(Please remember: My titles are always the ironic, boring version of what the author actually wrote!)
In my endeavors to enter graduate school, I’ve been researching (going down several rabbit holes) to further tease apart that elusive “author-self” relationship in the narrative, specifically that apex of choosing: memoir or true fiction? Synonymously, I’ve been delving deeper into Elizabeth Bowens’ writing by reading (or dare I say swimming in?) The House in Paris. Her main characters: Henrietta and Leopold both possess the sophistication beyond what we today call “tweens.” Writers usually have focused on the Bildungsroman – that coming of age so compelling because of the nature of that “age” where they finally reach some sort of place past epiphany. But what of Bowen’s adult children stuck in time, or to use Passage to India’s extended metaphor: butterflies in a net? The net is woven by uncaring parents, or parents who don’t have the wherewithal, emotional substance/inventory, or funds to provide for their children and these children remain in stasis.
So goes the tale for Henrietta and Leopold in The House in Paris. This novel is not for the reader who enjoys turning pages. If you enjoyed Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or constantly quote Stephen Dedalus’s “shout in the street,” than this book is for you. A.S. Byatt’s foreword in my Anchor Book paperback version reveals Bowen’s “cool judgment” she enlisted to show how both children and adults can be stuck in the same ineffective life-loops.
I’m always drawn to Bowen’s language, first. Plot second. All external events reflect an internal world. Near the end, we intimately know how dejected the main characters are and step back out into the day, released for the moment into physical real time (the whole novel is in the span of one day, a la Woolf).
“The taxi stuck in blocks, jarred, swerved clear, darted between lit buses solid with heads. On kerbs [sic] people watched it come and drew back suspiciously. I have not met the French, Henrietta thought. It was funny to stare into their unseeing eyes. The taxi pumped itself through wet-evening Paris in jerks” (262).
I won’t get into Hypotaxis but suffice to say, we are subjected and awash in Henrietta’s one small thought amidst the taxi: jarred, swerved, darted. I teach this stuff and yet to write it, I think there’s a deep editing that’s almost a mystical experience in which these masters engage.
Notice the adverb stand out? That is what you call a well placed and intentional adverb. I’m sure Stephen King (eschewer of adverbs) would approve. The unseeing eyes of the French are also the unseeing eyes of Henrietta’s reality. She can hide. This paradox lies in that passive nature of being unseen: this notion is both convenient for when a child wants to hide in anonymity but also tragic for when that terrible humanity rises, and the child needs love.