Shock of white

I read Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day this past week, about which I can’t make up my mind. I was riveted, but there’s something odd and off-kilter about it, as if one were watching a filmed tour of a house and began to suspect that the cinematographer had faked every room, omitting and rearranging by means of camera angles and montage, leaving the viewer with the strong hunch that the real house had a layout completely different from the one the film had seemed to describe.

But that’s not what I’m blogging about, here. What I couldn’t resist was the heroine’s hair, which jumped out at me as Susan Sontag-ian avant la lettre. I did a quick Google search and discovered that the similarity has been remarked upon before. Scholar Neil Corcoran mentioned it, in passing, in a monograph on Bowen, only to have a critic named Sarah Savitt sternly take him to task in the pages of The Cambridge Quarterly for having made such a gratuitous, irrelevant observation. My sympathies are with Corcoran, I’m afraid. How could one read this and not think of Sontag?

She was young-looking—most because of the impression she gave of still being on happy sensuous terms with life. Nature had kindly given her one white dash, lock or wing in otherwise tawny hair; and that white wing, springing back from her forehead, looked in the desired sense artificial—other women asked her where she had had it done; she had become accustomed to being glanced at. That, but only that, about her was striking: her looks, after the initial glance, could grow on you; if you continued to know her, could seem even more to be growing for you. Her clothes fitted her body, her body her self, with a general air of attractiveness and ease.

“In the desired sense artificial”: I hear a Harold Bloom-ian wrestling of precursor versus epigone here. It’s as if Sontag herself had written the words.