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Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)
Andrew Bennett & Nicholas Royle, Elizabeth Bowen and the Dissolution of the Novel: Still Lives (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1995), 181pp. CHAPS.: Foreword; Acknowledgements; List of Abbreviations; Introduction; Abeyances: The Hotel and The Last September; Shivered: To the North and Friends and Relations; Fanatic Immobility:The House in Paris; Dream Wood: The Death of the Heart; Sheer Kink: The Heat of the Day; Obelisk: A World of Love; Trance: The Little Girls; Convulsions: Eva Trout; Index.
Susan Osborn [Rutgers U.], ed., Elizabeth Bowen: New Critical Perspectives (Cork UP 2009), 256pp. CONTENTS. 1. Sinéad Mooney, ‘Unstable Compounds: Bowen’s Beckettian Affinities’; 2. Osborn, ‘How to Measure this Unaccountable Darkness Between the Trees: The Strange Relation of Style and Meaning in The Last September’; 3. Eluned Summers-Bremner, ‘Dead Letters and Living Things: Historical Ethics in The House in Paris and The Death of the Heart’; 4. June Sturrock, ‘Mumbo-jumbo: The Haunted World of The Little Girls’; 5. Shannon Wells-Lassagne, ‘She-ward Bound: Elizabeth Bowen as a Sensationalist Writer’; 6. Shafquat Towheed, ‘Territory, Space, Modernity: Elizabeth Bowen’s The Demon Lover and Other Stories and Wartime London’; 7. Brook Miller, with Luke Elward, Tessa Hempel & Philip Kollar, ‘Narrative, Meaning and Agency in The Heat of the Day’. Bibliography, pp.159-66.
Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. 2] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985), lists The Last September (1929), 312pp. [Black and Tan period from big house standpoint, Sir Richard and Lady Naylor of Danielstown House, Co. Tipperary [err.], and dg. [recte niece] Lois [Farquar] who thinks herself in love with young British garrison officer later killed by the IRA; psychological interest (‘unfortunately people of little interest or importance’, acc. Clarke)]; A World of Love (Jonathan Cape 1955), 244pp. [middle class family on farm in Co. Limerick; parents, and dgs. Jane, 20, and Lilia, 12]; and lists The Heat of the Day, Eva Trout, A Summer’s Night, andBowen’s Court.
Anne Owen Weekes, ed., Unveiling Treasures (Dublin: Attic 1993) cites passage from Last September, with plot summary. [Biog. as supra; corrig. father d.1928 from 1938, other source]; Naylor family at Danielstown, and niece Lois Farquar; also Laurence, the Naylor nephew at Oxford, and Gerald Lesworth, the British Officer. [‘I’m not English … Thank God!’]
Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own (1984), bio-note: 1899-1973; novelist, b. Dublin, only child of a barrister; ed. Downe House School, Kent, and in Ireland and Europe; m. Alan Cameron in 1923; first book Encounters (1923); best known for The House in Paris (1935), and The Death of the Heart (1938).
Anthologies, Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994), selects “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met”, from The Mulberry Tree (Poolbeg 1978). Hermione Lee, The Secret Self: A Century Of Short Stories By Women (Phoenix 1995) incls. Bowen’s story, “Her Table Spread”. Other anthologies with stories by Bowen incl. Derek Hudson, ed., Classic English Short Stories 1930-1955 (OUP 1971), and Evelyn Conlon & Hans-Christian Oeser, eds., Cutting the Night in Two: Short Stories by Irish Women Writers (Dublin: New Island 2001).
Hyland Books (1997) lists Lady Cynthia Asquith, ed., The Funny Bone, New Humorous Stories (London: Jarrold 1928), 287pp.; Selected Stories [Hour Glass Library] (Dublin 1946); ed.: The Faber Book of Modern Stories [1st ed.] (1937) [incl. Bowen, Joyce, O’Connor, O’Faolain, O’Flaherty among the 26 authors]; Jocelyn Brooke: Elizabeth Bowen Supplement to British Book News, No. 28. 1952.
Peter Ellis (Cat. 19; 2003) lists Angela Thirkill, An Angela Thirkill Omnibus [Ankle Deep; High Rising; Wild Strawberries] (London: Hamish Hamilton 1966), with 3pp. Introduction by Elizabeth Bowen.
Libraries: BELFAST PUBLIC LIBRARY holds Shelbourne, Centre of Dublin Life (1951). HARRY RANSOM HUMANITIES RESEARCH CENTER (Texas Univ., Austin), holds MSS of the majority of her novels together with extensives correspondence [online].
