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The Death of the Heart

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  6,775 ratings  ·  535 reviews
The Death of the Heart is perhaps Elizabeth Bowen's best-known book. As she deftly and delicately exposes the cruelty that lurks behind the polished surfaces of conventional society, Bowen reveals herself as a masterful novelist who combines a sense of humor with a devastating gift for divining human motivations.

In this piercing story of innocence betrayed set in the thirt
Paperback, 418 pages
Published May 9th 2000 by Anchor Books (first published 1938)
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Maya Litani Yes.
The content is mature, the nature of the relationships are complex, but there's little to no mention of sex.
PG. …more
The content is mature, the nature of the relationships are complex, but there's little to no mention of sex.
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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 (Porti
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 not-so-civil
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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, tasteful but cold and alo
Violet wells
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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 t
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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've just made
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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, herself, i
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.

Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 monstr
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, encouraging you to read it an
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Elizabeth Bowen is an author who deserves to be far more popular than she is. Her writing is sharp, sensitive and intelligent. This novel, published in 1938, sees young orphan, Portia Quayne, sixteen, spending a year with her half brother, Thomas and his wife, Anna. The fact she is to spend a year says everything. This is not a visit that either Thomas, or Anna, are comfortable with. Portia is the result of an affair by Thomas’s father, who was virtually forced from his married home and packed o ...more
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: realism
Poor Portia. Poor everyone.

In real life I'm rarely this sympathetic to horrible people. Maybe I should be.
Laura Anne
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. ...more
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: modern-lit
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 after I pic
Kimberly Dawn
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it

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
Roman Clodia
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is the most merciless book by Bowen that I've read, perhaps even one of the most cruel books about innocence that I've come across: Bowen, at times, is absolutely brutal.

While the focus is ostensibly on 16-year old Portia ('she had been born docile'), the ripples of her presence spread far more widely: for Portia is catalyst as well as victim, and her entry into the home of her stolid half-brother Thomas and his increasingly spiteful wife, Anna, exposes them, their frigid marriage
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
[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. ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 and her sister-in-law Anna
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I loved the beginning of this. The ending in some ways got to where I thought the beginning was taking the reader. Unfortunately, for me, the middle 350 pages or so weren't fulfilling. If I said I hoped for a different book, that would be misleading. My problem is that I was lost most of the time. I felt as if Bowen wrote as if we all had a similar world view and that she was writing "for the choir" (as in speaking to the choir). A sticky on a page says "I think this is key but she's talking ove ...more
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dusty-corner
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, that is. Par
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 charact
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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:

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 an
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
‘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 reaches its far
Roger Brunyate
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 delica
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Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen, CBE was an Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer.

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