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The Death of the Heart

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  6,105 ratings  ·  453 reviews
Alt cover image for ISBN 9780099276456

It is London in the late 1930s and sixteen-year-old orphan Portia is plunged into the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother's home . Wide-eyed and disconcertingly vulnerable, Portia encounters the attractive, carefree cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and he fears her g
Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 7th 2012 by Vintage Books (first published 1938)
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The content is mature, the nature of the relationships are complex, but there's little to no mention of sex.
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Average rating 3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,105 ratings  ·  453 reviews

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Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-completed
What can any reader say about Elizabeth Bowen’s writing that hasn’t been said? Not a thing. I can only go by my impressions and what reading this novel made me feel.

The story is about a family. Although they appeared superficial and ‘on the surface’ to begin with, gradually through the novel, cracks showed up. As the cracks opened, and particles began to leak through, it became more and more apparent that something was fundamentally askew with this family. The surface civilities and
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 "restrained and elegantly cruel" stars !

10th Favorite Read of 2015

"Bowen is a major writer....She is what happened after Bloomsbury....the link that connects Virginia Woolf with Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark." -Victoria Glendinning

Portia is sixteen and orphaned and sent to live with her half-brother and sister-in-law in 1930s London. Portia is extremely sensitive and extremely average. She moves from the bohemian countryside in Switzerland to an extremely elegant, tas/>
Violet wells
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: london
There was a time in my youth when I fell in love with Elizabeth Bowen. Her gorgeous high baroque prose style ravished me. You know how sometimes a writer announces herself as a soulmate, settles herself thrillingly into your mind and begins to help you see with more clarity an aesthetic of the world you had only previously sensed? Elizabeth Bowen, following Virginia Woolf, did that for me. I felt we were soul mates. And Death of the Heart was my favourite of her novels.

Essentially it’s a novel
Aug 03, 2019 added it
Shelves: bowen
The title of this novel could easily be the title of each of the other Elizabeth Bowen novels I've read so far, The Last September, Eva Trout, and The House in Paris. In all of them, young vulnerable people are acted upon by older seasoned people, resulting in change, change that is from then on irrevocable, as when the heart dies. No resuscitation, no return to the previous innocent state is possible.

Bowen records this process as if she were a documentary maker with an artistic eye, catching the full brutality of p
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: virgin with a memory
Recommended to Mariel by: virgin without a memory
This book is one of the reasons why I believe stories are redeeming. Like food, second chances, bringing back to life a deadened heart.

I love this book intensely as if it has some kind of gravitational pull or hold on me that reminds me of it during times of feeling what I cannot put name to. Frame of reference stuff. I found that I love it more as time passes and the life it still lives in my mind takes its place beside some of the most important moments I've had (um or something I'
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen
The Death of the Heart is a 1938 novel by Elizabeth Bowen set in the interwar period. It is about a sixteen-year-old orphan, Portia Quayne, who moves to London to live with her half-brother Thomas and falls in love with Eddie, a friend of her sister-in-law. At the beginning of the novel, Portia moves in with Anna and Thomas Quayne after her mother dies. Portia is Thomas's half sister. Mr. Quayne (Thomas's father) had an extramarital affair with Irene
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: set-in-the-uk
Death of the Heart is widely considered Elizabeth Bowen's masterpiece. I hadn't previously read any of her work but I didn't quite love this as much as I expected. Perhaps for all its refined sensibility and astutely critical social comedy there simply wasn't quite enough at stake to make it compelling for me.

The concept of home looms large. People either have homes or they don't. Portia, the main character, is a sixteen year old orphan who has lived most of her life in hotels on the continent
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lady Edith Crawley
Recommended to Jenn(ifer) by: Jean Rhys's ghost

The Death of the Heart -- a pretty melodramatic title, don't you think? I mean, I was expecting a torturous, ruinous love affair. Instead I got a sixteen year old whose auntie read her diary. Still, I enjoyed the story a great deal. The recently orphaned Portia goes to live with her half-brother and his disapproving wife. There she meets a cruel character who wins her heart then tosses her out with the rubbish once she has become too needy. It doesn't take much to win her heart, however. Needy g
Here is the story in a nutshell. Portia becomes an orphan at the age of sixteen. She has a married half-brother living in London, Thomas and his wife Anna. He is thirty-six and she twenty-six. Is Portia welcomed by them? No, not really. To one she is an embarrassment. To the other an encumbrance, a nuisance, but of course they agree to take her in for a year. It is the proper thing to do. The plan is to then send her off to a maternal aunt. The story concerns what happens during this year. The b ...more
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Portia observes with a young girl's receptiveness. Elizabeth Bowen observes Portia with a woman's cool, discerning eye.

