The House in Paris (1926)

by Elizabeth Bowen

As The House in Paris opens, two children arrive for a brief stopover in the Paris home of Mme Fisher. Henrietta, 11, is en route to her grandmother, an acquaintance of Mme Fisher. Leopold, 9, the foster child of an Italian family, is about to meet his birth mother, a friend of Mme Fisher’s daughter Naomi, for the first time. Just how central the Fishers were in Leopold’s story will become clear. Henrietta’s role in the novel is to interact with Leopold and observe the riddles of the house with the eyes of a child.

The beginning and ending sections of The House in Paris take place on a single day (“The Present” ). They bookend the middle section (“The Past”), which relates the backstory of how Leopold came to be. His British mother, Karen Michaelis, boarded with the Fishers in Paris. The bitter Mme Fisher wronged her own daughter and wrecked Max Ebhart, Naomi’s then fiancee. 

Blameworthy mothers, secrecy, disappointment, passion, lost innocence, identity — there are so many themes in this complex, nuanced novel, it needs to be read slowly and perhaps more than once.


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