Elizabeth Bowen: Commentary

Peter Costello
Angus Wilson
William Trevor
Seán O’Faoláin
Patricia Craig
Hubert Butler
David Stevens
Phyllis Lassner
John Harrington
David Stevens
R. F. Foster
Declan Kiberd
Robert Tracy
Benedict Kiely
Arminta Wallace
Bridget O’Toole
Raphael Ingelbien
Neil Corcoran
J. F. Wurtz
Sara Wasson

Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen, ed. Vintage 1999): ‘[Bowen’s works] deal with Anglo-Irish dispossession and ambivalence, in the persistence of childhood feelings, in treachery, ghosts, and the mysterious power of place, the lure of nostalgia, and the clash between individual and society.’ (Publisher’s notice.)

Victor Sage: ‘The destabilising of Irish Protestant identity found a natural outlet in Gothic modes of expression. The Big House became the main site where these issues concentrated an uneasy repository of the past, neither crypt nor monument, where what has died can never really pass and what lives cannot escape the grasp of the dead.’ (Victor Sage, Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition, Basingstroke: Macmillan 1988, q.pp.; quoted in Salome Huston, PG Dip. Essay, UUC 2012.)

Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal (1977), citing The Last September and passages from Bowen’s Court on the experience of awaiting destruction at the hands of Irish revolutionaries: ‘In that book, and in her first novel ... she gives the impression of just what it was like in those houses with war rising round them in the early autumn of 1920.’ (p.146.)

Angus Wilson, Collected Stories (1981): Introduction remarks on Bowen’s ‘deeply romantic’ interpretation of love ‘without the froideur that is destroying Clarissa Dalloway’s life’. Further remarks that “Joining Charles” has a typical Bowen woman character in the young woman brought under domination by her husband.

William Trevor, ‘Between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire’, review of The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen, in The Times Literary Supplement (6 Feb. 1981), p.121: ‘Elizabeth Bowen [...] passionately loved Bowen’s Court, the landscape of County Cork and the people among whom she asked to be buried. But she was educated in England, became a vehement supporter of Churchill’s cause, wrote more about the English and England than about the Irish and Ireland, and pointed out that “the Anglo-Irish were really only at home in midcrossing between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire.” / Nationality matters in novels and short stories only when it makes itself felt, and Elizabeth Bowen now belongs less to Ireland than to literature. But any assessment of her work, especially of her stories, cannot quite escape the lost world into which, as a person, she was born at just the wrong time. As a writer, she took part of her strength from that predicament. / Like many Irish writers, she found the short story a natural form and wrote most naturally when bound by its conventions. “The short story is a young child”, she declared, “a child of this century.” She was right, but I believe she would also have agreed that this particular child thrived so well in Ireland because it came of a family of old hands and delighted in its defiance of them. / The Victorian novel had raised its head at a time when Ireland wasn’t ready for it. Disaffected, repressed, stricken with poverty, suffering from the conflicts of the two languages, the Irish had neither the leisure nor the energy to perform at such length, nor was there in Ireland a nicely stratified society off which the more rambling literary form might feed. Instead, the storytellers of the villages and the countryside continued to maintain their position in the prevailing confusion, and their influence has been considerable. Even today the Irish have a tendency to talk and argue in anecdotes-but more to the point, perhaps, is the fact that story-telling of one kind or another was still very much alive when Chekhov decided to turn the form inside out. It was this continuing vigour that made the small revolution he begun so relevant [171] and so exciting in Ireland, enticing the Irish imagination for generations to come. Elizabeth Bowen, who belonged in so many ways to the past, was one of the first practitioners of the new, modern movement. [...] Elizabeth Bowen possessed the short-story writer’s darting curiosity, and an imagination that could become lighter and more volatile than the novelist’s. She wrote as hungrily about one subject as the next, finding her stories in the supernatural, in sexuality and love and friendship, in lives wasted, time wasted, in houses, families, dreams, nightmares, fantasies, happiness. [...]’ (Rep. in Phyllis Lassner, Elizabeth Bowen: A Study of the Short Fiction, NY: Twayne 1991, pp.168-73; 170-71.)

