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Elizabeth Bowen.

In 1981 the critic Hermione Lee felt she had to open her excellent book-length critical study of Elizabeth Bowen by saying: "I have written a critical study of Elizabeth Bowen because there is a great deal to be said about her work, and because she has been peculiarly neglected" (11). Since then, Bowen's stock has probably risen: there have been many critical articles and several more critical books, and there have been new editions of all her novels and her autobiographical writings. Bowen now has a well-established reputation as an important twentieth-century English (and Anglo-Irish) writer, who worked in both the novel and short-story form. However, she is still, perhaps, not that widely read. She is not easy to locate in the traditions of prose fiction--not because she has no affinities, but because on the contrary she combines a wide range of literary influences in novel and striking forms. Influences are said to include, in way or another and at one time or another, such writers as Jane Austen, Chekhov, Ivy Compton-Burnett, George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, E. M. Forster, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, James Joyce, Le Fanu, Iris Murdoch, Marcel Proust, Muriel Spark, Somerville and Ross, Evelyn Waugh, and Virginia Woolf. She has been seen (quite correctly in each case) as an Anglo-Irish writer, an English realist, a writer of comedy of manners, a European modernist, and a novelist of sensibility, as well as drawing on the thriller and the romance. It has been said that "Attempts to make her fit the traditions of the English novel say more about canon formation than they do about Bowen's work" (Lassner 142). However, this difficulty of applying labels is not, in this case, just a matter of the critics trying to impose tidiness on the untidy reality of a writer. Her variousness and utilization of a range of traditions not only across her career but sometimes within a single work is an essential part of her method and her appeal. It is also part of her difficulty. She does not even attempt to combine all her varying influences and modes into a smooth, homogenous text, but allows them, in varying degrees, to work with or against each other. Thus in novels such as To the North and The Death of the Heart modernist and realist conceptions of character and representation meet and clash in odd and illuminating ways. Bowen makes use of the explorations into the mind pioneered by Woolf, but retains a more classic realist fluidity in the ways in which her narration moves between representation of the outer world and of internal worlds. However, unlike in classic realism, Bowen does not homogenize the transitions between these points of view. Instead, there can be abrupt shifts between different viewpoints. This technique that accepts "jerkiness" and multiplicity leaves the reader with much work to do in the way of understanding the text. It also results in a representation of the world in which internal and external viewpoints are often uncoordinated until (and if) they can be made sense of through the efforts of the reader. This is not entirely new: her style has an affinity with, and is as challenging as, that of Henry James.

Indeed, Bowen is often simply not at all easy to read. Her style is often angular rather than flowing. One often needs to pause and reread a sentence or paragraph to check that one has taken it aright, as in this relatively straightforward, but quite characteristic example from The Death of the Heart: "Anna had been askance. The forecast shadow of Portia, even, had started altering things--that incident of the mirror had marked an unheard-of tendency in Matchett, to put in her own oar" (42). Here can be noted the very unusual verb and noun combinations ("had been" rather than looked "askance"), the inverted word order, with the delayed verb at the end of a sentence ("to put in her own oar"), the capacity of metaphors to become substantial ("the forecast shadow ... altering things"), and the sudden use of popular idioms or even cliches ("to put in her own oar"). Above all, there is an allusiveness to events or feelings, which are revealed obliquely rather than directly. If this style has relationships to other kinds of writing and to other authors, it never settles down into a familiar style. The surface of Bowen's writing never becomes habitual--it always requires thought just to decode the sentence. The same might be said of her lifelong liking for temporal dislocations in her narrative: nearly all the novels and many of the short stories use flashbacks or gradual revelation of past situations in one way or another. Her fondness for the oblique, her sense that identities are not fixed by oneself but are in fluid relations to time and place and other people links clearly with her experiences as a child. Phyllis Lassner makes this point nicely when she links the difficult-to-place style with Bowen's own sense of identity: "Bowen is a marginalised figure in several ways that are transformed imaginatively into a distinctive style and persona. Neither English nor Irish, she was born Anglo-Irish, an uneasy identity in both cultures" (142-43). Bowen was herself very conscious of this individual yet dislocating origin for her work, as her complaint--thinking of thesis writers and critics--makes clear: "Bowen topography has so far ... been untouched by research. Should anyone give it a thought after I am dead, that will be too late. To it, only I hold the key" (Mulberry Tree 282).

Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 7 June 1899. Her parents were both members of the Protestant Anglo-Irish gentry--a social origin that remained of great importance to Bowen throughout her writing career, as did her status as part Irish, part English. Her father, Henry Cole Bowen, was a barrister practicing at the Dublin Bar and later a searcher of land titles for the Irish Land Commission. He and her mother, Florence Colley, married in 1890, and Elizabeth was their only child. Henry had inherited the family house, Bowen's Court (one of the "big houses" of the Anglo-Irish gentry), but a bitter quarrel with his father had led to a division of the house from the estate that surrounded it. The cause of the quarrel was Henry's wish to earn a living in a profession, a desire regarded by his father as a betrayal of his position as a landowner who should live on his estate. The big house in general, Bowen's Court in particular, and the decline of the Anglo-Irish remained powerful and mythic themes for Bowen throughout her career. So too did more generalized themes of exile, expulsion, and complex, mixed identities.

These themes may well have arisen partly from her Anglo-Irish origins, but were also inflected by some specific experiences of her own. Around 1905, when Elizabeth was six years old, the first signs came that all was not well with her father. He was obsessively anxious and self-accusing, irritable and unpredictable, sometimes shouting and ranting. He was diagnosed as suffering from "anemia of the brain," a term then used to cover a range of mental disorders with a physiological label. Most recent biographers and critics of Bowen regard her father's illness as some form of nervous breakdown, perhaps partly stemming from the unresolved argument with his father and a feeling that he had let the family down. Both parents had, anyway, been somewhat emotionally distanced from their daughter, leaving her to the care of nurses and governesses (not in itself unusual for people of their class). Now Elizabeth was kept away from her father for much of the time during 1905 and the beginning of 1906, while her mother stayed with him in the hope that he would recover. However, there was no clear recovery of stability, and on one occasion Elizabeth was taken from her bed by her mother during the night and taken to a relative's house after a violent outburst of some description on her father's part. Toward the end of 1906, following the advice of Henry's doctors, Elizabeth and her mother came to live in England. The medical advice was apparently motivated by the idea that Henry might make a better recovery if left alone, but may have been an attempt to spare the wife and daughter the considerable sufferings involved in living with Henry in his current state.

Florence and Elizabeth went to stay at first with a female cousin in the southern English seaside resort of Folkestone in the county of Kent. Thereafter they rented various villas in the same area, moving from one to another quite frequently. The exact nature of Henry's illness was not discussed with Elizabeth, and she was encouraged to regard the stay in England as a kind of extended holiday. She enjoyed the experience and felt that England was somewhat exotic. Elizabeth attended a day school in Folkestone, which she also enjoyed, though her mother, anxious that Henry's mental instability might be hereditary, absented her from school for periods so that she might not overtire her brain. This slightly displaced, temporary yet quite long-term life continued in this way until 1912. Mother and daughter became much closer than they had been in the grander surroundings of their house in Dublin. However, in 1911 Florence began to need periodic "rest cures." Though concealed from Elizabeth, these absences were in fact due to operations for cancer. In the summer of 1912 Florence "was told by a Dublin doctor, to her delight, that she would be in Heaven six months hence" (Mulberry Tree 290). Florence died in September 1912.

