Elizabeth Bowen: Quotations

[ See also her preface to Uncle Silas by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu - infra. ]

Extracts from the Works
The Last September (1929; Vintage Edn. 1998): ‘The vast facade of the house stared coldly over the its mounting lawns’ (p.7]; [The] high windows wer curtainless; tasselled fringes frayed the light at the top. The white sills, the shutters folded back in their frames were blistered [...] Exhausted by sunshine, the backs of the crimson chairs were thin light orange; a smell of camphor and animals drawn from skins on the floor by the glare of morning still hung like dust on the evening chill.’ (p.9-10.) ‘The sky shone, whiter than glass, fainting down to the fretted leaf-line, but was being steadily drained by the dark below, to which the grey of the lawns, like smoke, as steadily mounted.  The house was highest of all, with toppling immanence.’ (p.30). [The foregoing quoted in James F. Wurtz, ‘Elizabeth Bown, Modernism, and the Spectre of Anglo-Ireland’, in Estudios Irlandeses, 5 (1010), and [in part] in Conor Kielt, PG Dip., UU 2011.)

The Last September (1929; Penguin Edn. 1987): ‘First, she did not hear footsteps coming, and as she began to notice the displaced darkness thought what she dreaded was coming, was there within her - she was indeed clairvoyant, exposed to horror and going to see a ghost. Then steps, hard on the smooth earth; branches slipping against a trench-coat. The trench-coat rustled across the path ahead, to the swing of a steady walker. She stood by the holly immovable, blotted out in her black, and there passed within reach of her hand, with the rise and fall of a stride, a resolute profile, powerful as a thought. In gratitude for its fleshliness, she felt prompted to make some contact: not to be known seemed like a doom: extinction. / “It’s a fine night,” she would have liked to observe; or, to engage his sympathies: “Up Dublin!” or even - since it was in her uncle’s demesne she was straining under a holly - boldly - “What do you want?” / It must be because of Ireland he was in such a hurry; down from the mountains, making a short cut through their demesne. Here was something else that she could not share. She could not conceive of her country emotionally: it was a way of living, an abstract of several landscapes, or an oblique frayed island, moored at the north but with an air of being detached and washed out west from the British coast. Quite still, she let him go past in contemptuous unawareness. His intentions burnt on the dark an almost visible trail [...]. (34.) [For longer quotations, see attached.] See also her earlier vision of ‘Bowen’s Court in flames’ [infra].) Note: ‘She could not conceive of her country [...] British coast’ ([as supra]) is quoted in Benedict Kiely, ‘The Great Gazebo’, A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays, Cork UP 1999, p.35.)]

The Last September (1929; 1987 Penguin Edn.): ‘Here, there were no more autumns, except for the trees. By next year light had possessed itself of the vacancy, still with surprise. Next year, the chestnuts and acorns pattered unheard on the avenues, that, filmed over with green already, should have been dull to the footsteps - but there were no footsteps. Leaves, tottering down the slope on the wind’s hesitation, banked formless, frightened, against the too clear form of the ruin. / For in February, before those leaves had visibly budded, the death - execution, rather - of the three houses, Danielstown, Castle Trent, Mount Isabel, occurred in the same night. A fearful scarlet ate up the hard spring darkness; indeed, it seemed that an extra day, unreckoned, had come to abortive birth that these things might happen. It seemed, looking from cast to west at the sky tall with scarlet, that the country itself was burning, while to the north the neck of mountains before Mount Isabel was frightfully outlined. The roads in unnatural dusk ran dark with movement, secretive or terrified; not a tree, brushed pale by wind from the flames, not a cabin pressed in despair to the bosom of night, not a gate too starkly visible but had its place in the design of order and panic. At Danielstown, half-way up the avenue under the beeches, the thin iron gate twanged (missed its latch, remained swinging, aghast) as the last unlit car slid out with the executioners bland from accomplished duty. The sound of the last car widened, gave itself to the open and empty country and was demolished. Then the first wave of a silence that was to be ultimate flowed back, confident, to the steps. Above the steps, the door stood open hospitably upon a furnace. / Sir Richard and Lady Naylor, not saying anything, did not look at each other, for [in] the light from the sky they saw too distinctly.’ (p.206; end. Pag. do. in 1998 Vintage Edn.)