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Seán O’Faoláin, ‘A Reading and Remembrance of Elizabeth Bowen’, in London Review of Books (4-17 March 1982), pp.15, 17: O’Faolain calls her ‘heart-cloven and split-minded [...] consistently declaring herself born and reared Irish, residing mostly in England, writing in the full European tradition; no wonder all her serious work steams with the clash of battle between aspects of life more easy for us to feel than to define.’ (Quoted in R. F. Foster, ‘The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen’, in Paddy and Mr Punch, London: Allen Lane 1993, pp. 122.)

Seamus Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature (London: Hutchinson 1986) [q.p.], extensive quotations from The Last September with remarks on Bowen. Note that R. F. Foster speaks of Deane’s remarks in this context with approbation by comparison with the treatment meted out to her in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Deane (1991). (See Foster, ‘The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen’, in Paddy and Mr Punch, London: Allen Lane 1993, ftn. 11, p.329).

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Patricia Craig in Elizabeth Bowen (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) [Chap. 3], pp.47-51 [on The Last September]: ‘In The Last September (1929) Elizabeth Bowen is very pointed and illuminating on the efforts of upper-class ladies to turn a blind eye to bloodshed and disruption, to act as if they were in Kensington instead of Cork; and on the obtuseness of certain English incomers - army wives in particular - but also those bewildered by the complex relations existing between loyalist occupants of big houses and their rebel neighbours. She turns, as well, an astringent eye on the banal stratagems of girls in love with love. (“Common” behaviour is always one of her targets.) Has she appropriated any of her own feeling for Lois, the central character in the novel, and, the author tells us, not an autobiographical figure? We can find quite a few correspondences. Lois is one of those heroines who are far too edgy and complicated ever to be vulgarly infatuated. Her association with Gerald Lesworth, a young British officer attached to a nearby garrison, is rather tenuous and fraught with obstacles, on Lois’s side at least. He - the constant, steadfast soldier figure - is surer about his feelings. [Cont.]

Patricia Craig (Elizabeth Bowen, 1986) - cont. [on The Death of the Heart]: ‘[...] As far as Elizabeth has put herself into the book at all and there’s always a danger of inferring too much from the real-life trappings, the house by the lake, the frequent callers, the childless marriage, etc. - she is split between Anna and Portia, and consequently unindulgent to both, which makes for vigour and astringency in the narrative. Though Portia [86] may stand for candour, integrity and so forth, which can’t but appeal to the right-minded, it is shown that the effect of such qualities is simply to get their possessor into various scrapes, which anyone with an ounce of knowingness might have avoided. (She is also, Elizabeth said, the archetypal unworldly girl who comes with her belongings in one pathetic trunk to stay with grand relations: somewhat in the position of the child Jane Eyre.) It is possible that the genesis of the book was in the author’s own hurt feelings over the Goronwy Rees business (and she’s reduced that episode to a marvellously trivial betrayal, a hand held heartlessly in a cinema), but if so, these feelings have been mocked, magnified and otherwise tampered with to the point of becoming irrelevant to the plan of the novel. Only the character of Eddie, as we have seen, remained sufficiently recognizable to annoy its prototype. (May Sarton [a novelist] has left a memorable picture of Alan Cameron, walking up and down the drawingroom at Clarence Terrace with a glass in his hand, reciting the first page of The Death of the Heart, and breaking off to shout, ‘That’s genius!’) (pp.87.) [Cont.]

Patricia Craig (Elizabeth Bowen, 1986) - cont. [on Ireland during the “Emergency”, 1939-45]: ‘[...] Elizabeth picked up an impression of Catholic self-righteousness in Ireland’s attitude to the war, which was held to be a judgement on England for her atheism and [101] materialism. Anything that smacked of Communist Russia, even the word ‘revolutionary’, as in ‘We younger people in Britain are fighting this as a revolutionary war,’ was not apt to go down too well in Catholic circles. (One would have thought that the Irish connotations of the word were strong enough to blot out others.) The Irish were inclined to credit themselves with a spiritual approach to living, and to see their escape from the worldwide conflict as an outcome of this trait.’ (p.102.) [Cont.]

