The Little Girls, by Elizabeth Bowen

“What really expresses people? The things, I’m sure, that they have obsessions about: keep wearing or using, or fuss when they lose, or can’t go to sleep without. You know, a person’s only a person when they have some really raging peculiarity…”

–Dinah, The Little Girls (by Elizabeth Bowen)

I just finished reading this odd, unsettling, seemingly lightweight little book. If anything expresses its thesis, it might be the quote above–or the whole book might be about how things don’t express people. It’s a very British book, by which I mean it’s elliptical yet frank, and combines drawing-room comedy with gothic horror.

Am I defined by the things I’m obsessed with? (If this is true of course, then we are all simply defined by our iPhones and laptops.) Beyond those, I’m obsessed with: the scarf my husband got me in Italy back when we were just friends, perfect and shimmering and soft, because he promised me “something pretty,” and because he thought was pretty. The Battlestar Galactica pint glass I won by being one of the first two hundred people to buy some summer Battlestar special on DVD at Newbury Comics (so basically, I was one of the two hundred nerdiest people in Cambridge). The freaky stuffed tooth that giggles for ten minutes when you squeeze it, that my high school friends got me when I graduated, proving that after many friendless years I was not entirely alone in the world. The faux shearling jacket that I have had for nine years and almost lost by: leaving it at senior bar while drunk; leaving it in a cab while incredibly high; leaving it in an airport waiting room when I was jet-lagged; and countless other times, and seems to symbolize the good luck that comes to me despite my poor choices.

Dinah’s character is frivolous and weak, yet consumed with legacies and ideas, and this idea of objects defining people is perhaps inadequate in the same way her character is. I’d like, I think, to leave more of a legacy than these dear well-loved objects. But the objects are important, too.


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