The Last September (1929; 1987 Penguin Edn.): ‘She [Lois] shut her eyes and tried - as sometimes when she was seasick, locked in misery between Holyhead and Kingstown - to be enclosed in a nonentity, in some ideal no-place, perfect and clear as a bubble.’ (p.89; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, London: Jonathan Cape 1995, p.367.) [Of Marda] : ‘She leaned back from the bar of the sun, into the shade of the curtains.  Shadow gave transparency to her colours; its brown clarity hardened her face revealingly so that she was exposed a moment, in her anxiety, without the deference of manner.  Her green linen dress went ghostly against the cretonne's rather jarring florescence.’ (p.118).

The Last September (1929; Vintage Edn. 1998): ‘Those dead mills – the country was full of them, never quite stripped and whitened to skeletons’ decency: like corpses at their most horrible. “Another,” ’ Hugo declared, “of our national grievances. ; English law strangled the –” But Lois insisted on hurrying: she and Marda were now well ahead’ (p.123). ‘The dead mill now entered the democracy of ghostliness, equalled broken palaces in futility and sadness; was transfigured by some response of the spirit, showing not the decline of its meanness, simply decline; took on all of the past to which it had given nothing (124)

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Bowen’s Court (1942): ‘The stretches of the past I have had to cover have been, on the whole, painful: my family got their position and drew their power from a situation that shows an inherent wrong. [...] The Bowens’ relation to history was an unconscious one. I can only suggest a compulsion they did not know of by [...] interleaving the family story with passages from the history of Ireland. My family, though notably “unhistoric”, had their part in a drama outside themselves. Their assertions, their compliances, their refusals as men and women went, year by year, generation by generation, to give history direction, as well as colour and stuff. Each of the family, in their different manners, were more than their time’s products; they were its agents.’ (pp.453-5; quoted in Phyllis Lassner, Elizabeth Bowen: A Study of the Short Fiction, NY: Twayne 1991, p.7; also, at greater length, in extract from Bowen’s Court, in Lassner, op. cit., 1991, p.148-54, pp.148-49.)

Bowen’s Court (1942): ‘Each house seem to live under its own spell, and that is the spell that falls on the visitor from the moment he passes in the gates. The ring of woods inside the demesne walls conceals, at first, the whole demesne from the eye: this looks, from the road, like a bois dormant, with a great glade inside. Inside the gates, the avenue often describes loops to make of itself more extravagant length … one tales the last reach of the avenue and meets the faded, dark-windowed and somehow hypnotic stare of the big house.’ (Quoted in Clare Boylan, ‘House Built for Parties’, review of Herbert Ympa, Irish Georgian, London: Thames & Hudson 1998, photo. ills. by René Stoeltie, in The Independent [UK], Tuesday Review, 12 June 1998, p.12.)

Bowen’s Court (1942): ‘Big houses that were begun in glory were soon maintained only by struggle and sacrifice. It is, I think, to the credit of big house people [...] that, with grass almost up to their doors and hardly a sixpence to turn over, they continued to be resented by the rest of Ireland as being the heartless rich.’ (Bowen’s Court, 1942 [q.p.]; quoted in Boylan, op. cit., 1998.)