Patricia Craig (Elizabeth Bowen, 1986) - cont. writes Seán O’Faoláin’s phrase ‘The kid and the cad’ for the typical young-girl/man pairing in Bowen’s fiction: ‘this merry expression of Seán O’Faoláin’s does as well as any to describe the fated alliance set up by Elizabeth in her fiction on more than one occasion. (O’Faolain’s admiration for Elizabeth has always been tempered with affectionate mockery: a style of writing she resorts to a great deal, for example, he irreverently calls “the Bowen 707 or Take-Off style.). (p.59.) Craig further quotes O’Faolain as saying, ‘every critic has made fun of Elizabeth Bowen’s swanky vocabulary’ (p.117). Remarking on the hard labour that writing was for Bowen, Craig retales O’Faolain’s account of his bursting into her study at Bowen’s Court and finding her with ‘a forehead spotted with beads of perspiration’. (p.122.)[See longer extract, infra.]

Patricia Craig, review of René C. Hoogland, Elizabeth Bowen, A Reputation in Writing (NY UP 1994), finds the author’s lesbian interpretation of the life and works limited and rebarbative (Times Literary Supplement, 16 Dec. 1994.)

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Hubert Butler, Escape from the Anthill (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1985): ‘She filled Bowen’s Court for many summers with English writers and the few Irish ones that sought her out. But then her husband died and The Bell died and finally she allowed Bowen’s Court itself to die. When I last met her in County Kilkenny, just before her own death, she spoke of Ireland with such bitterness that I have tried to persuade myself that it was her last illness that was speaking and not her utter disillusionment.’ [q.p.]

David Stevens, ‘Religious Ireland (II)’, in Edna Longley, ed., Culture in Ireland, Diversity or Division [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference] (QUB: Inst. of Irish Studies 1991), quotes [illustrating the ambiguity of the Southern Protestant position]: ‘Ireland had worked on them, through their senses, their nerves. They had come to share with the people round their sentiments, memories, interests, affinities. The grafting-on had been, at least where they were concerned, complete. If Ireland did not accept them, they did not know it - and it is in that unawareness of final rejection, unawareness of being looked at from some secretive, opposed life, that the Anglo-Irish naive dignity and, even tragedy seems to me to stem.’ (Bowen’s Court, Virago ed., 1984, p.160.)

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Phyllis Lassner, Elizabeth Bowen (London: Macmillan 1990): ‘Bowen’s women find themselves ineluctably bound to domestic life, their passion for selfhood seems contained and constrained by a traditional plot which resists social and literary reform. Her female characters play out the role of moral and social manager while other elements in the novel’s structures enact the women’s frustration with tradition’s resistance to change. It is for this reason that many of Bowen’s realist plots contain elements of romance and the gothic.’ (p.157; Cited in Eulalia Pinero-Gil, contrib. to PGIL Conference, 1998.)

John Harrington, The Irish Beckett (Syracuse UP 1991), on ‘The Big House’ [in The Bell, &c.]: ‘The essay is called a ‘useful and succinct summation of some of the emblematic qualities of the Irish Big House’ (p.123.)

