The House in Paris

(Fiction; Knopf, 1935)


In her essay “Notes on Writing a Novel,” Elizabeth Bowen argues that “characters must materialize. . . . They must be not only see-able (visualizable); they must be felt.” Bowen was a master of characterization, and one of the best examples of this is her novel The House in Paris. The story of a day in a girl’s life turns on many things she can’t possibly know, and yet they determine much of who she is and how she acts. The girl, Henrietta, en route to join her grandmother in the south of France, spends a morning and afternoon at the Paris home of her grandmother’s old friends, Madame and Miss Fisher. In their old and fading house, Henrietta encounters another child also waiting, Leopold—the neglected product of a brief romance between a former boarder of the Fishers and one of their close friends. In a lesser novel, the children could be a solace to one another; instead, this lonely boy and inquisitive girl remain at odds, beholden to the narrow mores of British life between the wars. They choose the familiarity of estrangement over the possibility of sympathy because they know no other way.

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