The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen
In The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen we have the theme of conflict, fear, commitment, control and innocence. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Bowen may be exploring the theme of conflict. Kathleen after reading the letter realises that her past has caught up with her. Despite the passing of time (twenty five years) K. appears to have returned and is suggesting that Kathleen honour her promise to marry him. What is interesting about Kathleen’s original commitment to K. is that she was a teenager at the time and did not really mean what she said. The reader aware through the narrator that Kathleen did not love K. However it may be a case that Bowen is suggesting that with a promise comes consequences. Consequences that Kathleen twenty five years later has to face. If anything Kathleen is afraid. She did not know that K. was still alive nor has she any intention of meeting him. However this does not stop Kathleen’s anxiety. With clarity she can remember the last time that she spoke to K. What is also interesting is that the reader feels a sense of allegiance to Kathleen when K. asks Kathleen is she cold.
In many ways this could be symbolism for Kathleen’s relationship with K. Though as readers we only get a brief insight into the relationship. There is no feelings of love between either Kathleen or K. Also the fact that Kathleen was only a teenager at the time helps her cause in many ways. She would not necessarily have known what love was and may have been desperate for male attention. Something that is clearer to the reader by the fact that after K.’s departure and assumed death. Kathleen longed for male company but none was forthcoming till she met her husband. The setting of the story may also be important as the chaos that occurred in WWII mirrors the chaos that Kathleen feels in her life after reading the letter. Just as the bombing of London would have been unwelcome. So too is K.’s letter to Kathleen. If anything the letter has brought a disruption to Kathleen’s life. She not only has to recall her insincerity when it comes to her promise to K. but she may also realise that K. might not have ever let her go. Though Kathleen has moved on with her life and should not be punished for something that occurred (the promise) when she is so young. She still nonetheless is disturbed by what is happening.
Kathleen promised to commit herself to K. and now he is looking for the commitment to be fulfilled. Even though it is practically impossible for Kathleen to do so due to the fact that she has not only moved on but is married with children. Her heart does not belong to K. even though she foolishly made a commitment to him. It is also possible that Bowen is suggesting that K. wishes to control Kathleen by reminding her of her promise to him. It might also be important that just as Kathleen never loved K. Similarly there is no sense that K. actually loves Kathleen. The brief encounter between the two that the reader gets an insight into does not suggest a close affectionate or loving bond between both Kathleen and K. In reality it is unrealistic and selfish of K. to hold Kathleen to a commitment she made twenty five years ago when she was still a teenager. It is also noticeable that Kathleen did not really know K.’s family. If anything she felt no real connection with them nor did Kathleen spend an extended period in grief. Something that one would expect from a person who is supposed to love another person.
The end of the story is also interesting as by having Kathleen screaming in the taxi cab. Bowen manages to highlight just how anxious, frightened and angry Kathleen is. A man who she would not recognise is staking a claim to her heart without her permission. Based solely on Kathleen’s naivety or innocence when she was younger. Something which would further play on the theme of control. If anything Kathleen’s life has changed dramatically. She is being forced into something that she is not a willing participant too. Though she may never marry K. the fact that he has come back into her life twenty five years later suggests that K. will not be prepared to simply walk away from Kathleen. Even if she is married and has children. He is sure to resurface at another time and bring further disruption to Kathleen’s life. Something that Kathleen may be fully conscious of as she is sitting in the taxi cab. Despite the passing of time Kathleen knows that she will not be able to forget about K. or what she has promised him. In reality Kathleen is left facing a very real and personal war.