The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen is an extremely fascinating story about a woman that encounters her past and loses her mind. The events in the story take place around 1941 during World War II. The story presents London after the Blitz, the bombardment that took place over the city in those times when Britain was heavily bombed by Nazi Germany. Mrs. Dower, the protagonist of the story, is depicted as coming up to her shut-up house one August day: “It was late August; it had been a steamy, showery day: at the moment the trees down the pavement glittered in an escape of humid yellow afternoon sun” (Kessler 83). This house is where the main events unfold. For most of the story, Mrs. Dower is the only character. The house serves as a reflection of her life; it is badly damaged, just like Mrs. Dower’s soul. The memories kept in this house become alive for her and she gives herself away to insanity. The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen has certain elements of a British Ballad The Daemon Lover; the most remarkable of these elements are the absent lover, an intervening marriage, and the lovers’ desire to return women who they once loved.
What should be mentioned above all, is that Bowen’s short story, just like the ballad, presents a woman whose lover has been absent from her life for the biggest part of it. In the case of Mrs. Dower, this was her fiancé whose name the story never disclosed. His letter is signed with only a “K.”, which is the most the readers know about him. Mrs. Dower’s fiancé “was reported missing, presumed killed” (Kessler 87) during World War I. It took much time for her to accept the situation and she got married only at the age of thirty-two. Similar events take place in the British ballad, The Daemon Lover, where a woman whose lover has disappeared once (though it is not mentioned how exactly), has returned and started enticing the already married woman to escape with him. The woman has doubts because she is afraid to leave her husband and her children, but the old lover has much to seduce her with: “I have seven ships upon the sea / The eighth brought me to land; / With marines and merchandise, / And music on every hand” (Pocock 27). Therefore, a lover that has been either lost or abandoned long ago is one of the elements taken by Bowen from the British ballad.
Another element that has been borrowed by Bowen from The Daemon Lover is the intervening marriage. The women in both the stories have been married when the old lovers have come back. For instance, Mrs. Dower has long been waiting for her fiancé to return and it was difficult for her to find a husband afterward: “She did not reject other lovers, for these failed to appear: for years she failed to attract men – and with the approach of her thirties she became natural enough to share her family’s anxiousness on this score” (Kessler 88). This is why her marriage with Mr. Dover was so valuable for her. The element of intervening marriage is also present in the ballad under consideration. Though in this story the female character did not have such a tragic life before her marriage, she still seems happy to live with her husband and proud of being married: “For I become a wife” (Pocock 26). The marriage of both these women is an obstacle for the old lovers who have returned. Moreover, they both value their families and have children who they are reluctant to leave. Thus, Bowen uses intervening marriage as one more element from the British ballad The Daemon Lover.
The final element borrowed from the ballad in question is the desire of the lovers who have returned to take the women with them. This element, however, has been used by Bowen differently than it is presented in the ballad. Perhaps, the main distinction lies in the time that passed since the lovers disappeared. In the case of Mrs. Dower, her ex-fiancé was absent for twenty-five years, whereas in the ballad this period is described as “long seven years and more” (Pocock 25). Besides, Mrs. Dower seems to value her marriage more; this is connected with the fact that she is grateful to her husband for saving her from remaining an old maid. This is the reason why she tried to leave the house by the time when her ex-fiancé promised to come in the letter. The woman from the ballad, however, wondered what the old lover could offer her to compensate for the family she was about to abandon: “If I was to leave my husband dear / And my wee young son also, / O what have ye to take me to, / If with you I should go?” (Pocock 27). After discovering that the returned lover possessed huge wealth, the woman abandoned her family with almost no sorrow, for which she was punished later. This shows that, though Bowen borrowed this element from the ballad, she used it differently and made her female protagonist more loyal and conscientious.
Taking all this into consideration, it may be concluded that three elements of the ballad The Daemon Lover have been used by Elizabeth Bowen in her story The Demon Lover. The first element is an absent lover; the female characters of both the stories have lost lovers long ago. Another element borrowed is the intervening marriage; the women in these stories had been married when their lovers returned. The final element is the desire of the lovers to bring their beloved ones back. All these elements have been slightly modified by Bowen, especially the third one the modification of which resulted in changing the end of the story in the case with Bowen’s The Demon Lover. Thus, though these two stories have similar elements, they are used differently, which makes the stories not alike.
Kessler, Joan. Night Shadows: Twentieth-Century Stories of the Uncanny. New Hampshire: David R. Godine Publisher, 2001.
Pocock, Guy N. Ballads and Ballad Poems. London: READ BOOKS, 2007.