Monday, 4 April 2011
Elizabeth Bowen: The Difference a Word Makes
The sense you get with a lot of currently hyped British fiction that the writers are straining too hard, that the writing has been overcooked, strikes you more forcefully when you confront the opposite: writing that seems perfectly in control of itself. Elizabeth Bowen's Friends and Relations (1932) opens with a wedding that is realised with extraordinary economy of means. At one point the sister of the bride, Janet Studdart, looks into the marquee on a couple who have been more or less abandoned, without chairs, without anyone speaking to them, alone in the empty tent. "'It's a pity,' she added, looking dispassionately round the marquee, 'you can't sit down.'" That single word "dispassionately" animates the cliché: "speaks volumes".