Bowen’s Court (1942): ‘What runs on most through a family living in one place is a continuous, semi-physical dream. Above this dream-level successive lives show their tips, their little conscious formations of will and thought. With the end of each generation, the lives that submerged here were absorbed again. With each death, the air of the place had thickened: it had been added to. The dead do not need to visit Bowen’s Court rooms - as I said, we had no ghosts in that house - because they already permeated them. / The land outside Bowen’s Court windows left prints on my ancestors’ eyes that looked out: perhaps their eyes left, also, prints on the scene? If so, those prints were part of the scene for me.’ (Bowens Court, NY: Ecco Press 1978, p.451; quoted in Quoted in Eulalia Piñero Gil, ‘Elizabeth Bowen’s The Demon Lover and the Female Gothic Fantasies’, a paper in That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature: Transactions of the Princess Grace Irish Library Conference, 1998.)

Bowen’s Court (1942) [occupation by Republicans:] ‘Having done this [mined the walls in case of attack] and seen that it was good, they rested. If the house had never had more numerous, it had never had quieter visitors. Even prejudice allows they behaved like lambs. The young men - they were mostly very young men - were very tired. The bedding was gone from the few beds; the leaders lay on the springs, the others lay on the floor-there was much floor, for the house had now many empty rooms. Outside the rows of windows, the summer of 1922 droned on - and evidently the summer glare was too strong, for soon many windows were shuttered up. When the men woke up, they read. They were great readers, and especially they were attracted by the works of Kipling: a complete set of these, in flexible scarlet leather, with gilt elephants’ heads, had been given to Mary, and were available. Once a day the men rose from their floors and beds and went through the country on reconnaissance.’ (Bowen’s Court, 1964, p.441; quoted in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal: the Irish Revolution in Literature from Parnell to the Death of Yeats, 1891-1939, Gill & Macmillan 1977, p.215.)

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Bowen’s Court (1942): ‘I read his [i.e., her father’s] letter beside Lake Como, and, looking down at the blue water, taught myself to imagine Bowen’s Court in flames. Perhaps that moment disinfected the future: realities of war I have seen since have been frightful; not of them has taken me by surprise.’ (Bowen’s Court, p.440; quoted in Costello, op. cit., 1977, p.147.)

Bowen’s Court (1942): ‘Propaganda was probably at its most powerful before there was a name for it. Both classes in Ireland saw themselves in this mirror: the gentry became more dashing, the lower classes more comic. We are, or can become at any moment, the most undignified race on earth - while there is a gallery, we must play to it.’ (Bowen’s Court, 1942, p.194; quoted in in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.376.)

Bowen’s Court (1942) - Afterword: ‘I began to write Bowen’s Court in the early summer of 1939. The first chapters were, thus, completed before the outbreak of World War II. When, for instance, I wrote about ruins in County Cork there were as yet few ruins in England other than those preserved in fences and lawns. I do not know how much, after that September of 1939, the [149] colour of my narration may have altered [...] I was writing about self-centred people while all faces looked outward upon the world. I was writing in [?] and my subject - only so acted upon my subject as to make it, for me, the more important. I tried to make it my means to approach truth. /  [...] the idea of power governed by analysis of the Bowens and of the [150] means they took -these being, in some cases, emotional - to enforce themselves on their world. I showed, if only in the family sphere, people’s conflicting wishes for domination. That few Bowens looked beyond Bowen’s Court makes the place a fair microcosm, a representative if miniature theatre. Sketching in the society of which the Bowens were part, and the operations behind that society, I extended the conflict by one ring more: again, its isolation, what might be called its outlandishness, makes Anglo-Irish society microcosmic. For these people - my family and their associates - the idea of power was mostly vested in property (property having been acquired by use or misuse of power in the first place). One may say that while property lasted the dangerous power-idea stayed, like a sword in its scabbard, fairly safely at rest. At least, property gave my people and people like them the means to exercise power in a direct, concrete and therefore limited way. I have shown how their natures shifted direction - or the nature of the débordement that occurred - when property could not longer be guaranteed. [See note.] Without putting up any plea for property - unnecessary, for it is unlikely to be abolished - I submit that the power-loving temperament is more dangerous when it either prefers or is forced to opcrate in what is materially a void. We have everything to dread from the dispossessed. In the area of ideas we see more menacing dominations than the landlord exercised over land. The outsize will is not necessarily an evil: it is a phenomenon. It must have its outsize outlet, its big task. If the right scope is not offered it, it must seize the wrong. We should be able to harness this driving force. Not the will itself but its wastefulness is the dangerous thing. / Yes, the preoccupations of war-time may have caused me to see Bowens in a peculiar or too much intensified light. Some of their characteristics, here, may be overdrawn. [...]’ (Quoted in Phyllis Lassner, Elizabeth Bowen: A Study of the Short Fiction, NY: Twayne 1991, pp.148-54; pp.150-51.) Note: Quoted in part in Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton UP 1997, Intro., n.55; Notes, p.299 [‘the idea of power ... guaranteed’].)