Elizabeth's father, meanwhile, had begun to show signs of recovery in 1911, and was able to work again, but ordinary family life had had no chance to be reestablished, and Elizabeth felt "total bereavement" (Mulberry Tree 289), as if she had lost both parents. She developed a stammer, which she never lost. After her mother's death, she remained in England, living with an aunt in Hertfordshire, and went to a day school, Harpenden Hall, during the remainder of 1912. From being a bright pupil at her previous school, here she was at the bottom of the class: "My stupidity may have been due to denied sorrow" (Mulberry Tree 292). In the summer of 1913 she traveled abroad with her aunt and uncle and her father, visiting Switzerland, Brussels, and Cologne. Elizabeth was in no state to be open to the enjoyments of travel: "1912 ... had been an unbearable year" (Mulberry Tree 290).

In September 1914 Elizabeth went as a boarder to Downe House School in Kent. Her school days were spent in an atmosphere inflected by the Great War: "The moral stress was appalling. We grew up under the intolerable obligation of being fought for" (Mulberry Tree 16). However, patriotic fervor was not much encouraged by the school, and, having no male relatives fighting in the war, Elizabeth was to some degree sheltered from this public trauma which immediately succeeded her private griefs. Nor did she seem much affected at the time by the events taking place in Dublin in 1916. Elizabeth enjoyed life at Downe House, feeling that the encouraging atmosphere gave her a chance to grow without undue interference or complication: "no one dragooned us" (Mulberry Tree 20). She left the school in 1917 and returned to Bowen's Court, where her father Henry now lived with his second wife, Mary Gwynne, whom he had married in 1916. Elizabeth worked for the remaining year of the war at a hospital for shell-shocked officers near Dublin. She enjoyed the social life of the big house, and there was a romantic episode and a brief engagement with a British officer (turned imaginatively into part of the material of her first novel, The Last September in 1928). Ireland's troubles of this period--including attacks on the big houses of the Anglo-Irish and attacks and reprisals between British troops and Irish volunteers--came close, but not quite to Bowen's Court. Several neighboring big houses were burnt down.

In 1919 her father granted her an allowance, and Elizabeth went to live in London with a relative: "I was extravagant ... [then] for months together I had to live very quietly--but this was a good thing, as it made me begin to write" (Chadwick Healey). Between leaving school and arriving in London, she had already written a number of short stories, which she now sent off to various magazines. They were rejected, but Elizabeth was not discouraged. She went to the Poetry Bookshop, hearing Ezra Pound read on one occasion, and contacted the novelist Rose Macaulay, to whom she had been commended by her Downe House headmistress. In 1921 she had a story accepted by the Saturday Westminster. She began to meet literary figures and publishers and soon signed a contract with Sidgwick and Jackson for a collection of her short stories, called Encounters, which appeared in 1923. This was followed in 1926 by a second collection, Ann Lee's and Other Stories, and then in 1928 by her first novel, The Hotel. Each of these books was well-received. Her position as a writer was thus firmly established during the 1920s, and she never entered any other kind of primary occupation. She was an extremely productive writer throughout her life, publishing ten novels, nine nonfiction works of a variety of kinds, a large number of short stories (around eighty), and numerous essays. She also reviewed, particularly for the New Statesman (she tended to be kind to almost everything she reviewed). Bowen felt a powerful need to write, as she explained on several occasions, including in Why Do I Write? (1948): "Perhaps one emotional reason why one may write is the need to work off, out of the system, the sense of being solitary and farouche. Solitary and farouche people don't have relationships: they are quite unrelatable. If you and I were capable of being altogether house-trained and made jolly, we should be nicer people but not writers.... My writing, I am prepared to think, may be a substitute for something I have been born without--a so-called normal relation to society. My books are my relation to society" (Mulberry Tree 223).

It is notable that faroucheness--being shy, withdrawn, not used to civilization (literally "out of doors" from the Latin forasticus)--is a key Bowen theme which her novels keep returning to, from her first to her last. One might connect her interest in outsiders both with her own Anglo-Irish upbringing and with its sudden, multiple disruptions, as she moved from house to house, from two parents to one, to aunts and then to boarding school, from Ireland to England and back again. Places and houses are vitally important in Bowen's fiction, something that she herself noted several times: "Am I not manifestly a writer for whom places loom large?" (Mulberry Tree 282).

Also in 1923 she married Alan Cameron, a captain who had suffered gas poisoning during the war and was now assistant secretary for education for the county of Northamptonshire. He was a calm and solid man, who, when he and Elizabeth first met, enjoyed talking about literature, but who later aroused very mixed reactions among her literary friends. Some regarded him as tedious, but Elizabeth's affection for him was never in doubt, though she had a number of affairs. They lived at first in Northampton, and then after two years moved to Old Headington, Oxford, when Alan took up the post of secretary of education for the city. Elizabeth visited Bowen's Court as often as she could, and in 1930, when her father died after a brief illness, she inherited the house. Though she and Alan could not live there (it was, in fact, a financial burden), Elizabeth was always strongly attached to the house and its history.

Elizabeth's earlier pleasure in literary conversations and friends continued to develop in the thirties. She became a well-known hostess, entertaining writers in Oxford, in London, and in Ireland at Bowen's Court. She knew in varying degrees of closeness writers both up and coming and established, including David Cecil, John Buchan, Cyril Connolly, Rosamond Lehmann, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Sean O'Faolain, William Plomer, Goronwy Rees, and Virginia Woolf. Also part of her circle was the Wadham College, Oxford, Literature Fellow, Humphry House. With him she began, in 1933, the first of her affairs: a passionate affair quite unlike the convivial friendliness which led her to marry Alan Cameron. An understanding at some stage developed--perhaps unspoken--between Elizabeth and her husband Alan about such affairs. There was never any question of Elizabeth leaving him, nor he her. Their relationship does not seem to have been in any serious sense a sexual one, but a source of essential security for Elizabeth (one might speculate that the marriage did something to compensate for the disruptions of her childhood experience of domestic security).

The relationship with Humphry House did lead to some complications, however. He was due to marry when he met Elizabeth in 1933 and, indeed, did so. Elizabeth was in a controlled way possessive of him. She regarded his wife Madeleine as making unreasonable demands on Humphry--such as calling him back from his visit to her at Bowen's Court because the roof of their house had been demolished by a storm. The affair continued until 1935, when Humphry and his family went to work in India.

In the same year Alan and Elizabeth moved to London. He had been appointed to a newly created post as secretary to the Central Council of School Broadcasting at the BBC. Elizabeth found a house in central London, which she thought ideal. The house, a fine Regency town house at 2 Clarence Terrace, Regent's Park, became an important Bowen place--part of what she herself called "The topography of Elizabeth Bowen fiction" (Mulberry Tree 297). Clarence Terrace became Windsor Terrace in one of her best regarded novels, The Death of the Heart, and the house also featured in much of her wartime writing, as did the neighboring Regent's Park. The house was a splendid setting for Elizabeth's liking for parties and other forms of socializing. (Alan was less fond of the constant stream of visitors.)

