Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Demon Lover”
In this analysis we will take a look at the creation of suspense, the possibility of different interpretations, and how an unusual understanding of the word demon might help to access a deeper meaning.
Suspense is achieved with the help of at least five different devices, namely word choice, setting, the order of the plot and a mysterious event. The authoress utilizes vocabulary with connotations of fear and terror. Instances of such words are “dead air”(661) or “claw marks”(661) and “nohuman eye”(661). Terror might be caused by the latter one when the reader realizes the possible implication of her being watched by some kind of non-human creature. The setting itself seems gloomy and uneasy. Such a mood is achieved by descriptions of destruction as in “broken chimneys and parapets stood out”(661) or “There were some cracks in the structure, left by the last bombing”(661). The plot starts in the middle of the story and then continues chronologically after a flashback. With this perplexing flashback suspension is created in two ways. First, all the new and completely unexpected information makes the reader wonder what else might happen. Second, because the reader wants to know how the mysterious event develops further. This mysterious event is, of course, the appearance of the letter. “She stopped dead and stared at the hall table – on this lay a letter addressed to her”(662) The (possibly) supernatural nature of the letter appearing becomes explicit in “On the supernatural side of the letter’s entrance she was not permitting her mind to dwell”(664. Word choice, plot, setting and the mysterious event are used together to create suspension.
The text allows a variety of different interpretations. An interesting metaphorical interpretation of the text is to see Mrs. Drover’s demon lover as an image for her suppressed desires. If one wants to follow this interpretation several passages of the text can be interpreted in a way supporting it. “The young girl talking to the soldier in the garden had not ever completely seen his face”(663) for example. It is possible to argue that the lack of her being able to see is face is due to “his” lack of a face. Further support for this claim can be drawn from the statement later in the text “under no conditions could she remember his face” (665). It seems unlikely that Mrs. Drover could forget the face of a person she was going to marry. Metaphorical interpretations of the text are possible and clues for them can be found. The term “Demon” occurring in the short stories title deserves thorough investigation for possible meanings. The most obvious meaning is some kind of monster with diabolical characteristics. While this is a perfectly reasonable way it is interesting and gives us new ways of the understanding when we look at the etymology of the word and the concept of demons.Demon from Latin daemon meaning “spirit” could also describe an abstract concept as opposed to concrete evil creature. In Tibetan Buddhism for example demons play an important role, originally in a highly abstracted way. The concept of demons was used to visualize the hindrances to enlightenment. Demons of greed for example have been pictured as beings with a small mouth and big stomach which would always be hungry. This is a very vivid explanation of greed but not one of an actual creature. In the same manner it is possible to think of the demon lover as visualization of a concept. Namely sensual desire, sensual with which Mrs. Drover did never truly deal (she did not face it) and which is therefore now coming back. Seeing the demon lover as a concept enables us to interpret the text as the story of a returning neglected sensual desire.
We have now seen that word choice, setting, the order of the plot and the mysterious event in combination create the suspension. We have examined that the text, as is every piece of literature, is open to a variety of different interpretations. Last we looked about how treating the demon lover as a concept rather than a being alters and possibly enhances the meaning of the text.
Elizabeth, Bowen. “The Demon Lover”. The Collected Stories. New York: Vintage Books,1982. 661-666
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