Bowen’s Court (1942): [The death of a house]: ‘The buyer was a County Cork man, a neighbour. He already was farming tracts of land, and had the means wherewith to develop mine, and horses to put in the stables. It cheered me also to think that his handsome children would soon be running about the rooms-for it was, I believe, his honest intention, when first he bought the place from me, to inhabit the house. But in the end he did not find that practicable, and who is to blame him? He thought at one time, I understand, of compromising by taking off the top storey (I am glad he did not). Finally, he decided that there was nothing for it but to demolish the house entirely. So that was done. / It was clean end. Bowen’s Court never lived to be a ruin. [...] ’ (Quoted in Phyllis Lassner, op. cit., 1991, p.154.)

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The Demon Lover (1945), “Postscript by the Author”: ‘During the war, l lived, both as a civilian and as a writer with every pore open; I lived so many lives, and, still more, [196]  lived among the packed repercussions of so many thousands of other lives, all under stress, that I see now it would been impossible to have been writing only one book. I want my novel, which deals with this same time, to be enormously comprehensive. But a novel must have form; and, for form’s sake, one is always having to make relentless exclusions. Had it not been for my from-time-to-time promises to Write stories, much that had been pressing against the door might have remained pressing against it in vain. I do not feel I “invented” anything I wrote. It seems to me that during the war the overcharged subconsciousnesses of everybody flowed and merged. It is because the general subconsciousness saturates these stories that they have an authority nothing to do with me. / These are all wartime, none of them war, stories. There are no accounts of war action even as I knew it - for instance, air raids. Only one character - in “Mysterious Kôr” - is a soldier; and he only appears as a homeless wanderer round a city. These are, more, studies of climate, war-climate, and of the strange growths it raised. I see war (or should I say feel war?) more as a territory than as a page of history: of its impersonal active historic side I have, I find, not written. Arguably, Writers are always slightly abnormal people: certainly, in so-called “normal” times my sense of the abnormal has been very acute. In war, this feeling of slight differentiation was suspended: I felt one with, and just like, everyone else. Sometimes I hardly knew where I stopped and somebody else began. The violent destruction of solid things, the explosion of the illusion that prestige, power and permanence attach to bulk and weight, left, all of us, equally, heady and disembodied. Walls went down; and we felt, if not knew, each other. We all lived in a state of lucid abnormality.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.)

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The Short Story in England” (Britain Today, May 1945): ‘[...] Curiously enough - or is it so curious? - the actual outbreak of the long-dreaded war has sent the English short story soaring, with a new kind of hardy exuberance, into realms of humour, satire, fantasy, and caprice. Artistic release could not but follow the long tension. I do not say that tragedy and duress have not, also, imprinted themselves in our war-time stories. Nor do I mean that the short story has contributed, in any unworthy sense, to “escape” literature. No-but is it fair to say that true art never underlines the obvious? In peace-time, our short story artist had for subject those uneasy currents beneath the apparently placid surface. In war-time, the surface being itself uneasy, he plumbs through to, and renders, unchanging and stable things-home feeling, human affection, old places, childhood memories, and even what one might call those interior fairy tales (sometimes, perhaps, ridiculous; often touching) on which men and women sustain themselves and keep their identities throughout the cataclysm of world war. [...; &c.]’ (rep. in Phyllis Lassner, Elizabeth Bowen: A Study of the Short Fiction, NY: Twayne 1991, pp.128-43; (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.)