In terms of outward events, there were few dramatic developments in Elizabeth's life during the 1930s: she had established herself in a comfortable marriage and had sociable and sophisticated friends (she grew to know Virginia Woolf well as the decade went on). However, the decade was an extremely full one in terms of her writing. She had written two novels in the twenties and was to write one in the forties, one in the fifties, and two in the sixties. In the thirties she published four novels and a collection of short stories, as well as doing a great deal of reviewing of poetry, novels, and plays. Thus there was Friends and Relations in 1931, To the North in 1933, The House in Paris in 1935, The Death of the Heart in 1938, and the volume of short stories, The Cat Jumps and Other Stories in 1934. Each of these books had good reviews, and The Death of the Heart, a Book Society choice, sold well and added some financial success to her already clear critical successes.

In 1939 Bowen referred to Humphry House (with whom she still kept in touch) as being gloomy and tense due partly to "war-fears" (Craig 93). Toward the end of the thirties Elizabeth shared the general sense that doom was unavoidable and wanted to do something (she was highly critical of Chamberlain's policy of appeasement). When war was declared, she was determined to contribute, especially after Churchill, whom she much admired, became prime minister in 1940. She became an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden, enforcing blackout regulations and ensuring that people took shelter. She also did a good deal of work for the Ministry of Information, visiting Eire (as it now was) to test public and government opinion and writing confidential reports on the attitude of neutral Ireland toward the war. She talked to Irish politicians, including those who were opposed to neutrality--notably the Fine Gael deputy leader, James Dillon, who was certain of the "justness of the Allied cause" (Craig 101). As well as contributing her talents as a writer and her knowledge of Ireland to the war effort, she was probably personally keen to represent fairly the quite complex situation of Ireland to England (as can be seen in her article "Eire" for the New Statesman in 1941). The experience of leaving besieged London for neutral Eire was a strange one, though Bowen often pointed out that conditions in Eire were not as normal as critical English reports suggested (food was not always plentiful and invasion by Germany was thought possible).

Bowen wrote a good deal about living in wartime London, both in factual and fictional forms. Her writing had often had an elusive, mysterious, quasi-thriller quality, in which reality was not easily pinned down, and this now seemed to become not just a personal Bowen "topography" but a shared, public sense in the strange dislocations of wartime London: "London feels all this this year most. To save something, she contracts round her wounds. Transport stoppages, roped-off districts, cut-off communications and `dirty' nights now make her a city of villages--almost of village communes. Marylebone is my village. Friends who live outside it I think about but seldom see: they are sunk in the life of their own villages.... For one bad week, we were all turned out on acount of time-bombs: exiled" (Mulberry Tree 23-24). Her sense of reality as needing careful negotiation and decipherment--neither self-evident nor ignorable--now seemed to her to be a common perception in the capital. This sense of wartime London--particularly during the blitz in 1940-1941--powerfully affected Bowen's writing and contributes to the peculiar atmosphere of some of her best works, especially her story "Mysterious Kor" and her novel The Heat of the Day (1948).

The war--and probably also her visits to Ireland--also inspired a period of looking back, resulting in two autobiographical works, which, characteristically, focus as much on places and family history as on sell Bowen's Court, a history of the Bowen family's obsessive relation to their house from 1776 onward, was published in 1942. Seven Winters, published in the same year, was subtitled "Memories of a Dublin Childhood." Looking back provided an escape from the present: "Bowen's Court in that December of 1941 in which this book was finished, still stood in its particular island of quietness, in the south of an island country not at war" (Bowen's Court & Seven Winters 457). Both books have an air of nostalgia, but it is characteristic of Bowen that it is nuanced and not lacking in a certain critical distance: "it was always with some qualification ... that one beheld at Bowen's Court, the picture of peace" (Bowen's Court & Seven Winters 457). Bowen found the experience of the war in many ways a rich one: "I would not have missed being in London throughout the War for anything: it was the most interesting period of my life" (Glendinning 158). There were also, of course, great dangers: as well as the unexploded time bomb in Regent's Park, parts of Clarence Terrace itself were damaged by bombs on several occasions.

In addition to the public heightening of feeling in those days of extraordinary courage and crisis, Elizabeth had private reasons for exaltation. In 1941 she met a Canadian diplomat, Charles Ritchie, at the christening of John Buchan's grandson. They quickly became friends and then lovers, the relationship lasting in some form or other until the end of her life. Phyllis Lassner suggests that their relationship to England may have been part of the attraction: "The Anglo-Canadian and Anglo-Irishwoman enjoyed a sense of secret feelings, of living on the sly while in the mainstream of English social and cultural life" (Lassner 22). Patricia Craig similarly suggests the appeal of being half-outsiders, with a shared sense of secrecy, of seizing chances as they arise. She applies to the relationship a quotation from The Heat of the Day: "The very temper of pleasures lay in their chanciness ..." (107). There is no doubt that the affair--and its atmosphere--formed the basis of her 1948 novel The Heat of the Day. The novel is dedicated to Ritchie, and in January 1942 Elizabeth had told Charles that she would like to put him in a novel. Ritchie was recalled to Ottowa in 1945, before the German surrender. However, he and Elizabeth visited each other as often as they could throughout the 1950s (even though he had married a cousin in 1948). He visited Elizabeth even at her last house in Kent in the sixties and seventies.

At the end of the war, Elizabeth and Alan decided to spend more time at Bowen's Court, especially since he had retired from his post at the BBC. But, in fact, both he and Elizabeth remained in demand over the next five years and were unable to put their plans wholly into practice. He was offered work as an educational consultant on projects for the Oxford University Press and EMI records. She began to be asked to undertake a number of public roles and was awarded various kinds of public recognition. She was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1948, and given the honorary degree of D. Litt by Trinity College, Dublin, in 1949. She was asked by the British Council to give a series of lectures in Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia (meeting Graham Greene for dinner in the post-war Vienna that he was to picture as the landscape of The Third Man). She served on the 1949 Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (which recommended abolition when it reported in 1953) and was invited to make a number of radio broadcasts for the BBC. Her U.S. publisher, Knopf, produced a uniform collection of her novels in 1948, and in 1951 she was invited to lecture in America. This public life continued for the next two decades--for example, she taught at Princeton in the seventies and was a Booker Prize judge.

Her devotion to literary socializing flourished again after the war. She, Graham Greene, and V. S. Pritchett came up with the plan to publish a joint volume about the motivations for writing, Why Do I Write, published in 1948. However, in 1951 Alan had a heart attack and was advised to give up work. Thus they sold Clarence Terrace and moved to Bowen's Court. Alan did not, though, return to good health and died the following year. Elizabeth felt the loss severely, feeling lonely and abandoned without his presence in the background: "The chief thing is, not being able to talk. And oh, without him I feel so cold" (letter to May Sarton 5 October 1952, qtd. in Lassner 23). Elizabeth continued to live and work at Bowen's Court, publishing her novel A World of Love in 1955, but was keener than ever for visits from literary friends. She also traveled a good deal, accepting as many invitations as she received (including one to give a series of writing classes at Bryn Mawr). This was a matter not only of loneliness, but also of money: Bowen's Court was expensive and its maintenance took up nearly all of her income from writing. In the 1963 afterword to Bowen's Court Elizabeth wrote about how heavily this expense began to press on her during the 1950s: "I, remaining at Bowen's Court, tried to carry on the place, and the life which went with it, alone.... I should, I thought, be able to maintain the place somehow.... For seven years I tried to do what was impossible.... Costs rose: I had not enough money, and I had to face the fact that there never would be enough. Anxiety, the more deep for being repressed, increasingly slowed down my power to write, and it was upon my earnings, and those only, that Bowen's Court had by now come to depend" (Bowen's Court & Seven Winters 458). In 1960 she had to sell; a local farmer bought the house. Elizabeth believed that he intended to live in the house, but in fact he demolished it almost immediately. Though by the time of the 1963 afterword Bowen was resigned to this loss, friends at the time thought it was a severe blow: "She looks like someone who has attended her own execution" (Eddie Sackville-West to Molly Keane qtd. in Glendinning; cited in Craig 132).

