Innocence and Experience
In “Day in the Dark,” Bowen presents a version of the conflict between innocence and experience. The innocents in the story are not necessarily pure, and the experienced become sinister. Barbie arrives at Miss Banderry’s with an innocent heart, firmly believing that her love for her uncle is above reproach. But during her conversation with Miss Banderry, she begins to view her uncle and his relationship with her as well as others as potentially “dangerous.” Miss Banderry is a “formidable reader” of human nature. She immediately understands that Barbie’s uncle has sent his niece to gain a favor from her and that Barbie has played a part in this deceptive game. Barbie willingly agrees to deceive Miss Banderry with her offering of roses because she is trying to protect her uncle, with whom she has fallen in love. After listening to Miss Banderry’s insinuations about the nature of Barbie’s relationship with her uncle, Barbie becomes defensive, asserting to herself that she has no reason to feel guilty about it. Part of the narrative suggests that there has been no physical contact between Barbie and her uncle, but Barbie admits that the two of them “played house together on the margin of a passion which was impossible.
Miss Banderry introduces Barbie into the adult world of sexuality with her intimations concerning her own relationship with Barbie’s uncle. Miss Banderry is also guilty of deceit as Barbie catches her “dealing the lie to me like a card” when she accepts the roses and reports that she has heard good things about Barbie. Miss Banderry, Barbie claims, “took a long voluptuous sniff at [the roses], as though deceiving herself as to their origin— showing me she knew how to play the game.” The game becomes more sinister as Miss Banderry talks about Barbie’s uncle, calling him both a “brute” and “my lord,” and complaining about “what blows in off his dirty land.” Ironically, while she is trying to assert her influence over Barbie’s uncle, Miss Banderry is warning the girl about the dangers women face in their relationships with men.
Barbie feels a sense of betrayal after she leaves Miss Banderry’s and sees her uncle at the hotel, which appears to confirm Miss Banderry’s dark vision of him. Barbie has sacrificed her innocence in the process as she “sacrificed a hair ribbon to tie the roses.” She sees her uncle as “all carriage and colouring” when he is “finished with the hotel.” By the end of the story, she has discovered that “he was not a lord, only a landowner.” Barbie swears twice that she feels no guilt about her relationship with her uncle. Yet she admits feeling that people are spying on her, which seems to contradict her assertion. Before she arrives at Miss Banderry’s house, she imagines that the vines on the terrace “leaned on the balustrade spying down upon [her], or so [she] thought.” This initial sense of guilt may be a result of her involvement in her uncle’s deceitful game with Miss Banderry.
After her visit with Miss Banderry, however, Barbie’s guilt emerges from a darker source: her reexamination of her relationship with her uncle. She feels Nan watching her walk down the street to the hotel where her uncle is. As she walks, she insists, “people started to come to the shop doors in order to look at me in amazement. They knew who I was and where he was. . . . They speculated.” As she looks for the bus to take her home, she feels that the people watching her are wondering, “what Read over the passages in which Barbie describes the landscape of Moher. Write a poem or a short sketch describing a scene in nature and your own or a character’s emotional response to it.
Read Bowen’s “The Demon Lover” and compare its themes to those of “A Day in the Dark.” Bowen lived in a “big house” much like the one occupied by Miss Banderry. Investigate the history of the region of Moher to get a sense of the changes that occurred that would have affected Miss Banderry. How do you think a woman like her would have lived before her family lost the milling business? How do you think this loss affected her? Use details from the story to back up your views.
Bowen had a difficult childhood as she continually moved from house to house and she eventually lost both her mother and father. Read biographical materials on her to determine whether you see any autobiographical details in the story. Do you think she would identify more with Barbie or with Miss Banderry? should be wanting to catch the bus for?” Barbie longs to escape to the innocence of her past but she recognizes that the bus that would have taken her there is now “out of reach,” and so she allows her uncle to help her into his car.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Elizabeth Bowen, Published by Gale Group, 2010