Elizabeth Bowen - "The Demon Lover" and "Mysterious Kôr" as stories of suspens and stories of war

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

30 Pages, Grade: 2.0 (B)


Table of content


The Demon Lover

Mysterious Kôr


Vorschlag zu einer Unterrichtseinheit zu Elizabeth Bowens Kurzgeschichten “The Demon Lover” und “Mysterious Kôr” in der Oberstufe
Lesson 1: Elements of the short story and definition of the short story
Lesson 2: Pre-reading activity: London in the Blitz and a definition for suspense
Lesson 3: Introduction of “The Demon Lover” and Elizabeth Bowen as a writer
Lesson 4: Finish the presentations of the groups and post- reading activity: “The Demon Lover” poem
Lesson 5: “Mysterious Kôr”
Lesson 6: Conclusion and Comparison

Appendix A: Elements of Short Stories
I. Plot - series of related events that make up a story
II. Four types of characterization - techniques the writer uses to develop character
III. Themes of literature/Analyzing characters
IV. Setting/Description

Appendix B: How to Read a Short Story
Terms to Know

Appendix C: The London Blitz,

Appendix D: The Daemon Lover



Elizabeth Bowen is a well-known author of the twentieth century. Among her biggest success are the novels The Death of the Heart and The Heat of the Day but also some of her short stories won fame in world literature of the last century. Many of her novels and short stories include important elements concerning the Second World War, especially London during the Blitz. Bowen herself worked as an air raid precautious warden during World War II when German bombers regularly attacked London. Her stories successfully try to capture life under this stressful and often frustrating situation of war. She focuses on the different ways ordinary people try to cope with the dread of devastation and the loss of family and friends. In many of her stories she emphasizes that this was a special time in wartime London: “[...] in wartime many people had strange deep intense dreams“[1]. “The Demon Lover”, one of her most famous short stories, and “Mysterious Kôr” are part of “The War Years” stories in Elizabeth Bowen Collected Stories[2]. Both tales count to those stories, which are temporarily situated during wartime London. The following essay focuses on “The Demon Lover” as a story of suspense and gives a portrait of an unhappy woman, who perishes on the two World wars. “Mysterious Kôr” is also a story of suspense, not in a classical threatening, but in a positive sense. It shows how people in a situation of war helped themselves by means of dreams, to at least grant their souls some shelter.

The Demon Lover

Many elements within “The Demon Lover” point out that we are dealing with an excellent story of suspense. There are various definitions found in literature about what makes a story suspenseful. Morris defines it as “[...] the building of a particular type of nervous tension.”[3] and Cuddon talks about “A state of uncertain, anticipation and curiosity as to the outcome of a story or play, or any kind of narrative in verse or prose [...].”[4] Both definitions emphasize that stories of suspense let the reader create his/her own feeling of tension. The tension is rising until the end, which leaves the reader without clear solutions and keeps him in suspense. As a writer of suspense Bowen backs on “tension-laden atmosphere”[5] which supports the subtle character of this story of horror and suspense.

Bowen follows the tradition of the Gothic Novel in a modified and modern form. The Gothic Novel is defined as “A type of romance very popular from the 1790’s onwards until the 1820s. It has had a considerable influence on fiction since (still apparent in the 1990s) and is of much importance in the evolution of the ghost story and the horror story [...] Most Gothic novels are tales of mystery and horror, intended to chill the spine and curdle the blood. They contain a strong element of the supernatural [...].”[6] The supernatural element is dominant in “The Demon Lover”, although it mainly emphasizes the hidden theme of war. In this horror tale the supernatural and hidden truth merge into one story.

Bowen begins “The Demon Lover” with a description of the streets in wartime London. The reader experiences the emptiness when the protagonist, Kathleen Drover, traverses a deserted street to visit her family’s town house. The unpleasant weather situation supports the sinister situation, which subliminally raises the tension in the reader: “It is a steamy showery day”, “next batch of clouds, already piling up ink-dark” (661). In the flow of the text the weather changes are described meticulously, as the weather worsens the situation for the protagonist becomes more and more hopeless. The weather functions as a mirror of the situation, but also raises the tension in the reader.

Before Kathleen Drover enters the house Bowen uses further elements to raise the level of suspense: “[...] a cat wove itself in and out off railings” (661). Cats are mysterious creatures and often play an important role in fairy tales, but they also appear in modern stories and are often in connection with the evil. Further on it is stated that “no human eye watched Mrs Drover’s return”, which metaphorically means, nobody saw her returning to her house, but behind that a subliminal possibility is offered that something inhuman could watch her. This element is typical for stories of this genre. In this case the author chooses very subtle and ambiguous hints to leave the reader undecided. As the protagonist now enters the house “dead air came out to meet her” (661). This quote appears equivocal: obviously it is not surprising that a vacant house is filled with “dead air”. But behind this natural effect a hidden meaning that somebody “not alive” might be in the house is offered to the reader. These ambiguous statements raise the tension and the reader is kept in suspense.