R. F. Foster, ‘The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen’, in Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History (London: Allen Lane 1993), pp.102-22: ‘‘Bowen longed for order, abstraction, classical symmetry, yet wrote most brilliantly at times of dislocation and conveyed in her best writing a sense of chaos: her style is, in itself, a subversion. In one of her vivid, slangy phrases she spoke of a taste for “life with the lid on”. But she put it more precisely in a radio interview where she explained her artistic intention as “aiming to give the effect of fortuity, of a smashed-up pattern with its fragments impacting on one another, drifting and cracking [...; [B]ecause of] the horror beneath the surface, the maintenance of the surface of a subject fascinates me. In fact, the more the surface seems to heave or threaten to crack, the more its actual pattern fascinates me. / Her real themes are dispossession, double-crossing, cruelty, betrayal. It annoyed Bowen that the heroine of The Death of the Heart was interpreted as a victim; she saw Portia as a sensationalist, a deliberate wrecker, and she approved of this. Portia’s life, another character remarks, is actually dominated by the lunatic giant who is knocking away inside all of us, but whom most of us try to ignore. That mad giant knocks away beneath the glittering surface of the Bowen style; it indicates an world of uncertainty and fragmentation. And there is a dimension here missed even by those critics who proceed beyond simply seeing her as a link between Virginia Woolf and Iris [103] Murdoch; and because it derives from the Irish world which underpinned her life and her sense of history, and the Irish sensibility which runs as an undercurrent through nearly all her best fiction.’ (pp.103-04.)

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Declan Kiberd, ‘Elizabeth Bowen: The Dandy in Revolt’, in Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995) [Chap. 20], pp.364-79 [On The Last September]: ‘Yet Lois is as much a victim of Danielstown values as the Irish rebel who crosses her path: for the Anglo-Irish are as guilty of ignoring the needs of the heirs within as the dependents without. In return for nothing, the young are compelled to adopt a time-honoured set of manners and attitudes, to be “sealed” and “finished”, so that the social forms may survive the death of their contents. Living in a period house, they are effectively told to embalm themselves alive, perform approved routines, and deny all feeling.’ (p.370.) ‘Ideally, the young should have their part in shaping the house, in bringing in new blood; but, instead, sex seems “irrelevant” and the house asserts its absolute right to shape them. In his anger and frustration, its heir Laurence yearns for “some crude intrusion of the actual”, adding that “I should like to be here when this house burns”. Lois also launches an overt counter-appeal to the values of the insurgents in an early conversation with Gerald, in which she marvels that, while nearby soldiers are dying, she was cutting out a dress that she didn’t even need.’ (p.371.) ‘The rebels, like Lois and Marda, are simply marginal witnesses and participants in a history which eludes any final control of individuals: “not noticing” is part of their ethic too. And yet somehow that rebellion frees both parties, returning Ireland to the Irish, and freeing Lois and her cousin Laurence to become themselves.’ (p.372.) Further, Kiberd quotes Bowen’s Court in defence of the Anglo-Irish ‘too proud idea of themselves ...’ (as in Quotations, infra). [Cont.]

Declan Kiberd (‘Elizabeth Bowen: The Dandy in Revolt’, 1995) - cont.: ‘[T]he dandy’s perennial problem [is h]ow to maintain an aristocratic hauteur and decorum in the absence of any available court at which to rehearse and play out such gestures. Self-conquest and self-discipline were the answers, according to Yeats, who said that there is always something of heroism in being sufficiently master of oneself to be witty. In Wilde’s personal confession that he had to strain every muscle of his body to achieve mastery of a London dinner-table, Yeats found his pattern of such self-conquest; what seemed spontaneous and stylish was in fact the outcome of rigorous rehearsal. / This is why it “takes a heroic constitution to live modernism” ([Walter] Benjamin on Baudelaire), because the resistance offered by the world to the élan of a person is out of all proportion to his or her strength: hence the dandy’s intermittent desire for the relief of death.’ (p.374.) ‘Lois and Laurence known that it is the dandy’s tragedy to be able to play every part except his or her own, to become a martyr to performance.’ (p.375.)

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Robert Tracy, ‘Elizabeth Bowen: Rebuilding the Big House’, in The Unappeasable Host: Studies in Irish Identities (UCD Press 1998), quotes: ‘The structure of the great Anglo-Irish society was raised over a country in martyrdom’ (Bowen’s Court, p.248; here p.230); remarks that ‘she sees “knockout home truths” (ibid., p.223), in Lord Clare’s speech advocating the Act of Union, which defines “confiscation”; as the only title to Anglo-Irish estates, and “the old inhabitants of the island” as [“]brooding over their discontents in sullen indignation.”’ (ibid., p.220). Further: ‘And, while recognising the truth of Clare’s speech, she deplores both its effect and the injustice it so accurately describes: “… the Union put the last seal on an injustice that had for centuries made the country unsound: that confiscation (or series of confiscations) Fitzgibbon had names as being the English settlers’ title was the first cause of the landless distress’ that agitated Ireland for much of the nineteenth century.’ (ibid., p.262-63.)