Bowen was thus dislocated again. Needing to find somewhere to live, she returned, it seems, to earlier Bowen places. She found an apartment in Headington, Oxford, near where she and Alan had lived from 1925-1935. Here she wrote her novel The Little Girls (1964) and her last collection of short stories, A Day in the Dark and Other Stories (1965). In 1965 she went even further back, moving to the seaside town of Hythe in Kent, where she had lived with her mother in 1912. She bought a particularly plain and modest, modern red-brick house, which she called "Carberry." In the same year she was made a Companion of the Royal Society of Literature. She continued to entertain, but guests now had to stay at a local hotel. In 1969 she published her last novel, Eva Trout (it posthumously won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize).

Bowen continued to write in the seventies. She decided to write an autobiography to be called Pictures and Conversations, saying--in response to recent critical essays about her--"if anybody must write a book about Elizabeth Bowen, why should not Elizabeth Bowen?" (Mulberry Tree 297). She had also begun work on a new novel to be called The Move-In. However, by this time she was not well. She had smoked heavily throughout her life and had a constant cough and suffered frequently from bronchitis. In 1971 she was suffering from pneumonia and a skeptic foot. By the following year, she was having trouble speaking audibly--a terrible thing for one as addicted to conversation as was she. Soon she was completely unable to speak. Learning of this, Charles Ritchie flew over from Canada and made her seek medical advice. She was diagnosed with throat cancer, and after radium treatment, she recovered at least the ability to whisper. But by early 1973 she was very ill and had to be admitted to hospital at Hythe. Charles Ritchie visited every day and was with her when she died on 22 February 1973.

The Writings

Elizabeth Bowen was an important writer in two forms--the short story and the novel. She writes revealingly about the differences she saw between these two kinds of fiction in the 1959 preface to a selection of her short stories: "Looking through this selection I have made, I find fantasy strongly represented.... If I were a short-story writer only, I might well seem to be out of balance. But recall, more than half my life is under the steadying influence of the novel, with its calmer, stricter, more orthodox demands: into the novel goes such taste as I have for rational behaviour and social portraiture. The short story, as I see it to be, allows for what is crazy about humanity: obstinacies, inordinate heroisms, `immortal longings.' At no time, even in the novel, do I consider realism to be my forte" (Mulberry Tree 130). The distinction drawn here is between the novel as a form that must contain and govern the extremity of human thought and behavior within a social framework and the short story which, being shorter-winded, can afford to show just the moments of "what is crazy." The distinction itself recalls a thematic Bowen interest articulated by a novelist character in one of her best-known novels: "I swear that each of us keeps, battened down inside himself, a sort of lunatic giant--impossible socially, but full-scale--and that it's the knockings and batterings we sometimes hear in each other that keeps our intercourse from utter banality" (The Death of the Heart 310). The short story lets the lunatic giant out, while the novel allows us to hear that impossible presence inside a restraining framework. However, the distinction also suggests strong links between Bowen's short stories and novels: both share a sense of the impossibility of ever being native to our own lives. On the one hand, there is the superficial banality which we can cope with, on the other, an apparently more authentic giant who cannot possibly be unleashed for more than a moment. It is no wonder, then, that Bowen did not consider realism her forte, since the location of the real is always under negotiation between the craziness of inner worlds and the mere surfaces of what is socially expressible. If the lunatic is let loose, the consequences are always, in Bowen's world, disastrous.

Bowen had a long and productive career. It is not possible here to cover all her works, especially in the short story, in equal detail. For the short story, significant developments in her work will be discussed through specific examples. All of the novels will be discussed, but with more coverage given to the three novels considered her greatest achievements: The Last September, The Death of the Heart, and The Heat of the Day. Throughout, I will draw on the extensive and acutely analytic commentaries that Bowen wrote about her own work in a variety of prefaces and essays. Few writers have been as aware as she was--and as fascinated by--the continuities and patterns of their own lives and works.

Bowen in later life thought that her first two collections of short stories, Encounters and Ann Lee's and Other Stories had been, if anything, rather generously reviewed. Writing of Encounters in a preface to the second edition in 1949, she said: "The ... stories are a blend of precocity and naivety. Today, they do not seem to me badly written; the trouble with some may be, they were not well found" (Mulberry Tree 120). The last phrase--a characteristically idiosyncratic Bowen use of language--refers to two kinds of insubstantiality. Bowen thought retrospectively that the stories were not properly rooted in reality, in knowledge of people or in knowledge of fiction, particularly the short story as a form. She felt that she had then limited experience of reading the short story: "I read widely, but wildly. I did not know the stories of Hardy or Henry James; I had heard of Chekhov, but no more. I had not read Maupassant because I dreaded the bother of reading French.... I first read [Katherine Mansfield's] Bliss after I had completed my own first set of stories" (Mulberry Tree 120). In fact, she thought that many of the stories published in Encounters were not really short stories at all, but better described as sketches: "I did not grasp that, while it could be emancipated from conventional `plot,' a story, to be a story, must have a turning-point. A sketch need not have a turning-point, for it is no more than extra-perceptive reportage (`Breakfast' and `The Lover' are examples)" (Mulberry Tree 122). She had, however, read E. M. Forster's short-story collection The Celestial Omnibus (1911), from which there are signs of influence. Looking back, Bowen thought that there was something fresh about this first collection, with its sharp explorations of specific and delimited situations. If her characters were treated harshly by their creator, it was to "snapshot them at a succession of moments when weakness, mistrust, falseness were most exposed" (Mulberry Tree 121). Certainly, the stories do show great confidence and are technically assured from the very first. Thus in the opening story of Encounters, "Breakfast," can be seen Bowen's ability to create the force of claustrophobic annoyance felt by the main character Mr. Rossiter at his daily suffering. The story opens with his anticipation:" `Behold I die daily,' thought Mr Rossiter, entering the breakfast room ..." and ends with his reflection: "All his days and nights were loops, curving out from breakfast time, curving back to it again. Inexorably the loops grew smaller, the breakfasts longer; looming more and more over his nights, eating more and more out of his days" (Collected Stories 15, 20). If this sketch sees Mr. Rossiter's whole life only through breakfast, this is particularly appropriate to a character who equally sees his life as increasingly retracted to that central, diurnal ordeal.