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The Heat of the Day (1948), ‘Apathetic, the injured and dying in the hospitals watched light change on walls which might fall tonight [...]. Most of all the dead from mortuaries, from under cataracts of rubble, made their anonymous presence - not as today’s dead but as yesterday’s living - felt through London. Uncounted, they continued to move in shoals through the city day, pervading everything to be seen or heard with their torn-off senses [...] The wall between the living and the living became less solid as the wall beween the living and the dead thinned. In that September transparency people became transparent, onlv to be located by the just darker flicker of their hearts.’ (Cited in Arminta Wallace, ‘Summer Evenings Shattered by Gunfire’, feature on Elizabeth Bown in Irish Times, 21 Jan. 1999.)

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Remarks & Opinions
An Irish novelist: ‘I regard myself as an Irish novelist. As long as I can remember I’ve been extremely conscious of being Irish - even when I was writing about very unIrish things such as suburban life in Paris or the English seaside. All my life I’ve been going backwards and forwards between Ireland and England and the Continent but that has never robbed me of any feeling of my nationality. I must say it’s a highly disturbing emotion. It’s not - I must emphasise - sentimentality.’ (‘The Bellman’ [Seán O’Faolain], ‘Meet Elizabeth Bowen’ [interview], in Bell, 4 (Sept. 1942) [q.pp.]; quoted in R. F. Foster, ‘The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen’, in Paddy and Mr Punch, London: Allen Lane 1993, p.118.)

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The Big House’ (I): ‘[A]fter an era of greed, roughness and panic, after an era of camping in charred or desolate ruins (as my Cromwellian ancestors did certainly) the new settlers who had been imposed on Ireland began to wish to add something to life. The security that they had, by the eighteenth century, however ignobly gained, they did not use ignobly. They began to feel, and exert, the European idea - to see what was humanistic, classic, and disciplined.’ (Bowen, ‘The Big House’ [formerly in The Bell, 1940 ], rep. in Collected Impressions, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1950, pp.195-100, p.197; quoted in John Harrington, The Irish Beckett 1991, p.123.) Cf. w. B. Yeats, “Meditations in Time of Civil War”: ‘Some violent bitter man, some powerful man / Called architect and artist in, that they, / Bitter and violent men, might rear in stone / The sweetness that all longed for night and day, [....]’

The Big House’ (II): ‘[...] a sort of order, a reason for living, to every minute and hour. This is the order, the form of life, the tradition to which big house people still sacrifice much.’ ‘[To attack that order is to] impoverish life all round ... Well, why not be polite - are not humane manners the crown of being human at all? Politeness is not constriction; it is grace.’ (Ibid., pp.199-200; Harrington, idem.)

The Big House’ (III): ‘ From the point of view of the outside Irish world, does the Big House justify its existence? I believe it could do so now as never before. As I said, the idea from which these houses sprang was, before everything, a social one. That idea, although lofty, was at first rigid and narrow - but it could extend itself, and it must if the Big House is to play an alive part in the alive Ireland of today [...] “Can we not”, big, half-empty rooms seem to ask, “be, as never before, sociable? Cannot we scrap the past, with its bitternesses and barriers, and all meet, throwing in what we have?” (Rep. in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen, London 1986, pp.25-30; quoted in R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History, London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 1993, p.112.)

The Big House (IV) ‘[The Big House] raised life above the exigencies of mere living to the plane of art, or at least of style. There was a true bigness, a sort of impersonality, in the manner in which the houses were conceived. After the era of greed, roughness and panic [...] these new settlers who had been imposed upon Ireland began to wish to add something to life. The security they had, by the eighteenth century, however ignobly, gained, they did not use quite ignobly. They began to feel, and exert, the European idea – to seek what was humanistic, classic and disciplined.’ (Rep. in The Mulberry Tree , 1986, p.26; cited in C. L. Innes, ‘Custom, Ceremony and Innocence in Elizabeth Bowen’, in The Literature of Politics, The Politics of Literature, Vol. 4 [IASAIL Conference Leiden 1991] Amsterdam: Rodopi 1995, pp.106-17; p.107.)