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Benedict Kiely, ‘The Great Gazebo’, in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (Cork UP 1999), remarks: ‘The young girl, Lois, in Elizabeth’s novel The Last September, said that she liked to be part of a pattern, to be related, to be compelled to be what she was because mere unrelated being was intransitive and lonely. With that Roman solidity of the Big House, with bald walls outstaring the disturbing light of local mysticism, a house with no haunted rooms, and with strong foundations, cut by the sword and unshaken by later wars. And with the wish to be part of a pattern and with a fear of intransitive loneliness, Elizabeth Bowen’s development as a writer began. But by the time she came to write The Heat of the Day, so many things had fallen apart that she had found her way to a place and time of chaos, with the world’s strongest city and the world’s widest empire sorely shaken, and with simple words like traitor and lover losing most of their meaning. And the novelist, the daughter of Cromwellian conquerors, had discovered in that novel a sort of man born with defeat in his heart.’ (Kiely, op. cit., p.35.)

Arminta Wallace, ‘Summer Evenings Shattered by Gunfire’, in The Irish Times (21 Jan. 1999) [Weekend]; cites Bowen’s remark that she only felt at home ‘in mid-crossing between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire.’ Further, the remark that she was ‘a writer first and a woman second’. Wallace quotes Hermione Lee on comparison with Jane Austen: ‘she [Bowen] was a much more dangerous and troubling writer than that’; also R. F. Foster: ‘Bowen longed for order, abstraction, classical symmetry, yet wrote most brilliantly at times of dislocation and conveyed in her best writing a sense of chaos: her style is, in itself, a subversion.’ (See R. F. Foster, ‘The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen’, in Paddy and Mr. Punch, Allen Lane 1993 [p.103; as supra]).

Bridget O’Toole, appreciatively reviewing Lis Christensen’s Bowen: The Later Fiction, writes that ‘[p]art of the oddness of The Little Girls comes from Bowen’s experiment in presenting her characters only through externals, not telling how they thing and feel. The decision is reported by Spencer Curtis Brown and quoted here by Christensen.

Raphael Ingelbien, ‘Gothic Genealogies: Dracula, Bowen’s Court and Anglo-Irish Psychology’, in ELH [English Literary History] 70, 4 (2004), reassesses the place of Dracula within a supposed Anglo-Irish Gothic tradition by stressing continuities between Stoker’s portrayal of the vampire and the (auto)biographical writings of major Ascendancy figures, and more particularly Elizabeth Bowen’s family memoir Bowen’s Court; qualifies the recent focus on Dracula’s monstrous body as an allegorical site and argues for more muted forms of psychological Gothic as the Irish subtext of the novel while attempting to refine our definitions of Anglo-Irish Gothic also. (p.1089ff.)

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Neil Corcoran, Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return (Oxford: OUP 2004) [on the mill scene in The Last September]: ‘The mill becomes, then, the novel’s ultimate ellipsis. The actual history — the story of England’s colonial relations with Ireland — whic has produced its present ruinous condition is interrupted before it can be properly articulated; but the violence which is the contemporary product of that history of “grievances” — the shedding of Anglo-Irish blood — is all too actually represented in the scene.’ (p.53; quoted in Conor Keilt, PG Dip., UU 2011.)

