Date

6-2-2020

Description

Elizabeth Bowen’s 1941 short story “Look at All Those Roses” is a terrifying masterwork: in the middle of Britain’s modern(ist) malaise, a tired couple enters the Mather home, a rose-enshrouded cottage with a disturbing mother-daughter pair harboring a dreadful secret. Remaining behind while Edward, her partner, seeks a car mechanic, Lou becomes detached from her relationship and begins a psychic spiral inwards that leads to her renouncing life itself—until, of course, Edward returns to rescue her. While the plot of “Look at All Those Roses” is steeped in Gothic tradition and primordial myths, something more fundamental structures this story’s chilling plot: the horrible truth that, whether in the world of adult romantic relations or lodged in the perverse Mather family, Lou cannot find a stable, affirming way to construct her identity. As she tries to inhabit different social roles—lover, child, and even father—Lou discovers that neither running from herself nor digging in deeper can solve her crisis. In this fundamental critique of femininity, “Look at All Those Roses” reveals that whether in society or out of it, Lou as a woman can never be a whole, independent person. By first situating the world of “Look at All Those Roses” within the broader scope of Bowen’s canon, then delving into the story’s organizing principles of “escape,” “retreat,” and gender confusion, this paper explores the true horror suffusing Bowen’s work, as well as the “white circle” on the margins and at the center of modern life.

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Jun 2nd, 12:00 AM

The White Circle: Womanhood in Elizabeth Bowen’s “Look at All Those Roses”

Elizabeth Bowen’s 1941 short story “Look at All Those Roses” is a terrifying masterwork: in the middle of Britain’s modern(ist) malaise, a tired couple enters the Mather home, a rose-enshrouded cottage with a disturbing mother-daughter pair harboring a dreadful secret. Remaining behind while Edward, her partner, seeks a car mechanic, Lou becomes detached from her relationship and begins a psychic spiral inwards that leads to her renouncing life itself—until, of course, Edward returns to rescue her. While the plot of “Look at All Those Roses” is steeped in Gothic tradition and primordial myths, something more fundamental structures this story’s chilling plot: the horrible truth that, whether in the world of adult romantic relations or lodged in the perverse Mather family, Lou cannot find a stable, affirming way to construct her identity. As she tries to inhabit different social roles—lover, child, and even father—Lou discovers that neither running from herself nor digging in deeper can solve her crisis. In this fundamental critique of femininity, “Look at All Those Roses” reveals that whether in society or out of it, Lou as a woman can never be a whole, independent person. By first situating the world of “Look at All Those Roses” within the broader scope of Bowen’s canon, then delving into the story’s organizing principles of “escape,” “retreat,” and gender confusion, this paper explores the true horror suffusing Bowen’s work, as well as the “white circle” on the margins and at the center of modern life.