Mysterious Kor by Elizabeth Bowen

Mysterious Kor by Elizabeth Bowen

Mysterious Kor by Elizabeth Bowen means a lot of different things to different people. I’ve read that the whole story is set in some kind of purgatory, I’ve read that none of it is real and that it’s happening in one of the character’s imaginations and I’ve read that the main character of the story is the moon.

I can see where all of these points begin to make sense but for me, what happens in this story is to be taken at face value.

Arthur has just come back from the war and is walking down London’s streets with his girlfriend, Pepita. They are on their way back to Pepita’s apartment which she shares with her virginal roommate, Callie.

The reason I gave this short story two stars is because it is so darn confusing. I read this short story about ten times and still came no closer to what Bowen was trying to tell us. It left me feeling exasperated and dumb.

What I managed to get from it was this: Kor is a place which Pepita has took from a poem and Kor is an imaginary place where Pepita imagines a perfect life for her and Arthur. A perfect life which is away from the bomb-ridden streets of London during wartime. Kor is Pepita’s ‘safe-place’, her ‘white-space’, the place in her mind which she can go to if things get too rough.

The character of Callie was even more confusing. She is a character who is living out her life through the romance of Pepita and Arthur; the moonlight is her version of Pepita’s ‘Kor’. The moonlight to Callie is something that can spark imagination and can make you feel pure. Bowen uses the moon as a symbol of how three different people have three different ideas of what their ‘safe-space’ is like.


“This war shows we’ve by no means come to the end. If you can blow whole places out of existence, you can blow whole places into it.”
– Elizabeth Bowen, Mysterious Kor

Bowen also uses Mysterious Kor to show us how war inconveniences the lives of three people and how they cope with the situations that war-time puts them in and through Pepita’s point of view: if a place like Kor can exist, then there must be hope for London to rebuild itself into a land of hopes and dreams.

For me, the characters fell flat and the storyline seemed pointless.

I can understand why people would find this short story entertaining because it’s a story that sounds so much more like a poem with its beautiful imagery. Bowen’s description of London and Kor as a place was amazing and proves that she is the amazing writer that she always has been. But to me, it felt like something that was too complicated to understand. If there’re two or three meanings to a story then that is fine, but once a story has handfuls of meanings, it can become silly, like the author didn’t know what they wanted their story to be about.

Have you read Mysterious Kor? What did you think? Leave a comment below! I would love to hear your opinions on it.


Side Note: I read this story in my anthology of The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories (edited by Malcolm Bradbury).


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