Tears, Idle Tears by Elizabeth Bowen

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bowen is known as an exceptionally descriptive and detailed writer. Landscapes and colors are very important to her stories. Frederick cries in the middle of Regent’s Park where “Poplars stood up like delicate green brooms; diaphanous willows whose weeping was not shocking quivered over the lake. May sun spattered gold through the breezy trees; the tulips though falling open were still gay; three girls in a long boat shot under the bridge.” At once, the reader is in the park with Frederick and his mother. Bowen’s description of her characters manages to present their attitude as well as their appearance. Mrs. Dickinson is “a gallant-looking, correct woman, wearing today in London a coat and skirt, a silver fox, white gloves and a dark-blue toque put on exactly right.” Frederick’s “crying made him so abject, so outcast from other people that he went on crying out of despair. His crying was not just reflex, like a baby’s; it dragged up all unseemliness into view. No wonder everyone was repelled.” The young woman in the park has a smile and a cock of the head that was “pungent and energetic, not like a girl’s at all.”

This detail and description help make it possible for Bowen to weave the difficulty of love throughout her story. The boy’s hysteria and the mother’s coldness can be explained by the fact that the boy’s father died five years earlier. Because Bowen has realistically presented the past and present experiences of her characters, the reader can see how previous wounds have scarred them and made them who they are today.