This book demonstrates how a predatory man will tell you, and tell you, and tell you that he's predatory...and how a lonely, young girl will refuse to see it. It demonstrates how a jaded, older woman can resent a young girl's innocence with inexplicable venom. Bowen shows all this and more with beauty, wit, and grace. Her book is about innocence, corrupted. But Bowen, h
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Portia, 16 year old orphan, moves to stay with her adult half-brother and his wife. She's on the cusp of adulthood, but very naïve. Almost everyone is cold and detached. Mostly written as a novel, but with sections of diary and several letters - a contrast that feels a little odd.

Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like their sadnesses understated
Recommended to Mark by: Eugene
Happy that few of us are aware of the world until we are already in league with it

The story covers a period of some six months in which a newly orphaned 16 year old comes to live with her half brother and his wife. There she keeps a diary, becomes infatuated with another slightly older but still youngish lad, finds he is not quite the boy she had hoped or imagined and gets a bit upset.

Not much more happens then this really and yet i find myself giving it four stars, encouragin
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
"There is no ordinary life" is what our poor naif Portia learns about society. She's like that Nell lady, born in the wilderness and sent suddenly into society without even a language to speak. Her education is brutal.

Upon her parents' death, she's sent to live with half-brother Thomas, 20 years her senior, and his wife Anna. They are sociopaths. Portia doesn't know what society is like, but society doesn't know what humans are like. "However much of a monster you may be," says Thomas to monstrous A
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very Victorian. I'm struggling with all 3 of the vile characters:Anna, Eddie, Thomas. I suppose the struggle lies in my distance from the social mores and principals of this time, late 30s.
Kimberly Dawn
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The book was worthwhile reading for its social insights. I did enjoy some of the social commentary, and I enjoyed Eddie as a character study. He knew himself and his true intentions all along as he deceived an innocent, lonely girl, Portia.

It is too bad the Eddies of this world charm and deceive until the object of their affection begins to take them seriously; it is then they show their true selves and limitations.

The book is somewhat dated in many ways, but human nature is the focus and it r
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: realism
Poor Portia. Poor everyone.

In real life I'm rarely this sympathetic to horrible people. Maybe I should be.
This took me forever to finish. When I started reading it, it actually felt like a breath of fresh air -- I had been reading Angela Carter, William Gass, transhumanist SF, all of this mordant and grotesquely unreal stuff, and here was a work of plain old psychological realism, with people doing people stuff and thinking people thoughts and a careful author with a minimal, unflashy persona to relate it all.

Yet I slowed down around around p. 200, put the book aside for a long time, and
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written book from another time and place!

It was a difficult transition for me from contemporary fiction back to this slower & subtler style where so much is written but very little actually happens. It required me to read a lot between the lines.

Portia, a 16 year old orphan, moves to London to live with her half brother and sister-in-law resulting in emotional upheaval (repressed as it may be) for all. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Portia
[4.5] The Death of the Heart struck a chord in me. The novel, set in 1930s London, is about a 16 year old orphan, sent to live in a loveless household with her older brother and his wife. Bowen writes with sharp insight, compassion and wit about Portia's struggle to find her place. All of the characters, even the minor ones, are so incredibly well drawn and so real they could walk off the page. This is a subtle, stunning novel - the action is all in the heart.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a sadly cynical and very aptly named novel. Portia, a sixteen year old orphan who is just beginning to search for understanding of what love means, finds herself living with her half-brother, Thomas, and his wife, Anna. While Portia studies Anna to see what being a woman should be, Anna dislikes Portia, primarily because Portia is too honest an observer. All the adults in this book live in a kind of masquerade of life, with a cloud of dishonesty hovering over them constantly, while Port ...more
Jun 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the back description, I was expecting this to be a major seduction story like, er, well, I can't think of any examples, though they are a dime a dozen. Anyhow, it wasn't; it was about the seduction of the mind: mental, not physical. It was Portia's mind, of course, that was seduced and inevitably, betrayed. (Is that why this is called a psychological novel?)

