The Macksey Journal


Elizabeth Bowen’s 1941 short story “Look at All Those Roses” is a terrifying masterwork: in the middle of Britain’s modern(ist) malaise, a tired couple enters the Mather home, a rose-enshrouded cottage with a disturbing mother-daughter pair and a dreadful secret. Remaining behind while Edward, her partner, seeks a car mechanic, Lou becomes detached from her relationship and begins a psychic spiral inwards that leads to her renouncing life itself—until, of course, Edward returns to rescue her. While the plot of “Look at All Those Roses” is steeped in Gothic tradition and primordial myths, something more fundamental structures this story’s chilling plot: the horrible truth that, whether in the world of adult romantic relations or lodged in the perverse Mather family, Lou cannot find a stable, affirming way to construct her identity. As she tries to inhabit different social roles—lover, child, and even father—Lou discovers that neither running from herself nor digging in deeper can solve her crisis. In this fundamental critique of femininity, “Look at All Those Roses” reveals that whether in society or out of it, Lou as a woman can never be a whole, independent person, caught between the “white circles” on the margins and at the center of modern life.