The Big House (V) ‘[...] The Big House people were handicapped [...] by their pride, by their indignation at their decline and by their divorce from the countryside in whose heart their struggle was carried on. They would have been surprised to have received pity. I doubt, as a matter of fact, that they ever pitied themselves. [...] It is, I think, to the credit of the big house people that they concealed their struggles with such nonchalance.’ (Collected Impressions, 1950, p.198; quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Elizabeth Bowen: The Dandy in Revolt’, in Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation, London: Jonathan Cape 1995, p.376.)

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The Anglo-Irish: ‘It has taken the decline of the Anglo-Irish to open to them the poetry of regret; only dispossessed people know their land in the dark’; ‘[...] nothing during those years of their steady increase in property, gave the soul any chance to stand at its full height [../..] At the same time, though one can be callous in Ireland one cannot be wholly opaque or material [...] the light, the light-consuming distances, that air of intense existence about the empty country, the quick flux to decay in houses, cities and people, the great part played in society by the dead and by the idea of death and, above all, the recurring futilities of hope, all work for eternal against temporal things [../..] At the climax of the Anglo-Irish eighteenth century prosperity and amenable forms of Reason had combined to attempt to deny sorrow and to make a social figure of God. The attempt failed and decay was following it.’ (Bowen’s Court; [q.p.]; cited in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.122.)

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The Anglo-Irish: ‘In the Anglo-Irish, those invaders and settlers who came to conquer, stayed to possess and love, national responsibility did come to be born, but social responsibility, alas, not. Where there was benevolence, there should have been reform.’ (The Mulberry Tree, p.179; cited by Joseph Spence, “The Great Angelic Sin”: The Faust legend in Irish Literature, 1820-1900’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, 1, 2, Autumn 1994, p.55.)

The Anglo-Irish: ‘It is possible that Anglo-Irish people, like only children, do not know how much they miss. Their existences, like those of only children, are singular, independent, secretive.’ (Quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Elizabeth Bowen: The Dandy in Revolt’, in Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation, London: Jonathan Cape 1995, p.365, citing Victoria Glendenning, Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer, 1985, p.12.)

The Anglo-Irish (qua ‘New Irish’): ‘This new wish in the new Irish to see Ireland autonomous was in more than the head and the conscious will. Ireland had worked on them, through their senses, their nerves, their loves. They had come to share with the people round them, 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, unawarness of being looked at form some secretive, opposed life, that the Anglo-Irish naive dignity and even, tragedy seems to me to stand. Themselves, they felt Irish and even acted as Irishmen.’ ([Bowen’s Court; q.p.]; quoted in part in Glendenning, Elizabeth Bowen, 1985, p.117 [from ‘If Ireland ...]; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.366; quoted more fully in Benedict Kiely, ‘The Great Gazebo’, in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays, Cork UP 1999, pp.31-44; p.32 [no source].)

The Anglo-Irish: ‘If they formed a too-proud idea of themselves, they did at least exert themselves to live up to this: even vanity involves one kind of discipline [...] To live as though living gave them no trouble has been the first imperative of their make-up; to do this has taken a virtuousity into which courage enters more than has been allowed. In the last issue, they have lived at their own expense.’ (Quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Elizabeth Bowen: The Dandy in Revolt’, in Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995), p.373, as quoted in Victoria Glendenning, Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1985, p.160.)