I rather liked Portia. She wasn't obnoxiously pathetic as I thought she would be. She wasn't when she was away from Eddie,
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had a difficult time getting started with this downer of a book because Bowen's writing style is dense and, at times, confusing. From time to time she would lapse into sermons or analysis and my eyes would glaze over and I'd lose my focus. But eventually I got into the story and decided it was OK. There's not much of a plot and there's certainly little action or excitement. It's mainly a psychological story. There are lots of characters playing head games with each other. They're primarily wea ...more
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, feel-goods
I need to solve a mystery: all conspiracy theories welcome. Where exactly is the Kentish seaside town of Seale-on-Sea? It features in three of Bowen’s novels, prominently in ‘The Death of the Heart’ and not at all on Google maps. The only Seal in Kent has these are its coordinates:
I need to solve a mystery: all conspiracy theories welcome. Where exactly is the Kentish seaside town of Seale-on-Sea? It features in three of Bowen’s novels, prominently in ‘The Death of the Heart’ and not at all on Google maps. The only Seal in Kent has these are its coordinates:

With the best will in the world, there is NO way Mrs Heccomb and Portia leave Waikiki House on the shore and trundle onto THIS Seal High Street for Bisureated Magnesia Tablets and a bottle of gravy browning at ten, have a spot of tea, and make it back to the ranch for twelve noon. 60 odd miles and all that, brisk walkers though they are.
And so what of it? Is Seal/Seale/Seale-on-Sea all that important in the scope of things? (the death of hearts and all ‘a that’). Well, why not? Ultimately, in a novel about nothing at all, why should I not bother with the pastiche of Seal, where much ado about said nothing transpires.

This is not meant as a criticism. In fact, there is nothing more blissfully sublime than flipping pages in a salty trance where nothing happens on a soggy Sunday when nothing happens , the silence interrupted mellifluously only by the effervescent fizz dissipating the head of a spritzer. (my type of snap crackle and pop).
Of course that type of thing requires panache: and Bowen has spades of it. Here is what she does:

She sketches out a blank doodle of a 16 year old orphan girl Portia: doodle, I say, because Portia is such a blank canvass, so devoid of any materiality, backbone, sentiment and character in general that it made me squirm in my fauteuil (and to think before this book, I never even thought I owned one!) and shake some spine into her (although a few sips of the fizz mellowed me out substantially). There is a very good reason for this doodle diddling though. So, Portia is set as a work in progress in amidst. Well. Here, in a superb, sublime novel of manners etiquette, Bowen takes out her artistic chisel and plies it ruthlessly into what is easily the most breathtaking vivisection of Great Britannia I have come across.

Finding purchase in the rich texture of stratiated social layers, she pares back and unwinds the mass of committing entanglements which define British social conventions and exposes the underbelly of the class system. Each layer: underclass, servant class, provincial bourgiousie, upper crust, unfurls in duress and emaculated, surrenders its pungent tempest into a cotillion of moral and social husks: debris of a failed pursuit.

It now becomes apparent why Portia must be so utterly senseless: she is a void canvass in order to enable and channel the unfolding of social layers. Where she steps, worlds collide: she is the faultline where social classes meet and greet: and in this meshing, a constellation of supernovas explode. Portia is the catalyst for the storm of unabatement when a crossover crystallises between the British caste system, testing the grounds of moral, social, economic and cultural franchises in a collision course for advent in the twentieth century.

And ultimately this is the raisonn d’etre of the novel: a cacophony of class voice seeking recontextualizing.
In amongst the heady spirals of hedonism I was also arrested by an antiquated yet mesmerising use of language, which made me rearrange: not so much the world at large, but my mind, in order to perceive the world at large. More as a note to self than anything else, here are the gems which made me pause, breathless:
Is it possible to envy MYSELF?

