Elizabeth Bowen, Charles Richie


Just finished reading Elizabeth Bowen's correspondence with the Canadian diplomat, Charles Richie, Love's Civil War. I like reading her letters better than reading her novels, or at least the few I've read, say, The Heat of the Day, which is dedicated to Richie, and in which he is a principal character. For me, the dialogue in that book is stilted, as I think I've noted in an earlier blog post, while the tone of the letters is more natural, if keeping up a largely epistolary relationship with a lover over many decades can be natural. There are excerpts from Richie's journals and they are equally fascinating about an extremely complex character who, in his photographs, looks utterly buttoned up, who was the Canadian ambassador to the US under Kennedy and Johnson, then to France, then High Commissioner to Britain, while married to one woman, having a lifelong relationship with Bowen and passing affairs with a number of others, and his pain, guilt and, often, joy. 

She was older than he was and died before him; after her death he discovers that many sides of Bowen's life were probably hidden from him, and that the various people with whom she was close are all now in many cases jealous of her other friends and lovers: "I need to know again that I was her life. I would give anything I have to give to talk to her again, just for an hour. If she ever thought that she loved me more than I did her, she is revenged."

I would love to read Richie's journals, with their details of his public life, but probably won't. Bowen I will continue reading. I suppose she is the Jane Austen of the 20th century: dry and piercingly perceptive, with a penchant, in life as in her novels, for houses.

Off to Paris on Tuesday. Meanwhile the sunset here is still red behind the trees and the peepers are peeping. I have just gone around and "lit the lamps"--all 3 or 4 of them--an evening ritual.