“Heat of the Day” by Elizabeth Bowen is the reflection of the complexities in the relationships across the generations, in love and war, set at the backdrop of 1942 World War. The story is about a life of Londoners and the traumatic experience they had to undergo when the city was being bombarded during war. “The Heat of the Day” sees the city being shattered and in this scenario of devastation, how the people try to make the sense of their lives? “The Heat of the Day” follows with same intensity the flow of the wartime stories written by Bowen in 1945.
The story is though about warfare yet there is very little description about the war and that only one instance of the air raid, which happens close to the end of novel. The description of impressions of war and the London has been explicitly referred through the voice of characters with the reality transformed through visionary approach of the city. As described by Neil Corcoran, “The ‘Heat of the Day’ is a novel in which the panic of possibly losing identity, and of others deceiving you about their identities, operates not only as an agency of plot but as the very texture of style.” (Corcoran, 169)
Within the context of the centrally located story is woven several others stories told by protagonists to one another with the purpose to retain their identity which they themselves had found in peril. Stella herself tells false story about her marriage to Roderick, as she wants him to believe that his father Victor was the abandoned party rather than she herself. She does so partly to increase the image of his dead father in the eyes of Roderick and secondly to make herself appear as a femme fatale instead of being a victim.
The impression of the war scene can very well be seen in one of the scenes where Harrison is standing in the street and the flames appearing from the distance are helping him to read Stella’s address mentioned on the envelop. The depiction of the fire has been made through the use of image chandelier: “the Chandelier flare makes the street like a mirrored drawing-room” (Bowen, 315). Inside the flat when the two characters are involved in the conversations, the sounds of guns can be heard seeming to be welcomed, as they made Stella to remain quite.
“The guns rested her by opening up once more” and soon they faded, “The guns, made fools of, died out again, askance” (Bowen, 319). The importance of war seems to be considered very less with Stella and Harrison being hardly aware of any danger. The language has been used in a very poetic way giving a vivid, lucid and a very realistic touch to the nature and the objects surrounding the characters. Bowen penetrates into the physical objects and events manifesting in the human behaviors and their dreams and missions.
With great subtlety, complexity and force, she is able to make characters come alive making them have real experience of the terrific upheavals of the warfare. Her prose is beautifully contrived to give meaning and depth to life experiences of the characters, which continues to follow us after the last page has been read and has been placed down. At many occasions, the scenes are shifted from war torn London to the peace and tranquility of the countryside. The difference is clearly seen between the country life in England around the Victorian hulk and in the neutral Ireland.
While reading it, we are made to remember about the blackouts, characters forgetting the names of the places during their train journey, continuous alike confusions between the friend and foe, and the direction to which war is taking in the passing years. Amidst this scenario lies the gripping version of the story of woman and the way she comes to term and understanding of the intolerable situations. In the first chapter itself, we are introduced to Harrison and his rude behavior towards woman who is trying to have a casual conversation with him.
From the second chapter onwards, we are introduced to the heroine and with that her ongoing situation of crises and dilemma she has to undergo and her interaction and influence of Harrison on her. Their relationship with each other cannot be judged very easily but when the scenes are read carefully then only the realization of the base on which they are building their terrible relationship is felt that even before Robert makes his entry. The relationship between Stella and her son Roderick is also very beautifully carved while he takes over the Irish inheritance.
On the other hand Robert’s mother and sister are both very confusing personalities making fuss all the time on whom Stella would never be able to leave good impression according to Robert. All the characters are very wonderfully drawn. There is also a scene where two women are sharing one apartment at the same time enjoying each other’s company and exchanging own tales of woes to each other. They contribute their bit in easing tension of the main protagonists. Amidst all the surviving lives of the protagonists, tensions ensue, as it becomes known that Robert is giving his support to the opponents.
His disillusionment with Dunkirk induces him to adopt the title of a traitor. Climactic is the reason given by Robert for this decision of his, and on the other hand wants to enlighten himself with the most meaningful future by the war ends. In the last chapter, we are introduced to Louie who is artless girl at the Bandstand. She is a widow as her husband succumbs to the vagaries of the war. She with her child now would like to spend rest of her life at the devastated seaside where she had spent all her life as a child. An essence of the reality being transferred can be felt by the way characters have been visualizing many places in the city.
All through the novel, Bowen has made special reference to the seasons, time and the lucid description of light. This aspect shows her creative spree in impressionistic technique. How the way Stella is mystified can very well be seen in the following scene: The two stations also, in Stella’s mind, became epitomes of the two most poignant seasons — in spring, in autumn everything telegraphs its mystery to your senses; nothing is trite. And more: in these years the idea of war made you see any peaceful scene as it were through glass (Bowen, 104). This passage is a manifestation of the transfer of reality in the form of metaphor.
With the help of the impressions and metaphors, Bowen gives vivid description of the city London after the bombardment. The whole city is broken with almost several of the landmarks lost. As critics said there is great exposure of irony in the fiction retold and the sense of solidity and individualization in characterization increase the credibility of the most sensuous fiction. Bowen has captured London with such a great dexterity and with greatest blitz that even after reading the whole novel, the memories of this wartime London would haunt the readers for a long time.