A Literary Tour of London: Elizabeth Bowen's Marylebone

Amy Wakeham

Celebrated Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) is famed for her novels, short stories and ghost tales. Born in Ireland, Bowen moved to England with her mother in 1907. She was active as a writer between the 1920s and the 1960s, and is most well-known for capturing the spirit and essence of life of wartime London during the Second World War.

Bowen’s In The Heat of the Day (1948) is a novel which is located for much of the narrative in Marylebone. It follows the wartime experience of Stella Rodney and her lover Robert Kelway during the Blitz, as well as the interfering presence of Harrison, a British agent convinced that Robert is a German spy. Its themes revolve around the experience of the war, trust, betrayal, love and displacement.

The novel opens in Regent’s Park, located on the fringes of Marylebone, on ‘the first Sunday of September 1942’. The action within In The Heat of the Day revolves around the battered London landscape, partially destroyed by the heavy bombing of the Blitz. Stella’s own house, on the edge of the park, has been bombed, and so she exists now as a ‘camper in rooms of draughty dismantled houses’, drifting between apartments as the war slowly progresses.

The London in In The Heat of the Day – particularly Marylebone, around which much of the action revolves – is bruised and beaten. The psychological drama of living within a bombed-out city, amidst the threat of more bombings every night, is mirrored by the confusion and misapprehension felt by the characters at the centre of the plot, as they navigate a web of treachery, espionage and mistrust.
‘Out of mists of morning charred by the smoke from ruins each day rose to a height of unmisty glitter; between the last of sunset and first note of the siren the darkening glassy tenseness of evening was drawn fine. From the moment of waking you tasted the sweet autumn not less because of an acridity on the tongue and nostrils; and as the singed dust settled and smoke diluted you felt more and more called upon to observe the daytime as a pure and curious holiday from fear.’
Tension and fear are shown to be central to both life in London during the war, and the relationships of the characters with each other. It is suggested, however, as in the passage above, that such tension does not diminish sensory experience, but instead heightens it. The love that Stella and Robert have for one another is made vivid by their never truly knowing one another.

The impermanence of Stella’s home, and of life itself under the threat of the Blitz is also paralleled by Bowen’s portrayal of the dark glamour and giddy nature of life in London at the time:

‘The very temper of pleasures lay in their chanciness, in the canvaslike impermanence of their settings, in their being off-time—to and fro between bars and grills, clubs and each other’s places moved the little shoal through the noisy nights. Faces came and went. There was a diffused gallantry in the atmosphere, an unmarriedness: it came to be rumored that everybody in London was in love.’

Marylebone, with its grand faded houses half destroyed, is an apt setting for this war novel. The dusty, bombed streets provide the perfect backdrop to the glamour and treachery depicted within In The Heat of the Day. Bowen’s characters navigate the streets of London, forever caught between vivid life and violent death.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article