Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Bowen hovers between exposing the romantic impulse as anachronistic and lauding it. Herself nostalgic for the lost gentility of her own Anglo-Irish roots, she uses the Lady Latterly character to criticize the emptiness of the new order (the nouveau riche) just as clearly as she uses Antonia and Lilia to analyze the folly of clinging to false romantic notions left over from the old. One woman has no illusions; the other, too many. Fred, the working-class hero of A World of Love, not only has partial claim to the older, graceful tradition but also spends his whole life trying to maintain a semblance of the old order by taking care of Montefort, marrying Guy’s fiancee, and keeping the illusion of Guy alive. He roughly takes the letters away from Maud in order to present them to his wife to save her dignity at the expense of his own. This act of noblesse oblige awakens his wife, who, in turn, informs him that the letters are not to her. This selfless sharing of truth reunites them.

Bowen wants to examine the complications of the romantic impulse with its ties to gentility and tradition as well as the psychological interdependency of her characters. She wants to explore their complicity, their indirect communication, their mutual understandings and misunderstandings of one another. Bowen does not condemn the romantic impulse altogether. She may be ironic in the way she ends the novel, but she is not cynical.