The Anglo-Irish: ‘Accommodating ourselves to a tamer day, we interchanged sword-play for word-play. Repartee, with its thrusts, opened alternative possibilities of mastery. Given rein to, creative imagination ran to the tensed-up, to extreme situations, to confrontations. Bravado characterises much Irish, all Anglo-Irish writing: gloriously it is sublimated by Yeats. Nationally, we have an undertow to the showy. It follows that primarily we have produced dramatists, the novel being too life-like, humdrum, to do us justice. We do not do badly with the short story, “that, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth” - or should. There is this about us: to most of the rest of the world we are semi-strangers, for whom existence has something of the trance-like quality of a spectacle. As beings, we are at once brilliant and limited; our unbeatables, up to now, accordingly, have been those who best profited by that: Goldsmith, Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw, Beckett. Art is for us inseparable from artifice: of that, the theatre is the home.’ (‘The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen’, Pictures and Conversations, p.9; quoted in R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History, London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 1993, p.109.

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Notes on Éire (Bowen’s wartime reports to the British Ministry of Information): ‘[warns against the tendency to feel that Eire is making a fetish of her neutraity ... this assertion of her neutrality is Eire's frist free self-assertion: as such alone it would mean a great deal to her [...] I have emphasised since I hve been here (I hope rightly) that England has no wish that Ireland should enter the war.’ Further: ‘I should believe Mr de Valera to be right in saying that submarines are not refuelling here. The coast, as well as the countryside, is being closely and zealously patrolled by the army and the LSF [...] I could wish some factions in English showed less anti-Irish feeling [...] The charge of ‘disloyalty’ against the Iris has always, given the plain facts of history, irritated me. I could wish that the English kept history in mind more, that the Irish kept it in mind less.’ (Quoted in J. Ardle McArdle, reviewing Elizabeth Bowen: “Notes on Eire”, ed. Jack Lane & Brendan Clifford, [Cork:] Aubane Hist. Soc. 2008, in Books Ireland, Oct. 2008, p.225.)

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Notes on Writing a Novel’ (1945; rep. in Collected Impressions, 1950), Bowen speaks of plot as ‘what is left after the whittling away of alternatives.’ The novel’s object is the ‘non-poetic statement of a poetic truth [...] Have not all poetic truths already been stated? The essence of a poetic truth is that no statement of it can be final.’ (Quoted in A. S. Byatt, Pref. to The House in Paris ([1935] London: Penguin 1976).

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Why Do I Write?’ (1948): ‘Motherless since I was thirteen, I was in and out of the homes of my different relatives - and, as constantly shuttling between two countries: Ireland and England.’ (Quoted in Eulalia Piñero Gil, ‘Elizabeth Bowen’s The Demon Lover and the Female Gothic Fantasies’, a paper in That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature: Transactions of the Princess Grace Irish Library Conference, 1998.)

Symbols & psychology: ‘[Uncle Silas] may for all I know, bristle with symbolism, but I speak of the story, not its implications [...]’ (Introduction to Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas, 1946.) ‘On the subject of my symbology, if any, or psychology (my own or my characters’), I have occasionally been run ragged,’ (Quoted by Patricia Craig, reviewing René C. Hoogland, Elizabeth Bowen: A Reputation in Writing, in Times Literary Supplement, 16 Dec. 1994.)

Fota House (Co. Cork): ‘Out of reach, the windows down to the ground open upon the purple beeches and lazy hay, the dear weather of those rooms in and out of which flew butterflies.’ (Q. source; quoted in Mary Leland, ‘Fota opportunity’, in Irish Times, 16 June 2001, on the restoration of Fota House, Cork, designed by Richard Morrison and his son Vitruviusm and home of the Barrymores and Smith-Barrys.)

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Brass plates: Each door - to this my memory finds no single exception - bore its polished brass plate. Daughter of a professional neighbourhood, I took this brass plate announcing its owner's name to be the sine qua non of any gentleman's house [...] At the top of Herbert St. front steps ... I would trace with my finger my father's name.This was not an act of filial piety only; it gave him an objective reality, which I shared.' (Seven Winters, q.p.; quoted as epigraph to the Introduction of Elizabeth Grubgeld, Anglo-Irish Autobiography: Class, Gender and the Forms of Narrative, Syracuse UP 2004, p.xi.)