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James F. Wurtz, ‘Elizabeth Bown, Modernism, and the Spectre of Anglo-Ireland’, in Estudios Irlandeses, 5 (1010), pp.119-2: ‘[...] recent awareness of Bowen as modernist tends to reinforce a false dichotomy between Bowen as an Ascendancy Big House novelist and Bowen as a literary modernist. In keeping with Fredric Jameson’s argument that the colonial experience is at the root of Western modernism, I want to suggest that Bowen’s representations of Anglo-Irish Big House culture are in fact focal points for understanding Bowen as a modernist [“Modernism and Imperialism”, in Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature, ed. Deane, Minneapolis 1990, p.64]. Her deployment of Gothic tropes like the ghost and the haunted house not only places her in an Irish Gothic tradition but also indicates her modernism. To take one particular example, The Last September , though most often read in an Ascendancy context, carefully links the modern with the Gothic, thereby collapsing the dichotomy and more broadly indicating the nexus of associations between Irish modernism and its colonial context. Through a preoccupation with internal and external ghosts, Bowen’s modernism is centrally tied to her reinvention of Gothic conventions. / In The Last September, Bowen takes as a central theme the ruin of the country manor. The decaying Big House touches upon primary concerns of the Ascendancy, as the crumbling of the house parallels in many ways the crumbling of the Anglo-Irish as an aristocratic class. In a sense, the Anglo-Irish perceived themselves to be under siege from the increasingly vocal Irish Catholic majority, and as targets of insurgent violence, the houses symbolized the perilous position of the Anglo-Irish.  At the same time, the Act of Union reduced the influence of the Ascendancy, and as it concentrated power in Britain, the Anglo-Irish slipped into irrelevancy. Unsurprisingly, the destabilizing of Irish Protestant identity found a natural outlet in Gothic modes of expression. The Big House became the main site where these issues concentrated, an uneasy repository of the past, neither crypt nor monument, where what has died can never really pass and what lives cannot escape the grasp of the dead.  Little wonder, then, that the Anglo-Irish Gothic revolves around a family house or seat as the center of its Gothic machinations. In the theme of the Big House, Bowen finds the potential to reevaluate the Anglo-Irish in relation to the unsettling experiences of modernity.’ (p.120; also available online; accessed 15.01.2011.) Note: Wurtz remarks in a footnote that Bowen ‘explicitly aligns the mill with Poe’s House of Usher: “Cracks ran down [the walls]; she expected, now with detachment, to see them widen, to see the walls peel back from a cleft–like the House of Usher’s”.’ (Bowen, Last September, Vintage 1998. p.124; Wurtz, op. cit., p.126, n.3).

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Sara Wasson, Urban Gothic of the Second World War: Dark London (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2010):

‘“Dark ate the outlines of the house” Bowen’s national position’ (pp.119-21)

‘The London interiors of Bowen’s wartime fiction are continually in dialogue with a very different place, the Anglo-Irish “Big House” of her own ancestry. Gender, class and national affiliation are mutually constitutive rather than self-contained intersect in intricate ways. Bowen’s family settled in Ireland in 1653 (Davenport 28). She was raised in a nation in which the categories of class, nation and religion were arranged around two binaries: the upper-middle class Protestant Anglo-Irish Ascendancy to whom the British crown had given hereditary authority, and a less privileged Catholic Irish. The Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland occupied an ambiguous position and their Big Houses, too, were hybrid. “Imposed on seized land, built to in the rulers’ ruling tradtion, the house is, all the same, of the local rock” (Bowen’s Court, 31.) In some of Bowen’s writing, the Irish land itself has power which resists colonial control. Such is the experience of Stella’s sone Roderick when he enters the Big House he unexpectedly inherits. He sense strange life both within and outside.

Something more than silence there had been to be heard ... Dark ate the outlines of the house. ... The air had been night itself, re-imprinted by every of his moveens upon his face and hands. ... The place had concentrated upon Roderick its being ... He was left possessed, oppressed, and in awe. ... [It] woke in him, for the first time, the concept and the fearful idea of death, his.’ (Heat, pp.311-12.)