Hermione Lee feels that Bowen had already "established a characteristic tone in the early short stories," but that in her first novel, The Hotel, "her sense of herself is missing" (Lee 58). This is very much the case, and, as Lee adds, the influence of Forster's Room with a View (1908), together with that of Woolf's The Voyage Out (1915) and an admixture of Jamesian style, predominates over originality in this novel. The novel is set in a hotel on the Italian Riviera. It explores the relationships of the English people staying there, especially those of the intelligent but unformed girl Sydney, who is finally rescued from her emotional confusions by a moment of highly Forsterian insight on an excursion in the hills. Despite the problems the novel has in escaping from the shadows of its influences, however, it is, as Jocelyn Brooke noted, an attempt at what would become a recurring theme in Bowen's work: "the predicament of the `innocent heart' pitted against the forces of insensibility and misunderstanding, the victim of its own immaturity" (12-13).

Her next novel, The Last September, was much more her own, taking place in a literal sense closer to home. The novel is contemporary in setting, compared to the Edwardianism of The Hotel, yet also markedly retrospective in looking back to events of some seven years before. It concerns an Anglo-Irish family living in a big house during the troubles before independence in southern Ireland was won in 1921. The house is plainly based on Bowen's Court. The family are the Naylors, and the central figure of the book is their orphan niece, Lois, who lives with them. While the traditional life of the big house continues in the novel, with its mythic role as a center of hospitality and sociability, outside is the antithesis of these qualities: violence, death, and destruction. If the big house is an icon of Anglo-Irish qualities, this is a novel about the end of that distinctive culture. But, of course, the house is not, in fact, simply apart from the troubles: it is part of them. The war between the Irish Republican Army and the British army is precisely pulling apart the possibility of a continuing Anglo-Irish identity. Bowen articulates precisely the peculiar position of the Anglo-Irish in her 1952 preface to the novel: "Ambushes, arrests, captures and burnings, reprisals and counter-reprisals kept the country and country people distraught and tense.... [T]he position of such Anglo-Irish landowning families as the Naylors ... was not only ambiguous but was more nearly heart-breaking than they cared to show. Inherited loyalty (or at least adherence) to Britain--where their sons were schooled, in whose wars their sons had for generations fought ... pulled them one way; their own temperamental Irishness the other" (Mulberry Tree 125). She also makes clear just how personal a novel it was: "This ... of all my books is nearest my heart" (123); "I was the child of the house from which Danielstown derives" (126).

Again, there is the interest in the innocent, inexperienced protagonist, with high yet unshaped expectations. If the older generation would like simply to be left alone to uphold their traditions, Lois is far from content. She desires something more solid, perhaps the drama of experience, perhaps emotional fullness, but cannot find it. Though Danielstown is in the middle of a battlefield, it is part of the Anglo-Irish tradition to keep going, to make no fuss. Lois asks, "How far do you think this war is going to go? Will there ever be anything we can all do except not notice?" (115). Glendinning comments that the power of the novel stems from its sense of this repressed violence. She also links this to one of Bowen's literary influences, Jane Austen: it "is the perfect illustration of Elizabeth's tenet that life with the lid on is both more frightening and more exciting than with the lid off. She expressed this point when writing about Jane Austen (in English Novelists, 1945)" (67). As so often in Bowen's world, reality is powerful but impalpable: "How is it that in this country that ought to be full of such violent realness there seems to be nothing for me but clothes and what people say? I might as well be in some kind of a cocoon" (70). Lois cannot connect herself with the events outside the house, but perhaps her desire for reality can be fulfilled in her emotional life inside Danielstown. She has a brief attachment to the English officer Gerald Lesworth, who is part of the nearby garrison. But her aunt and uncle do not approve, thinking him not quite of the right status, and the two are separated. Gerald is later killed in an IRA ambush. But even had they not been separated, it is implied that he could not wholly have filled Lois's sense of vacancy. He is a simple Englishman: "He loved me, he believed in the British Empire." But his unproblematic acceptance of the absolute nature of experience would surely not end the doubts of a character who sees absence everywhere: "And she could not try to explain ... how ... she and these home surroundings still further penetrated each other mutually in the discovery of a lack" (166). What is found in Danielstown is not solidity, but palpable emptiness. As Phyllis Lassner comments, the "conventions of realism" are used (33), but they expose the fact that reality is not graspable. This paradox is at the heart of all of Bowen's writing: any view of reality that can locate it as self-evident is lacking in depth, but any other viewpoint leads to a desire which can never be fulfilled. The only further alternative in her fiction is to do what the older generation in Danielstown do--to cover up the lack, rather than disbelieve in it. The Last September thus gives an account of a founding myth for the world of Bowen's writing. And if this myth of a center which cannot be filled has its origins in Anglo-Ireland, it comes to be seen just as clearly in other places too.

Bowen's next novel, Friends and Relations, has usually been seen as a lesser achievement than The Last September and sometimes as being on a par with the apprentice work of The Hotel. However, this seems unfair. It is an intricate and subtle novel, which takes Bowen's concerns into new territory, both topographically and metaphorically. The setting is Surrey and London, where the novel explores the relationship between what is and what might have been, between strong but unexpressed emotions and the routines of everyday life.

The complex plot maps the complicated relationships between a number of characters from two families, the Tilneys and the Studdarts. The novel opens with the marriage of Laurel Studdart to Edward Tilney. Shortly afterward, her sister Janet Studdart marries Rodney Meggatt. However, it turns out that there is an unfortunate connection between the two men who marry into the Studdart family: for Rodney's uncle, a big-game hunter called Considine Meggatt, was the lover of his mother, Lady Elfrida Tilney. Considine was cited as corespondent in Lady Tilney's scandalous divorce, and Edward Tilney feels that his childhood was ruined by his mother's disgrace. Both the Studdart-Tilney and the Studdart-Meggatt marriages produce children. When Laurel and her children go to stay with her sister, Janet, they meet Lady Tilney. When Edward learns of this contact with what he considers an appalling family taint, he arrives at the Studdart-Meggatt household to remove the children from "the infection of past iniquity" (Brooke 15). Here, however, the real crisis of the novel opens up, for it becomes clear that Janet has always, in fact, been love with Edward. She married Rodney so soon after her sister's wedding precisely because she knew that the Meggatts had a Tilney connection: it was in an obscure way a kind of contact with Edward Tilney.

However, in this world of families and houses and social expectation, it is difficult to break free--though Lady Elfrida had done so. Impossible too to turn back the clock when there are children and a whole life established, even though it is one founded upon thwarted desire. Though Janet at last expresses her love, and Edward is half-forced to recognize love for Janet, nothing changes, though everyone involved knows that the most part of their adult lives have been shown to be merely habitual rather than wholly voluntary. This painful, but exhausted situation is represented by a long simile of a ship leaving harbor: "Watching a ship draw out you are aboard a moment, seeing with those eyes: eyes that you can no longer perceive. You see the shore recessive, withdrawing itself from you.... You look--as all this retreats--with regret but without desire. The figures in trouble are inconceivable, gone" (207-08). As both plot summary and the quotation may suggest, this is a novel of a complex and dense texture. Some critics have thought the novel unnecessarily resistant to reading; Hermione Lee says the "narrative style ... is densely, indeed irritatingly, elaborate" (62). It is certainly true that this is a novel that does not give up even its plot easily, and for which a reader needs considerable patience. But the effort is worth it: the novel's difficulty is justified by its intricate portrayal of the relationships between desires and acts, between that which is done and that which is not. The complex unfolding of narrative as well as a local density of style is an essential part of all Bowen's fiction. Indeed, the critic Jocelyn Brookes says that the novel could be fairly described as typical of her work. Nevertheless, her later novels are (in the main) perhaps more readable, while no less nuanced.