The Last September (1929), Set in Co. Cork during the Irish Troubles of 1919-20, the novel deals with the emotional awakening of Lois Farquar, a young, unformed woman living at Danielstown, the home of her aunt and uncle, Sir Richard and Lady Myra Naylor. Hugo Montmorency and his ailing wife Francie are sem-permanent guests at Danielstown also. Hugo is a charming but ineffectual: he has sold his own country house (inherited from his wife’s family), planning to move to Canada at the time but forever lacking the determination to do so. He is the initial object of Lois’s attachment, which afterwards shifts to Gerald, a young officer stationed nearby. Gerald presses an unwanted engagement on her but is killed in an ambush soon after. Meanwhile Marda, a sophisticated young woman, comes to visit Danielstown. Hugo and Lois are drawn to her in different ways, as too is Laurence, a young relation of Lady Naylor studying at Oxford who maintains an air of studied indifference to Lois (and life in Ireland generally). After scenes involving Anglo-Irish and Catholic bourgeois neighbours of different shades of social acceptability and Empire loyalty (including an intoxicating dance in the local British barracks where Lois unwillingly commits herself to Gerald), Lady Naylor brutally shreds Gerald’s hopes and the Montmorencys prepare to depart. A series of encounters with an IRA-man - son of tenants of the Naylors - lends urgency to the narrative while the eventual ‘execution’ of Danielstown and other ‘big houses’ in the surrounding area at the close brings an era of Irish history to a blazing conclusion.
The Heat of the Day (1949): Stella Rodney is having an affair with Robert Kelway, an Englishman who is spying for the Nazis in wartime Britain. She is approached by Harrison, a British agent who is on to him, and offered his freedom if she has an affair with him (“I quite see. I’m to form a disagreeably assocaiation in order that a man many be left gree to go on selling his country.”) Though set mostly in London, the novel contains constrasting scenes in the imperilled “big house” own by her soldier-son in Ireland and the country house owned by Kelway. Stella finally confronts Robert in her London home and he confesses to spying for the Fascists before falling to his death in uncertain circumstances from a rooftop. The novel shows a mastery of atmosphere and is duly celebrated for its evocation of the war-time atmosphere there, as well as a masterly mixture of styles, but lacks for cogency at the level of plot. How and why Robert spies for Germany is never made clear, for instance (but perhaps because it is the more understandable Anglo-Irish form of ideological defections).
A World of Love (1955), a story of awakening girlhood passion, set in an Irish ‘big house’, and dealing with Jane Danby’s discovery of a packet of letters from the former owner Guy and thought to be addressed to her own mother Lilia, to whom he was engaged but later found to be to an unknown woman; Jane finally falls in love Richard Priam, breaking her obsession with her mother’s supposed lover.
Charles Ritchie: Ritchie’s diary documents the beginning his love affair with Elizabeth Bowen, which lasted until her death 32 years later. The first letter from Bowen that he kept was written at the time of their first separation when he left London for Ottawa in 1945. In it she told him he took with him ‘my real life, my only life, everything that is meant by my heart. I am in your keeping. And you are in mine.’ In the years that followed they were never under the same roof for more than a week, including the days they spent at Bowen’s Court each year - which she regarded as their joint home - days remembered for their intensity in her letters and his diaries. (See Victoria Glendinning, ‘I am in your keeping’, The Guardian, [Sat.] 7 February 2009, accessed online 28.08.2010).
Benedict Kiely: ‘Now this is exactly what Elizabeth Bown said to me: “Few of his critics have noticed about Henry James that he displayed all the careful qualities of a Protestant from Lower Ulster.’ ( Kiely, Sing to the Bird, London: Methuen 1991, p.141.)
Peter Somerville Large, The Irish Country House, A Social History (London: Sinclair-Stevenson 1995), includes account of Bowen’s ‘furtive disposal’ of Bowen’s Court without advertisement for sale; see review by Desmond Guinness, in The Irish Times (1 July, 1995).
Seán Bán (Candid Sean): The candid additions to Seán Ó Faolain’s Vive Moi (1963; rev. edn. 1993) include remarks on the Queen of Bowen’s Court: ‘the last time I had lunched there [at Jammet’s] had been with Elizabeth Bowen in the role of another Dublin Matty O’Hara [cf. Mata Hari] carrying an Irish tricolour in one hand and in the other a Union Jack.’ (From full page extract, Sunday Independent, 12 Nov. 1993; p.6.) See also Augustine Martin, review of Roy Foster’s Paddy and Mr Punch (1993) [in Irish Times, q.d.]: Bowen invited O’Faolain to lunch at Jammet’s in 1941, two years after the end of their affair, he wondering why, and not knowing that she was a British agent at the time; includes sketch by Virginia Woolf: ‘very honourable horse-faced, upper-class hard constricted mind.’
Rose Macaulay: ‘Macaulay’s memory of her free childhood in Italy is reflected in the half-wild character of the young girl, Barbary, who - sent to England to be “civilised”, for complicated family reasons - finds her true home among the ruins. Romantic and didactic though this novel is, it has a strong atmosphere (it would make a good film), comparable to - and surely influenced by - Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart.’ (See Hermione Lee, review of Sarah Le Fanu, Rose Macaulay, in The Guardian, 14 June 2003.)
Booked: In 1972 a Booker judges’ panel consisting of George Steiner, Cyril Connolly and Elizabeth Bowen gave the prize to John Berger for G, who handed half of it to the Black Panthers.
Source note: information in the Life section [supra] largely derives from Patricia Craig, Elizabeth Bowen (Penguin 1986).