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Ireland/island: ‘[…] my most endemic pride in my own country was, for some years, founded on a mistake: my failing to have a nice ear for vowel sounds, and the Anglo-Irish slurried [sic], hurried way of speaking, made me take the words “Ireland” and “island” to be synonymous. Thus, all other countries quite surrounded by water took (it appeared) their generic name from ours. It seemed fine to live in a country that was a prototype. England, for instance, was “an ireland” (or, a sub-Ireland) - an imitation. Then I learned that England was not even “an Ireland”, having failed to detach herself from the [107] flanks of Scotland and Wales. Vaguely, as a Unionist child, I conceived that our politeness to English must be a form of pity.’ (Seven Winters, 1942, p.31; quoted in R. F. Foster, ‘The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen’, in Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History, London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 1993, pp.107-08.)

Ireland of the ruins: ‘It will have been seen that this is a country of ruins [...] ruins feature in the landscape-uplands or river valleys-and [...] give clearings in woods, reaches of mountain or sudden turns of road a meaning and pre-inhabited air [...] Only major or recent ruins keep their human stories; from others the story quickly evaporates. Some ruins show gashes of violence, others simply the dull slant of decline.’ (Bowen’s Court and Seven Winters, London: Virago 1984, 1st ed. 1942, p.15; cited in Kevin Rockett, et. al. Cinema in Ireland, 1988, p.252, n.42.)

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Coming to London: ‘I first crossed the city when I first crossed the sea, when I was four: it must have been winter, we arrived after dark and were driven as hurriedly as possible from Euston to some other terminus in a cab. The street lamps, seeming dimmer than Dubiln;s, showed us to be in the continuous bottom of a chasm, amnog movement [which] conveyed a sense of trouble, which one suspected rather than saw.’ (‘Coming to London - VI’, in The London Magazine, Vol. 3, 1956, p.49; quoted in Michael W. Thomas, ‘William Trevor’s Other Ireland: The Writer and his Irish in his England’, in Irish Studies Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, August 1988 [q.p.].)

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Dear rooms: ‘Out of reach, the windows down to the ground open upon the purple beeches and lazy hay, the dear weather of those rooms in and out of which flew butterflies.’ (Elizabeth Bowen; q. source; quoted in Mary Leland, ‘Fota opportunity’ ‘[restoration of Fota House, Cork, home of the Barrymores and Smith-Barrys], Irish Times, 16 June 2001. The architect was Richard Morrison and his son Vitruvius.

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Irish neutrality: ‘It may be felt in England that Eire is making a fetish of her neutrality. But this assertion of her neutrality is Eire’s first free self-assertion; as such alone it would mean a great deal to her. Eire (and I think rightly) sees her neutrality as positive, not merely negative. She has invested her self-respect in it. It is typical of her intense and narrow view of herself that she cannot see that her attitude must appear to England an affair of blindness, egotism, escapism or sheer funk. / In fact, there is truth in Mr de Valera’s contention. It would be more than hardship, it would be sheer disaster for this country, in its present growing stages and with its uncertain morale, to be involved in war [...] / I could wish some factions in England showed less anti-Irish feeling. I have noticed an I suppose inevitable increase of this in England during the last year. The charge of ‘disloyalty’ against the Irish has always, given the plain facts of history, irritated me. I could wish that the English kept history in mind more, that the Irish kept it in mind less.’ (“Notes on Ireland”, Mrs Cameron [Elizabeth Bowen], 9 Nov. 1940: FO 8000/310, pp.253, 255; quoted in R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History, London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 1993, p.113.) But note further: ‘One air raid on an Irish city would produce a chaos with which, in the long run, England would have to cope.’ (Quoted in Bernard Adams, Denis Johnston: A Life, Lilliput Press, 2002, p.197 - also quoting in small part the above.)

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