The Mysterious Kor by Elizabeth Bowen, 1942
The magic trick:
Showing two women’s desire for an imaginary happiness
Early in the story, Pepita talks to Arthur about her dreams of mysterious Kor, the forsaken city of a poem she quotes. I thought, “Oh, OK, this is nice. Very romantic. During wartime, a nice escape dream for a young couple.” I figured that was the crux of the story. And in some ways I was right. But little did I know that Bowen was about to double down on the Kor metaphor.
Callie, too, – Pepita’s virginal roommate – lives in her own version of the Kor dream. She filters her fears and lusts through Pepita and Arthur’s relationship, escaping life vicariously through them.
As a result, what began seemingly as a war-torn romance story becomes a very dark, misty, somber, resonant story about an entire generation, an entire country, caught in the tragedy of war. And that’s quite a trick on Bowen’s part.
“Don’t be cross about Kor; please don’t, Arthur,” she said.
“I thought girls thought about people.”
“What, these days?” she said. “Think about people? How can anyone think about people if they’ve got any heart? I don’t know how other girls manage: I always think about Kor.”
“Not about me?” he said. When she did not at once answer, he turned her hand over, in anguish, inside his grasp. “Because I’m not there when you want me – is that my fault?”
“But to think about Kor is to think about you and me.”
“In that dead place?”
“No, ours – we’d be alone here.”