Next came To the North, a different kind of novel in some respects. While there is still the individual and angular Bowen style and the narration at which the reader must work to decipher the events of the story, there is a more contemporary feel to the novel. Indeed, the novel might usefully be compared to Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies (1930) as a depiction of the fast-paced lives and instabilities of the "younger generation." Where Friends and Relations focused on characters in the middle of their lives, with important supporting roles for an older generation, To the North is more closely centred round the young. The protagonists are a young woman, Emmeline Summers, and the young man she becomes involved with, Mark Linklater, known as Markie. Emmeline, unlike the housewives and mothers Janet and Laurel Studdart, works for her living in London, running a travel agency. Markie is introduced to Emmeline after meeting her sister-in-law on a train returning to England from Italy. As Hermione Lee observes, there is a change of tone from the previous novel: "the opening points towards a more dramatic, more powerful enterprise" (66).

Indeed, this is a novel obsessed with dynamism, travel, and speed. Cecilia, returned so rapidly from Italy, feels "her senses still running ahead from the speed of the journey" (22). Emmeline, who drives everywhere in her new car, early on explains the ethos of her business: "Our organisation is really far-reaching.... We have made out a chart of comparative dinner times all over Europe, so's people need not waste their evenings.... We keep very much up to date. My partner is doing a rather interesting graph of civic intelligence. We've got a slogan: `Move dangerously'--a variant of `Live dangerously,' you see. It took us some time to think out, but I think it's effective. We're having it stamped on our circulars" (26). However, there is a noticeable slippage between the unstoppable language of speed and global travel and Emmeline's conversational style--she hesitates and explains, rather than states. When questioned she acknowledges that their travel arrangements are actually quite safe, but that the agency tries to supply the "element of uncertainty" that has been lost in modern life. In fact, despite her talk of travel, neither she nor her business partner have much experience of travel: "he gets sea-sick and air-sick and quite often train-sick, and I haven't got time to go everywhere" (27). Modern travel thus imagined seems to possess a mixture of attributes: it promises total knowledge in advance and superefficiency in the use of time, yet if these are delivered, there is a loss of the risk that is also deemed essential. There is an uncertainty about whether travel is an escape from modern industrial life or a continuation of it. It is an imaginary form of contentment, but perhaps there are worrying ambiguities--will the reality ever match the desire? "The English went on putting up in so many unconscious prayers their request for happiness" (205). From the beginning, the novel suggests that Emmeline's line of sales patter has an uncertain and perhaps dangerous relation to her own life at home. Indeed, home--or the lack of homes--is the novel's other obsession, as in this conversation at dinner:

"Julian says he has heard of a house," she [Cecilia] went on, to Markie, "but then we hear of so many. Where would you live? I don't think the house we both want has ever been built."

"Why not build it?"

"I don't think we know what we want."

"It would be devastating ... to have to make up one's mind." (270)

Though Markie's comment here might seem to satirize Julian and Cecilia, he is, in fact, himself a specialist in noncommitment, living in a discreet bachelor flat of no character at all. Indeed, as Jocelyn Brooke suggests, he does not even fulfill his role as wicked seducer with conviction: "Mark is ... both half-hearted and unsatisfactory; he is a bit of a bounder and (worse still) the sort of bounder who lacks confidence in his own ability to bound" (17). But Emmeline, taking on a characteristic Bowen role as the fatal innocent, commits herself utterly to him, entirely on "his terms," without promise of marriage (214). But even so, he is made uneasy by her very commitment, the absoluteness of which is shown by her disregard of social convention: "her wildness appalled Markie" (214). She eventually asks herself, "What did Markie always want to avoid?," a question that is linked to his version of the urge for travel, never to be anywhere for too long: "`Here we are,' she had thought, coming in: but she had been wrong, they were not. For ever coming and going, no peace, no peace" (233).

Despite her commitment to travel, Emmeline's tragedy is in the end to discover that there is no point of rest, no destination in her society. Everyone is a traveler, moving dangerously because they have no places at which to stop or are too frightened of what being stationary might mean. She discovers that Markie does not really exist:

"Aren't we friends?"

Her wide-apart eyes looked his way with unseeing intentness. "I didn't think so," she said.

"Then why am I here?"

She could have said: "You are not," for his presence remained unreal. (269)

In the last chapter of the novel Emmeline drives the terrified Markie "To the North": she does it without explicit purpose--it seems the only thing to do. As they motor along one of the new improved roads at an ever-increasing tempo, she feels she has attained a kind of absolute speed that releases her: "Like earth shrinking and sinking, irrelevant, under the rising wings of a plane, love with its unseen plan, its constrictions and urgencies, dropped to a depth below Emmeline, who now looked down unmoved at the shadowy map of her pain. For this levitation, a total loss of her faculties, of every sense of his presence, the car and herself driving were very little to pay. She was lost to her own identity, a confining husk" (283). But the price--or the purpose--of this dynamism is death: the inevitable collision comes.

It seem likely that this novel was influenced by Evelyn Waugh's vision of the modern world in Vile Bodies--both novels, for example, have a manic and fatal car ride symbolizing death by modernity. However, while Waugh's characters are (with one possible exception) evidently mere surfaces without depth, Bowen's novel shows the suffering of characters who have consciousness and who are aware of the purposeless, depthless world in which they live. Though Waugh's apparently comic or satiric vision may in the end be tragic, Bowen's vision is clearly so. Her characters are real--or would like to be, if only they could locate something real enough to grasp. Thus the narration of Vile Bodies and To the North is notably different. Waugh's narrator almost never narrates any internal thoughts or feelings in the bright young things: they simply do not have sufficient depth to have any subjectivity. Instead, the characters are caricatures who are fully represented by their repetitive and automatic external movements. Bowen's characters also lack depth, yet they do have an inner life that can be narrated. Though not as well remembered as some of her novels, To the North is a major achievement, which should be regarded as a significant early novel of the 1930s.

Bowen's next novel, The House in Paris, appeared in 1935. As Jocelyn Brooke points out, here, the children who have been important background presences in some of the earlier novels, move into center stage: "Leopold is, in a sense, the hero--or at least the focal point" (20). The idea of a "focal point" is a vital one for the novel, for though it is set on one day in a house in Paris, it actually tells through Leo's sense of that day a story which runs back into the past and is as much about adults as children. This story is one of complex relationships like those already explored in Friends and Relations (and as hard to summarize). Leopold is the son of Karen Michaelis and Max Ebhart. Karen meets Max when, coming to Paris to be "finished" at the age of eighteen, she stays at the Fisher household. Karen returns home, and Max becomes engaged to Naomi Fisher--but only because he is unable to resist the power of her mother, the sinister Mme. Fisher. When Max and Naomi visit Karen in England five years later, she is also engaged, to Ray Forrestier. However, Max and Karen's repressed love now comes into the open. Leopold, born from Karen and Max's brief affair, is adopted by foster-parents in Italy, and Karen marries Ray. Max, persecuted by Mme. Fisher, kills himself.

