Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Elizabeth Bowen has been compared to Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Green, and Ivy Compton-Burnett as well as to Henry James and Virginia Woolf. Her approach includes aspects of European modernism similar to Gustave Flaubert’s in Madame Bovary (1857; English translation, 1886) as well as drawing on the literary heritage of her own Anglo-Irish tradition. Bowen mines the psyche, exploring her characters’ hidden secrets by showing the reader how they think and not what or why. Her prose style is difficult and convoluted, echoing, perhaps, the convoluted psychic machinations of her characters, but it also, according to some critics, overwhelms the content:She seemed, too, in the act of turning away, of indeed fleeing, but had not yet done so. She wore the air of someone who cannot help knowing she must be recognized; her not yet willing but lovely gaze rested accordingly, upon nothing; or rather upon a point in the diminishing nothingness between him and her.

Bowen seems to want to capture the inexpressible with this style. Whether she succeeds depends on the judgment of the individual reader.

A World of Love has been called a poetic novel, its elliptical style being the subject, object, and content of the work. It has also been labeled “experimental,” a departure for Bowen, an exaggeration of her already somewhat mannered and inverted prose style. The novel has been faulted for being too static, too precious, too difficult to read. Indeed, the novel’s content is partially disguised and obscured, although upon close reading one can see that style is mirroring content and that obfuscation is one of the novel’s major motifs, Bowen using it to simulate the mind’s bending back upon itself.