‘There are moments when it becomes frightening to realise you are not, in fact, alone in the world’. For so many reasons, this quote goes against the norm today, doesn’t it? Page 157 for the intrigued. I do so like seeing the flip side of the coin.
‘Life mitigates against the seclusion we seek’: again, against the grain.

‘Propriety is no serious check to nature-in fact, nature banks itself up behind it’ (phew. Salvation. I was never very proper to begin with). Of course, page 158 will remind me of the true meaning here one day.

My favourite exchange in the book:
‘Why did you hold Daphne’s hand?’
‘When do you mean?’
‘At the cinema’
‘Oh that. Because you see, I have to get off with people’.
‘Because I cannot get on with them.’


Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-ireland
This is a tricky review simply because I don't think I've ever been so fascinated and drawn into a novel where nothing happens. There are some minor events, diaries read, summers at the sea, starts and ends to relationships, but even in these strands, there's never any one decisive moment of resolution or something that takes your breath away. Rather there is a lot of sameness, a lot of meanness, a LOT of unhappiness.
The genius of this novel lies instead I'm the interior worlds of these c
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘Anna and I live the only way we can, and it quite likely may not stand up to examination.’

Thomas and Anna Quayne are both vacuous individuals, living ineffectual and unexceptional lives, surrounded by an equally docile set of acquaintances, all bound by the strictures and conventions of their class and its narrow horizons.

‘From the outside we may seem worthless,’ Anna suggests, shaken from her torpor, as, finally, a modicum of self knowledge appears to be dawning, and the story rea
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a review of Elizabeth Bowen’s Death of the Heart, you can’t do much better than Jonathan Yardley’s review published in the Washington Post in 2005:
The themes of this novel are betrayal and innocence. As Yardley points out, the author believed that innocence must “be vanquished by experience.”

I would just add an observation about the communication styles displayed in this coming-of-age novel set in British upper and middle-class society prior to World War II. The adults, in pa
Roger Brunyate
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women, bildungsroman
The Unkindness of Civility

First off, let me say that the Anchor paperback edition is a pleasure to read, as are all the Bowen novels in this series. It has clean generous type, a binding that stays open, a cover that feels good in the hand, an attractive and totally relevant illustration, typography that captures both Bowen's elegance and her modernity, and—wonder of wonders—a back-cover blurb that brilliantly encapsulates the essence of this elusive novel. For example: "As she deftly and delic
Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should start by saying that I am horrible at writing about books I love, because when I truly love something, I get tongue-tied and bashful and feel like I can only express myself correctly if I am allowed to speak in exclamation points and cartwheels. But even though my heart started up in an illogical panic as soon as I saw the white expanse of the review box, I am trying with this one, gosh darn it, because, oh! It is lovely, and deserves all of the cartwheels.

I forget what made me origina
Jun 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Julia Turner, Slate Culture Podcast
Shelves: fiction
A book about a 16 year old girl that should be read by adults. Portia Quayne, newly orphaned and very innocent, goes to live with her stolid half-brother and his effortlessly, subtly malicious wife in 1930s London. She falls in love with a 23 year old; keeps a diary; goes to stay with the wife's former governess and her two grown children at the seaside. The novel plods and meanders along densely until about the last 40 pages when things begin to unravel emotionally for Portia and those around h ...more
Sep 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Madeline by: Patricia McKillip, oddly enough.
Hmmm, well, I can't deny that Bowen is an exquisite writer. She has a kind of snaky prose style, that starts a sentence one place and ends it somewhere else, but not in a way that baffles the reader, only in a way that turns them pleasantly upside-down. There are some wickedly funny and mean one-shots slid in between incredibly serious sentences, sort of like in The Line of Beauty. Bowen's eye for character is excellent - this is the kind of book where a few people bounce off each other until they get ...more
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Anyone else read this book? 2 30 Nov 27, 2012 10:39PM  
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Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen, CBE was an Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer.
“Darling, I don't want you; I've got no place for you; I only want what you give. I don't want the whole of anyone.... What you want is the whole of me-isn't it, isn't it?-and the whole of me isn't there for anybody. In that full sense you want me I don't exist.” 119 likes
“A romantic man often feels more uplifted with two women than with one: his love seems to hit the ideal mark somewhere between two different faces.” 96 likes
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