from a poem about Kôr, an abandoned city, which she imagines London to be; it is a city from which all the people have long ago disappeared, a city free of the dominion of time, a city where Pepita and Arthur can be forever alone together. By contrast, Arthur must actually spend his leave on the living-room couch in the apartment that Pepita shares with Callie, and Callie intends to act as a kindly chaperon. At this point, the brief illusion of Kôr vanishes, and the lovers return to the apartment.

The second part of the story traces Callie’s thoughts as she lies awake, listening for Pepita and Arthur. Virginal Callie cannot understand why Pepita and Arthur would like some time alone together; instead, she idealizes their love and vicariously enjoys it, as a spiritual experience. As she waits, the moonlight enters the room, and she thinks that the lovers are outside, in a different, moonlit world. At this point, they enter the apartment, hoping that Callie has gone to sleep, but Callie jumps out of bed to play hostess, revealing with every speech that she has no inkling of their desire for each other. At last, when the girlfriends are alone in the bedroom, Pepita is so cross that Callie cries. Later, when Pepita is sound asleep, Callie has a conversation with Arthur, who has wakened thinking about Pepita’s periodic withdrawals to the nonexistent city of Kôr. When there is no place to go, comments Arthur, a couple might as well imagine Kôr.

By now, the moon has dwindled, and the magic that has held all London in its spell is gone. In her bed, Callie realizes that her own joy in love has gone, as well. Arthur had said that to be human was a terrible fate; Callie now recognizes that to be human in wartime is to miss out on living. Accidentally, in her sleep, Pepita slaps Callie’s face. In her sleep, motivated by her need for Arthur, Pepita is wandering through the dream city to which she escapes whenever life is unbearable.