The Heat of the Day
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She started it as the bombs were still falling in , and it was not published until It is also capable of inducing precisely the excitement and the anxiety lurking at its heart. Charles Ritchie, Social and family life became difficult for all Londoners. For the middle classes there was not only food rationing but very few servants. Within its two-year span, the novel shifts nervously back and forth in time, making little forays out of the city as if to escape the bombing, always uncertain of the events it narrates and of their sequence, and returning from its excursions, it can seem, on the orders of some badgering inquisitor, determined to achieve at least a glimmer of clarity, an explanation in the face of all this.
A plump, ungainly young woman, working-class and speaking a form of English derived, it sometimes seems, from a rare variant of dyslexia, makes an awkward friendly pass at her neighbour, who, shifty and unkind, testily puts her down. Weymouth Street, W1. Weymouth Street must have possessed the heavy impersonal grandeur in those days that it still does. He is the one being snubbed now, by this attractive fortyish woman to whom he appears to be offering himself, having surprisingly invaded the bleak refuge her flat provides.
Harrison, as his name turns out to be, is an alarming presence, insistently and disagreeably material, yet ghostly in his comings and goings, so that neither Stella nor the reader can be sure whether he is telling the truth about her lover, let alone about his own role and his ability to intervene as he is proposing to do. Is it, indeed, ever possible to know whether someone is telling the truth? Harrison, it turns out, is called Robert too. How is Stella to adjudicate between these two Roberts, or, perhaps, even distinguish between them? An air raid damage map c showing the impact of the Blitz on eastern Marylebone.
We return to the young woman in the park, Louie, and her cannier friend, Connie, and listen, somewhat disbelievingly, perhaps, to their chatter. She is not a Londoner, and her sturdy, optimistic nature is out of its element in this injured and complicated city. From loneliness and an apparently innocent desire for company of any sort, Louie occasionally approaches men and takes them home with her.
Stella has misled the world and her son by preferring it to be thought she had callously left her husband, when the truth was that he rejected her as a very young mother for someone else. They live in an elaborately horrible house, ugly, demanding and impersonal, perpetually up for sale, and the uncomfortable setting for a family controlled by women and destructively dismissive of men and of sex. The bond between Stella and Robert draws on their shared experience of growing up unloved and knowing at first as well as second-hand what it is to be found wanting sexually.
London during the wartime blitz.
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She was not, and would not have wanted to be, received into the feminist literary fold, though she sometimes figured on lists of women writers denied their due. The first Emirati in space.
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Indonesia's sky turned blood red, here's why. Man drowns after underwater proposal. Macron: Politicians cannot 'remain deaf' to climate crisis. Why Israel is deadlocked a week after election. George Clooney's call for action in South Sudan. New coal power plants quietly springing up in China. Iran's foreign minister outlines proposal for a new deal. Iran puts US drone wreckage on display. Dorian destroyed his home. A postal principle obtains throughout The Heat of the Day. Letters and postmen rhythm the novel. Marriage is to be thought as from the mailbox.
While there, she wanders out on the grounds, on a gloriously sunny October late morning. We might be seduced into thinking that ruins befall upon this setting, only with its invasion by the subject of perception. Yet then we read the following, which indeed bequeathes the very setting:. In the hush the dead could be imagined returning from all the wars; and, turning the eyes from arch to arch of boughs, from ray to ray of light, one knew some expectant sense to be tuned in to an unfinished symphony of love. The seeming of this to be for ever was astonishing—until a leaf fell slowly, veering towards her eyes as though she had brought time with her into the wood There cannot be a moment in which nothing happens.
The infinite symphony of love seems to belong to resurrection itself. Love does not leave, love; not leaf, love rises, not fails. So seems love. Her fall into love is a fall into life, into a mode of presence inherently ruinous. Yet Bowen not so much as ruins this paradise regained as insists on a ruin always occurring. There is always something happening, contrary to any metaphysics of presence.
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A moment when nothing happens would be the metaphysics of presence: an eternal present. Such eternal present is only illusion, ruined always already by ruin itself, by the time of the fall and the fall of time.
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Her eyes, not just the eyes, are approached by the falling leaf. Her son considers that it is Stella who fell off the roof, when Robert fell from it to his death. Stella is in the wood, that place that in all Gothic romances of Ann Radcliffe is the place par excellence of imagination.
Those drugs are her literature. She brings time into what would be eternal presence. She brings time into Being, that Being which the philosophical tradition posits as presence. For, time is already there. The ruination of the metaphysics of presence, in other words, the unviability of any being not always already given to time and to history, engenders and structures this symphony of love.
Whether leaping or falling from the roof, as counter-signature to The Heat of the Day , falling from the roof is what befalls me in writing to this enigmatic text.
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Estrangement characterizes their finding each other, Robert remarking to her that he is more intimate with her coat than with herself. Who would like to feel less welcome back again than her own coat! Surely either we know each other absolutely or not at all—and how can we possibly wonder which? You and I are an accident, if you like—outside us neither of us when we are together ever seems to look. Stella misses that both, in differance, obtain, unless her wondering which is which attests as much.
Elizabeth Bowen: 'The Heat of the Day' - 1948
Ruin makes for perfection. There is no pure immunity in Bowen because the outside is always the inside of the inside. Conventionally understood, immunity would be the privileged: it is the fact of being exempt from a charge. If there is no immunity in Bowen, it is because of ruination, lost immunity. Presence to self is not immune from absence, from the loss of what presence thinks it has.
This lack of immunity is originary.
Yet this originary separation and loss are what redefine presence life as survival of, through, original separation and loss. Moreover, they are what make a deconstructed love or intimacy possible, whence the love of ruins double genitive : love from, love for, ruins. The day before, Harrison had intimated to her that Robert was working for the Germans possibly since even before her relationship with Robert began. Being able to shut her eyes while he was in this room with her, to feel impassive marble against her cheek, made her feel in the arms of immunity—the immunity of sleep, of anaesthesia, of endless solitude, the immunity of the journey across Switzerland two days after her mother died.
Everything became threatened. There are moments when it becomes frightening to realize that you are not, in fact, alone in the world—or at least, alone in the world with one other person. The telephone ringing when you are in a day-dream becomes a cruel attacking voice. That general tender kindness towards the world. Life militates against the seclusion we seek. In the chaos that suddenly thrusts in, nothing remains unreal, except possibly love. What Bowen takes her reader to is an awareness, a wariness, about irreducible separation—pending ruin always already inscribed in any encounter—that itself is the condition of possibility of a partage , a sharing that is the experience of shearing.
This ruin of immunity, this ruin of a false privilege, of an exemption from separation—from death—is in fact the emboldening form of ruin, a recognition of the unique chance and occasion being in the world is. The tears shed in that series of small convulsions—felt by him but quite silent—had done no more than mat her lashes together. Bowen leaves us with the immunity that consists in our knowing ourselves not to be immune, with the protection against ruin that comes from a recognition of an indomitable ruin out of which is born life, desire, love.
But then she paused in the act, i raising her eyes: he and she returned to looking at one another at leisure, with a sort of enchanted familiarity, across the gold-rimmed cups. If this has not been always felt—and as to that who is to know? Could these two have loved each other better at a better time?
The more imperative the love, the deeper its draft on beings, till it has taken up all that ever went to their making, and according to what it draws on its nature is. In dwelling upon the constant for our reassurance, we forget that the loves in history have been agonizingly modern loves in their day. No, there is no such thing as being alone together.