The Demon Lover


Elizabeth Bowen

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It is late August during the Second World War, and Kathleen Drover has returned to her house in London. She has come to collect items she will bring back to her family, who are currently living in the countryside to avoid bombings in the city. Inside, Mrs. Drover marvels at how deteriorated the house has become and how strange the once familiar setting now feels to her. As she makes her way upstairs, she sees a letter addressed to her on the hall table.

She is confused and irritated by the letter, and lists the reasons its being there doesn’t make sense. The letter’s sender informs Mrs. Drover that today is “our anniversary,” and refers to their imminent meeting “at the hour arranged.” Mrs. Drover becomes visibly shaken and goes to the mirror to study her own reflection, presumably in an attempt to calm herself, and then makes further attempts to ignore the letter and its effect on her by busying herself with the chest and its contents. These attempts, however, prove fruitless: as the clock begins to strike the hour, Mrs. Drover wonders if this is the hour the letter refers to. An intense flashback follows, during which the reader sees Mrs. Drover as a girl in the garden of her family home during the First World War. She is with a man who is older than her, and the reader realizes that this is her former fiancé, on leave from fighting in France. A key aspect of the flashback is Mrs. Drover’s desire to leave the company of her fiancé and run back toward the house and the safety of her mother and sister. The reader also learns that Mrs. Drover “behaved well” when her fiancé was later reported missing and presumed dead, but that she struggled to enter into relationships with other men and felt disconnected from everything for some time afterwards.

Returning to the present moment, Mrs. Drover has drawn some sinister conclusions from the appearance of the letter, specifically that it was somehow sent by her former fiancé, who believes she has made a promise to meet him at her home on this very day. As such, the house now poses an immediate threat: she is trapped inside while her old fiancé presumably looms ever closer. From this point in the story, Mrs. Drover becomes entirely fixated on escape, but her efforts are continually compromised by her inability to stay focused in the present moment. Eventually, she makes a plan to exit the house and find a taxi whose driver can return to the house with her to help her collect her belongings. Feeling emboldened, she goes to the top of the stairs and feels a draft coming up from the basement, as though someone has just left the house from that area, and she now dares to leave the house herself.

Outside, Mrs. Drover makes her way to the taxi rank, where she climbs into a taxi as the clock strikes seven. For a few moments, she believes herself safe. This initial belief is quickly upturned, however, as she realizes the driver has started driving without her telling him where she’s going. She tries to get his attention, and he responds by abruptly braking the car and turning around to face her. Mrs. Drover’s terrified response upon seeing his face suggests that she recognizes the man as her former fiancé, perhaps under some kind of supernatural influence. The reader understands that she is in jeopardy once more, a realization made all the more potent as she had believed herself safe at last. The story closes dramatically with Mrs. Drover screaming and beating on the windows of the taxi as she is abducted into London’s deserted streets.