This story is not, though, told chronologically, but built up from the novel's three parts, two of which are entitled "The Present," the other "The Past," set years before when the visit to England took place. Leopold, aged nine, comes to Mme. Fisher's house to meet his mother for the first time (she has been persuaded by her husband that she should meet her son). Another child, Henrietta, unrelated to the Fisher story, happens also to be staying at the house that day on her way to stay with a relative in Mentone. She has happened upon a drama whose powerfully gloomy atmosphere cannot be escaped for that day, which seems interminable; she may never escape its impact. That story is told partly through Leopold's anticipation, partly through the atmosphere of the house in Paris, and partly through the curious narrative device of part 2, "The Past." There, following the failure of Leopold's mother to arrive, "Your mother is not coming: she cannot come" (65), the narrator provides the explanation of his mother's behavior, which in real life could never fully be available, beginning the long narrative: "This is, in effect, what she would have had to say" (68). Indeed, as Hermione Lee says, "the novel's subject is the relationship between identity and time" (83). Henrietta feels she has been taken out of the time of normal life and dropped into some nightmarish alternative. Leo looks forward with an appalling intensity to the meeting with his mother--expecting it to explain everything: "I shall see what I cannot imagine now" (34). The novel is full of speech about looking forward and looking back--but the object of those anticipations and memories is elusive: it is hard to locate any present which lives up to expectation. When, in fact, Leopold's mother fails to arrive that day. Naomi Fisher tries to promise Leopold that time will make the matter come right, but she--like several other of the principals in this story--cannot have much conviction of that:

"Some other day, I know that you will see your mother!"

"I don't see why," said Leopold.

"Something unforeseen must have happened. You know, even grown-up people cannot always do what they want most."

"Oh! Then why grow up?"

Miss Fisher replied simply, "I never could answer any questions, Leopold." (205)

What could explain the sufferings of this story? What could make it work in ordinary time instead of in its own awkward, disjointed time scheme, where mother and son have to meet for the first time, where another mother kills the son-in-law whom she has forced into that role, and in which Naomi Fisher and Karen Forrestier are bound and separated by this past?

Leopold's grief is unbearable. But Hermione Lee suggests that there is the possibility of something positive from this grievous disappointment, for the strangely egocentric little boy learns of "the foreign power of other wills" (99), and in imagining his mother as outside his control, she becomes paradoxically real for him: "Her refusal became her ... breaking down, by this one act of being herself only, his imagination in which he had bound her up. So she lived outside himself; she was alive truly" (The House in Paris 206). Earlier a narrative voice has predicted that the ultimate explanation or fulfilment or point of absolute rest that Leopold imagines simply cannot take place in real life or real time: "Actually, the meeting he had projected could take place only in heaven--call it heaven; on the plane of potential, not merely likely behaviour. Or call it art, with truth and imagination informing every word. Only there ... could Karen have told Leopold what had really been" (90). The House in Paris is a novel influenced by Henry James, particularly by What Maisie Knew (1897), but made very much Bowen's own, with her complex sense of how narrative could reveal the strangeness of reality, time, and identity. It is a fine novel--both very moving and continuously critical, unsatisfied with resting points.

In 1939 Bowen published a novel that was a relatively popular as well as critical success: The Death of the Heart. Again, there is an important child--or adolescent--character: Portia. But, as in all of Bowen's novels, there is a complex cast of characters, each of whom is developed in detail and depth. Portia is, like Leopold, a child from an illicit relationship--a relationship that has disturbed the social order. She is the daughter of Mr. Quayne and Irene, a woman he falls in love with late in life, when already married. The three innocents--exiled by Mrs. Quayne's sense of propriety--lead a nomadic and underfunded life traveling in Europe, until both parents die in turn. Portia is, as it were, left to Mr. Quayne's son, Thomas, and his wife, Anna.

The novel opens at a point where Portia has been living with the Quaynes for some time. Anna is walking on a cold day, in Regent's Park, with her friend, the novelist St. Quentin, whom she has summoned for urgent consultation. Anna has just found and read Portia's diary. She does not like what she reads: it confirms her feelings about Portia's presence at their elegant house at 2 Windsor Terrace. In fragments her responses to what she has read come out in the conversation:

"That diary could not be worse than it is. That is to say, it couldn't be worse for me.... "

"As I read I thought, either this girl or I are mad.... "

"But this was not a bit like your beautiful books. In fact it was not like writing at all.... She was so odd about me." (10-11)

Anna is in the awkward position of being horribly fascinated by a viewpoint of herself not intended for her eyes. But this is a specifically terrible experience for her, since her whole present life is founded on a highly controlled sense of order. Moreover, this is not so much a moral or social order as an aesthetic one: things should be properly arranged; any disturbance is to be abhorred. Portia is not only a disturbance in the sense of being a sudden addition to the Quayne household, but in more literal ways. Anna is shocked by her untidiness, and, indeed, her rage for order is what leads her to find the diary as she tidies Portia's desk: "Well, it looked so awful, you see. The flap would not shut--papers gushed out all round it and even stuck through the hinge. Which made me shake with anger--I really can't tell you why" (9). One of the ways in which the novel works is by casting doubt on what is normal. Portia's untidiness might be thought to be a normal part of her adolescence (an explanation suggested by St. Quentin); Anna's tidiness might be thought to be normal for a sophisticated woman who is interested in her gracious, elegant house. But Anna thinks Portia's behavior is pathological in some way--and there are plenty of hints that Anna's own compulsion to style and arrangements may not be simply "natural." Her own admission in the quotation above that she did not know why the untidiness made her so angry might suggest motivations below the conscious level.

In fact, the diary is, in Anna's view, another manifestation of untidiness. For it gives a view of Anna that differs from her own self-image--and there can be no room for different viewpoints in her order. The diary has brought the issue of identity and image to a head--before it and Portia come on the scene, Anna has never had to think about herself, because she was established absolutely by the order within which she lives. Ironically, it is the ordered surface of the Quaynes' life that is responsible for Portia's arrival. For her parents, living their odd European exile in cheap hotels, the Quaynes represent self-evident normality. Her father leaves her to them because she "had grown up exiled not only from her own country but from normal, cheerful family life" (15). The parallel with Bowen's own childhood is clear. But now naturalness is the last thing possible at 2 Windsor Terrace--and it may not have been there before, anyway, since Anna's obsession with order could be called the opposite of nature.

The fact that the opening conversation is with a novelist is not merely coincidental to this interest in normality, untidiness, and self-consciousness. Anna is upset by a different viewpoint from her own--and viewpoints are one of the stocks-in-trade of the novelist. So too is style, aesthetic order. No wonder that Anna feels St. Quentin is the best person to consult. Not only is he a writer, but he is clearly one in the line of the ]ate-nineteenth-century aesthetes and dandies, such as Oscar Wilde. One notes his fondness for the well-turned phrase ("If the world's really a stage, there must be some big parts" (310)). But he and she do not quite agree on the function of the aesthetic. For her, art has the sole function of beautifying; it must, therefore, be indivisible, a static object without flaw, like his "beautiful books" (11). But he has a more dynamic sense of art, as something that is put together and can be taken apart. Talking of Portia's diary, he is very interested in how it is written: "You've got to allow for style, though. Nothing arrives on paper as it started, and so much arrives that never started at all. To write is always to rave a little--even if one did once know what one meant, which at her age seems unlikely. There are ways and ways of trumping a thing up.... Style is the thing that's always a bit phony, and at the same time you cannot write without style. Look how much goes to addressing an envelope.... And a diary, after all, is written to please oneself.... The obligation to write it is all in one's own eye ..." (11). Bowen's novel here--as so often, particularly in her explorations of desire--foreshadows modern critical theory in its idea that language is in no sense a transcription of reality, that it is always separate from the reality it appears to describe, and is always already locked into language systems that help determine its genre, mode, style, and imagined audience. Anna thinks the diary distorts everything, is "deeply hysterical" (10), but St. Quentin suggests that every piece of writing--or perhaps even every style, every viewpoint, every representation--is distorting each in its own way. Anna's truth is no more self-evident than Portia's.

