Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Elizabeth Bowen’s stories achieve their effect by the interplay of symbols and characters. For example, in “Mysterious Kôr,” the moonlight transforms the scenery and influences the characters, to the point that it becomes almost a character itself. At the beginning of the story, the moonlight has invaded all of London, somehow keeping people indoors and thus enabling Pepita and Arthur to imagine the forsaken city, a city that Pepita yearns to find but that Arthur volunteers to populate. The moon has also invaded the room of the virginal Callie, who sees it as a symbol of the beautiful romance that she has created for Pepita and Arthur. Experiencing the romance vicariously, Callie will put only her hand in the moonlight.

Missing the point of what the moonlight means to Arthur, Callie saves the moonlit portion of her bed for Pepita, who will presumably be content with romantic dreams. When she sees her moonlit bed, Pepita says crossly that she cannot sleep in the moonlight; though she promptly falls asleep, her comment has made it clear to Callie that moonlight means something different to Pepita from what she had supposed. Later in the evening, when the moonlight is gone, Callie is relieved. However, if the moonlight of Callie’s naïve idealization will not come again, that of Pepita’s imagination has drawn her further and further along her separate road, for in the Kôr of her dreams, it is the only light.

On one level, then, Bowen has used moonlight in this story to symbolize the imagination. However, she has also used it to indicate the isolation of her characters; because moonlight means something different to each of them, because each imagination takes a different path with different goals, Callie, Pepita, and Arthur are doomed to live at cross-purposes. Finally, because moonlight causes the action of the story, it has the importance of a character, interacting with the human characters to reveal the human condition.