On the hall table Kathleen Drover finds the mysterious letter, which is addressed to her. But there is no natural explanation she can think of, how the letter got on the table. As she now takes it upstairs with her the change of the weather conditions again supports the mysterious situation. “The sun had gone in”, “the clouds sharpened and lowered” and “the trees and rank laws seemed already in smoke with dark” (662) describe the unpleasant world outside. As it gets darker outside the situation gets darker for Kathleen. When the reader is told who the letter writer is, the weather is mentioned again: “as rain began to come crashing down [...]” (662).

Kathleen’s ex-fiancé is the author of the mysterious letter. His place in Kathleen’s life is demonstrated by means of a flashback to Kathleen’s youth. These reminiscences reveal a heartless young soldier with whom Kathleen had been engaged during the First World War and show their unbalanced relationship, e.g. “[...] he was cold not sensitive at all. She had not even completely seen his face” (663). A further very shocking memory she was to carry away is the scar on her hand: “[...] a hand, which he each time pressed, without very much kindness, and painfully, on to one of the breast buttons of his uniform. That cut of the button on the palm of her hand was, principally what she was to carry away” (663). This scar, she still has on her hand, appears to be a mark. Instead of an engagement ring she received this scar as a sign for the unnatural bond of their ‘love’. All these memories accumulate and the reader recognizes him as the Demon Lover. “Being not kissed, being drawn away from and looked at intimidated Kathleen till she imagined spectral glitters in the place of his eyes” (663). This imagination of spectral glitters creates a demon or ghost-like creature in the mind of the reader and reveals Kathleen’s fears.

She tried to repress and forget these memories over the last 25 years, but now they are starting to torture her again. Kathleen never felt well in his company but promised to wait for him and marry him. “[...] she already felt that unnatural promise drive down between her and the rest of all human kind” (663 -4). She felt that something was not as it should be but then at this time, she was young and too naive when she gave him the “unnatural promise”(663) to wait for him. After all these years she knows that it was a mistake and that their relationship did not base on love at all. But there still seems to be a bond between them. She gave him a promise she did not keep, a “sinister troth“ (664). This troth has accompanied her all those years.

With all these comments the reader is able to imagine the man as a dark creature with glittering eyes who forced the young and innocent girl to agree to a troth and give him a promise she would never keep voluntarily.

Returning to the present Kathleen gets very nervous and feels the urge to leave the house. It is questioned by her if the letter writer is a living or dead person, e.g. “As things were-dead or living the letter writer sent her only a threat” (664). When she goes out in the hall she listens, she can hear nothing but she can feel a draft: “down there a door or window was being opened by someone who chose this moment to leave the house” (666). By this statement the narrator tries to give the certainty that Kathleen is not hallucinating.

In the following paragraph the author uses again the element ‘weather’ to support the suspense, e.g., “The rain had stopped” (666). This relieves the situation at first sight, because the weather worsened until the climax, and now the weather settles down. But the stopping of the rain appears more like the calm before the storm, e.g., “the silence was so intense” (666) and the tension reaches the climax: “only one taxi ¾ be alertly waiting for her“ (666). This foreshadows the end, Kathleen’s sentence has been pronounced. She is obsessed to reach the taxi in order to escape her tormentor, but runs into his arms. She has never had a chance to escape from him; her life was doomed to him because she gave him the unnatural promise. As she enters the taxi she feels save for a moment. “The clock struck seven” (666), the foreboding in the letter, of the hour arranged, is now resolved. The end leaves the reader with Mrs Drover’s horror; she is kept in the taxi together with the Demon Lover. There is no final solution, the end is left open in a suspenseful way: ”[…] as the taxi accelerating without mercy, made off with her into the hinterland of deserted streets” (666).

The story of suspense underlies a second hidden meaning. This further dimension reveals the portrait of an unhappy and distracted woman whose life has been influenced by the two World Wars. An experience she is not able to cope with. The two wars she witnessed have left marks and memories she could not digest. On this level of the tale the horrors of war are revealed.

