Places: The House in Paris

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1935

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Post-World War I

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Fisher house

*Fisher House in Paris, Thehouse. Parisian home of Naomi Fisher and her mother; the house of the novel’s title and the place in which the main action of the first and third parts of the novel unfolds. It is here that eleven-year-old Henrietta Mountjoy meets Leopold Moody. The house, in its narrow and confining way with its “thin frame,” “tight blinds” and air of sternness, suggests the secrets concerning Leopold’s parentage and the adults’ passions against which the two children struggle for a sense of their own understanding and identities. The presence of the dying Madame Fisher in her upstairs room emphasizes the need for the children to be quiet–a need reflecting the effect of the past’s secrecy on the present.

The unfamiliarity of the house to both Henrietta and Leopold provides a visual context for the situation in which the children find themselves. Both are feeling their way through unfamiliar territory. Henrietta, whose mother has died and whose father has sent her to spend time with her grandmother in Mentone, is visiting the Paris house during a stopover before another chaperon accompanies her on the next leg of her journey. Leopold, who has traveled from Spezia, is anxiously awaiting a meeting with Karen Michaelis, the natural mother whom he has never seen. Although the children are unaware of it, Miss Fisher and her dying mother are deeply connected to Leopold’s past, as is the house itself.

The events that occur in this house have great meaning, particularly to Leopold. In earlier days Madame Fisher provided rooms in this house for English and American girls undergoing a finishing-school experience in France. It was here that Karen, as a young girl, was first infatuated with Max Ebhart, who later became engaged to Miss Fisher.

*Rushbrook

*Rushbrook. Irish town that is home to Karen’s Aunt Violet and Uncle Bill. Their house and the adults in it suggest the possible entrapment of life that both children have yet to unravel. For Karen this house, too, seems like a stopover between her life with her parents and her coming marriage to Ray.

Mony’s Restaurant

Mony’s Restaurant. Dark, chilly restaurant in Boulogne, France, where Max and Karen eat. The fact that Max has “known” the restaurant before, presumably with other women, makes it even darker for Karen. Their meeting and conversation there parallel some of the confusion of Henrietta and Leopold about their own history, sexuality, and personal identity. Max and Karen share very little before they meet at the restaurant, but there they plan their second meeting where Leopold will be conceived and where they will create their own shared history in him.

BibliographyAustin, Allan E. Elizabeth Bowen. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Good introduction that discusses Bowen’s style, syntax, use of narrative voice, and evocative settings. Analyzes the theme, character, and setting of The House in Paris and argues that Ray is the novel’s value center. Helpful annotated bibliography.Jordan, Heather Bryant. How Will the Heart Endure?: Elizabeth Bowen and the Landscape of War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992. Discusses the importance of Bowen’s uniquely Anglo-Irish background and its influence on her writing, examining her use of the term race to describe national or cultural characteristics, among them the ideal of the Big House in Anglo-Ireland and the provincialism of the English middle class, which is represented by the Michealises.Kenney, Edwin, Jr. Elizabeth Bowen. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1974. Good introduction to The House in Paris that discusses Bowen’s use of structure to express the theme of separation between child and adult. Also provides detailed analysis of setting and character.Lassner, Phyllis. Elizabeth Bowen. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1990. Excellent introduction to The House in Paris, providing interesting critical evaluation from a feminist perspective. Discusses narrative structure, character, setting, and theme, noting Karen’s ambivalence toward traditional home and family values.Lee, Hermione. Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1981. Asserts that the journeys that structure The House in Paris also reveal theme, subject, and character development. Analyzes the relationship between identity and time, noting contrasting speeds and pace of time in the novel’s three sections. Discusses Bowen’s blending of gothic suspense, melodrama, comedy, and documentary realism.
Categories: Places