This territority sumultaneously comforts and disturbs the British soldier, encapsulating Anglo-Irish ambivalence towards Irish land as paraxodically threat and solance. / Bowen herself experienced the twin pulls of imperials and local. Bowen’s Court defends the landed gentry (455), but she speaks with pain [120] of “The scandalous and infinitely regrettable Union” (Mulberry 144) and acknowledges that the Bowen’s wealth and property was rooted in “inherent wrong” (Bowen’s Court, 453). Bowen’s allegiances were even more complex that those of most Anglo-Ireland [sic] for her childhood was spent alternating between Dublin and Bowen’s Court, and at the age of six Bowen moved with her mother to England (Glendenning 22). During the War Bowen served as an Air Raid Warden in London and as a British spy in Ireland. Claire [recte Clair] Wills notes that “It is a well established contention by now that Bowen’s concern with duplicity, betrayal, and double identity reflects here own sense of torn allegiances.” (139).

The ambiguous position of the Anglo-Irish is echoed in the discourse that circulates around their houses. There were designed in the eighteenth century to be triumphant markers of England’s control of the country through the Protestant Ascendancy but as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries progress, the imperial fantasy of the Big Houses dwindled alongside the empire that sppawned them. Elegaic language gathers around the Houses; as John Hewitt writes, “The house will fall; / it is the nature of stone to fall and lie” (71). In the twentieth century, this poignant qality of the Houses gains a new significance when they become symbols of “the drama of modern man’s (and woman’s) isolation” (Lubbers 17). Instead of being cornerstones of fellowship, the big houses are emblems of isolation. Moynahan observes, “the Irish big house is about as convincing a symbol of community as the House of Usher.” (83-84). Such Gothic intertexts gather around discussions of Anglo-Irish identity. Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, Bowen’s fellow Anglo-Irish writers of Gothic, have been analysed for the way in which their Anglo-Irish circumstances inflect their use of the Gothic mode (e.g., Ingelien) and Bowen herself concurs with that assessment. She argues that the Gothic of le Fanu in Uncle Silas was shaped by his own Anglo-Irish experience: “The hermetic solitude and the autocracy of the great country house, the demonic power of the family myth, fatalism, feudalism, and the “ascendancy” outlook are accepted facts of life for the race of hybrids from which Le Fanu sprang” (Mulberry, 101). Bowen’s depiction of the Anglo-Irish Big House develops the traditional Gothic trope of the sentient building (Miéville): it always seems alive, with a “hynotic stare” (Mulberry 26). Speaking of her own famil’s Big House, she notes wryling, “A Bown in the first place, made Bowen’s Court. Since then, with a rather alarming sureness, Bowen’s Court has made all the succeeding Bowens” (Bowen’s Court 32). [120]

How then, does the Anglo-Irish “Big House” connect with Bowen’s wartime London interiors? London was core to and constitutive of Anglo-Irish identity. An Anglo-Irish child growing up in Ireland, Bowen was “infested ... imaginatively” by London (Mulberrry 85): “Nobody ever told me about London, or explained to me what or why it was - I was assumed, I suppose, to have been born knowing.” (Mulberry 85-86). As in any colonial relationship, the connection was reciprocal, and a discourse of “Irishness” bolstered England’s sense of itself as imperials power. Strikingly, however, Bowen’s wartime fiction represents time in ways subversive of English imperial time.

See also preceding and following chapter-sections on Bowen: Homes and nation [106]; Constructing the home front [107]; Nation and the domestic uncanny [111]; “Strange growths”: uncanny life in Bowen’s interiors [113]; “The infected zone”: time and the uncanny [121]; Female cruelty in the domestic interior; [127]. References are to Julian Moynahan, Anglo-Irish: The Literary Imagination in a Hyphenated Culture (Princeton 1995); Klaus Lubbers [presumably], Geschichte de irischen Erzählprosa [... &c.] (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 1985), and Clair Wills, That Neutral Island: A History of Ireland during the Second World War (London: Faber & Faber 2007). Gary T. Davenport, cited here, is author of ‘Elizabeth Bowen and the Big House’ in Southern Humanities Review,  Vol. 8 (1974). The allusion to Raphael Ingelbein may be to‘Gothic Genealogies: Dracula, Bowen’s Court and Anglo-Irish Psychology’, in ELH [English Literary History] 70, 4 (2004). The novels of Henry Green are also treated at chapter-length.

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