In the sequel of the story the focus goes on Kathleen Drover. The house seems to mirror Kathleen’s fragile personality and unhappy life. In the first paragraph a description of the living room is given. Underlying this obvious description of a war shaken house the reader uncovers Kathleen’s shaken personality and her “prosaic” (662) life with Mr Drover. As she enters a room it “perplexes herself” (662). The “yellow smoke-stain”, “the ring left by the vase left on top of the escritoire”, “The bruise in the wall [...]” (661) show the marks as they appear in a house, which a family has been living in for some years. As mentioned above they also describe Kathleen herself, her visible stains and bruises. With this remark the comparison on Kathleen becomes even more evident. The use of the word “bruise” supports this ambiguous meaning, as it is usually used for injuries and not for damaged objects. The reader is told about her rather unhappy marriage. “In this house the years piled up” (664). She married Mr Drover because she had to, “She failed to attract men” (664). Moreover it is revealed that Kathleen has a nervous tick since the birth of her youngest son. These remarks stress her shaken psychological state. Kathleen has always had a weak personality and did not bear challenges very easily.

Furthermore, the two World Wars the protagonist experienced play a significant role in this tale. The Demon Lover can be seen as a connection between the two wars. Kathleen’s ex-fiancé is the central point of her memories of the First World War and has influenced her whole life. Kathleen was traumatized, since he did not return from the war, although he promised to come back. It is stated that she could never bear his loss in all those years, but it becomes obvious that it is her guilty conscience, because she didn’t keep the promise to wait for him, and not a real feeling towards this sadistic person. He did not really love her, but made her promise to wait for him under the pressure of pain. “[…] he each time pressed, without very much kindness, and painfully, on to one of the breast buttons of his uniform” (663). As Kathleen has a fragile personality, she cannot deal with the fact that she did not keep the promise. After some years she marries Mr Drover and begins to live a “normal” life, but she has never surmounted her experience with her first fiancé. Twenty-five years later in the Second World War, he steps into her life and seizes her again. The bombed city and her slightly torn house might remind her of the last war and with that of her ex-fiancé. The Demon Lover personifies war in her mind. Kathleen cannot fight against this superiority, her experiences made her too weak, she cannot escape. Whom does Kathleen flee from at the end is open for many interpretations. It could be her incarnate fiancé, who found her after 25 years; it could be the Demon Lover, the fiancé’s ghost-like appearance, or the war she is fleeing from. It might also be mostly a panic, a fear of war personified in her ex-fiancé, the Demon Lover or a hallucination of her own mind.

In “The Demon Lover” Bowen has interlocked two stories in one, therefore the story leaves much space for interpretations. On the surface “The Demon Lover” is a convincing story of suspense. But a closer look reveals it as a story of war. The existing suspense emphasizes the underlying psychological story of an unhappy woman who cannot deal with the situation of war. Both parts of the story are interwoven and complement one another. The story of suspense is described with many elements of this genre, the supernatural element takes in a prior place as the demon lover himself. Moreover the description of the weather raises the tension as well as many ambiguous statements. The war story, covered by the suspense, shows the moral dilemma of a woman against her ex-fiancé and at the same time her sufferings under the war situation. The blitzed London and her war-damaged house remind her of her cruel and mysterious ex-lover who was a soldier in the First World War. On the one hand she has a guilty conscience because of him because she promised to wait for him, but married somebody else. On the other hand she fears him, because of a certain brutality against her. She has been in this dilemma for 25 years but under the circumstances of the Second World War her memories revive. Her fears intensify when she receives the letter and Kathleen finally panics when she sees her ex-lover in the taxi-driver.

Kathleen has suffered her whole life under her experiences with her fiancé in the First World War. He evolves into the synonym of war in her mind. Her recent experiences in the blitzed London allow all these memories to reappear again.


[1] Elizabeth Bowen, The Demon Lover & Other Stories (London: Jonathan Cape, 1945) Preface.

[2] Hermione Lee, Elizabeth Bowen Collected Stories (London: Vintage Random House, 1999).

[3] J.A. Morris, “Elizabeth Bowen’s Stories of Suspense,” Twentieth-Century Suspense. The Thriller comes of age, ed. Clive Bloom (New York: St. Martin’s,1990) 114.

[4] J.A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary terms and Literary Theory (Cambridge MA: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1991) 379.

[5] Morris 124.

[6] Cuddon 381.

Excerpt out of 30 pages


Elizabeth Bowen - "The Demon Lover" and "Mysterious Kôr" as stories of suspens and stories of war
Saarland University  (Institute for Anglistics, American Studies and Anglophone Cultures)
Literature Advanced Seminar
2.0 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
578 KB
Elizabeth, Bowen, Demon, Lover, Mysterious, Literature, Advanced, Seminar
Quote paper
Nicole Horenburg (Author), 2002, Elizabeth Bowen - "The Demon Lover" and "Mysterious Kôr" as stories of suspens and stories of war, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/22164


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