Indeed, the novel does not encourage the reader to adopt Anna's viewpoint uncritically: she has some normative functions, but is not simply normal. For that matter, Portia is equally seen as both much less and much more normal than Anna is. Portia does rather expect to discover "normal, cheerful family life" at the Quaynes' but that is hardly hysterical in itself. On the other hand, her understanding of many aspects of life is way off-beam. If Anna hides behind being an adult and invokes experience as her authority, there are nevertheless aspects of her life where Portia could be helped if she could see through a different viewpoint or see the possibility of different styles. Thus when, some way into the novel, we do read extracts from Portia's diary for ourselves, we certainly see that her style no less than Anna's has its problems:


Last night, when I had just finished putting away this diary, Matchett came up to say good night.... She said, it's one marriage and then another that's done harm all along. I said to Matchett that at any rate I'd got her. Then she leant right on my bed and said, that's all very well, but are you a good girl? I said I didn't know what she meant, and she said no, that is just the trouble....

She said, he's a little actor, he is. She said, he had a right to leave you alone. Her good nights are never the same now.

Tomorrow will be Saturday. (121)

Portia's sixteen-year-old expectations of normality are very literal minded, as the style of the diary suggests. She records that the day after Friday will be Saturday! When presented with something that she does not understand, she records the fact, but does not probe for understanding. The "he" referred to by the servant Matchett, the one member of the household who seems able to relate to Portia "naturally," is Eddie. He and Portia are developing some kind of a relationship, but clearly Portia has no conception of what Matchett might be concerned about. If Portia were able to move away from her literalism, she could perhaps begin to see what Matchett might be getting at; but she cannot.

The styles of Anna and Portia seem at first to be opposites, but the opposition is not necessarily the most obvious one. We might expect the contrary of Anna's liking for surfaces to be an ability to enter depths. But, in fact, both Portia and Anna focus on surfaces. The difference between lies in their sense of what a surface is and its consequent function. Anna knows well that there are depths beneath the surface--it is part of her sophistication to know that. But in life as in her decorative aesthetic, she prefers to maintain the illusion that the surface is the whole, is impenetrable. Portia, on the other hand, thinks that surfaces and depths are actually inseparable. Thus she always expects literal transcriptions of what has been said to be significant, but without interpretation, such transcriptions are no guide to reality at all. The gaps between the surfaces and depths in the diary entries are all too obvious to experienced novel readers, but undetectable to the innocent Portia.

We might also note that these two approaches to life correspond to two approaches to writing. Anna's aestheticism has links to certain conceptions of modernism--Anna, like St. Quentin, has more than a touch of Bloomsbury about her. Indeed, her complex discriminations and dislike of raw facts recall Virginia Woolf's approach to the novel, even though her stress on surfaces does not. In a related way Portia's diary represents the crudest conception of realism, in which recording events reveals their truth. This has a bearing on Bowen's own position in novelistic traditions: she is neither a realist in a straightforward sense nor obviously a modernist. Instead she has affinities--and conflicts--with both traditions. Often, her novels seem to critique a range of conceptions of how the mind or the world works. This certainly seems to be the case in The Death of the Heart, with its interest in the consequences of different styles.

For the protagonists of this novel, their differing stylistic approaches to life are tested throughout by contrast with alternatives. Anna's style is tested both by the diary and by Portia's presence. Portia's is tested to crisis by her involvement with Eddie. She cannot help but seek for a literal, solid fulfillment of her quest for the natural or real. Of all possible targets for this absolute coincidence between desire and object, Eddie is the most unlikely. But just as Anna and Portia are complex contraries, so too is Eddie another strangely suitable opposition to Portia. He has no sense at all of his own identity; he is a "vacuum" (67) and usually lives simply by mirroring what he thinks are other people's desires. Thus his role for Anna is to appear to be her lover--which he is not: "He lent himself, ... or appeared to lend himself, to Anna's illusions about living. He did more: by his poetic appreciation he created a small world of art around her. The vanities of which she was too conscious, the honesties to which she compelled herself, even the secrets she had never told him existed inside a crystal they both looked at--not only existed but were beautified" (66). Here we see Anna herself becoming the artistic object that she would like all life to be (and here perhaps we see why Woolf's depths are seen as aesthetic surfaces in this novel--for, whatever diversities they represent, all are aestheticized).

Eddie has no desires of his own. So when Portia begins to fall in love with him (though in a peculiarly adolescent style of her own), he at first simply does what he thinks she would like him to do. Later, though, he develops a paradoxical liking for her because when she is present, he does not even feel the need to reflect her desires. He feels at rest, not positively, but negatively, as if he no longer exists. However, things start going wrong when Portia expects him to be consistent, to have a core. She wants him to exist absolutely and for her. But he (like Markie in To the North) cannot bear to be pinned down: "in that full sense you want me I don't exist" (214). In fact, the attempt to understand Eddie begins to break down Portia's innocent literalism, as Eddie sees: "but now you're ... always watching and judging, trying to piece me together into something that isn't there" (198).

After Eddie--and, indeed, after sampling the different lifestyle of the family of Anna's former governess, Mrs. Heccomb, at Waikiki, her house by the sea--Portia begins to see that her expectations of life may not be fulfilled. This is brought further to a crisis when St. Quentin tells Portia that Anna has been reading her diary and when Portia sees Anna and Eddie together and thinks (rightly) that they have been talking about her.

Unable to bear 2 Windsor Terrace any more, Portia runs away and heads for the hotel room of the retired Major Brutt, who has called (unwanted) on the Quaynes earlier in the book. He is a kindred innocent, who, having retired to England from the Indian Army, expects to find a central reality in London--the center of things that he served for decades out at one of the edges of the Empire. But now, Portia tells him what she has been forced to see: "I see now that my father wanted me to belong somewhere, because he did not.... I suppose he and my mother did not know they were funny: they went on feeling upset because they thought they had once done an extraordinary thing ... but they still thought life was quite simple for people who did not do extraordinary things.... He was quite certain ordinary life went on.... But I see now that it does not: if he and I met again I should have to tell him that there is no ordinary life" (292). Here Portia ends up with the same conclusion Anna comes to after reading the diary: there is no "obvious way" for people to live. And if nothing is obvious, who is to say what is strange, unnatural, unhealthy?

However, that is not quite the end of the novel. For Portia is fetched home again. Anna and Thomas--unable to cope with the disruptions of a crisis--cannot think what to do about Portia's running away. But St. Quentin is consulted and, like a good counselor, makes the couple talk through their possible courses of action. He makes them put themselves into the mind of Portia as best they can; they conclude that she would surely like to be fetched in as natural a way as possible. Therefore Matchett is sent. Matchett, who all along has criticized the unnaturalness of the first Mrs. Quayne, for insisting on "moral" exile, and who is unconvinced by the style of the current Quaynes, is the only one who has been able to understand Portia's point of view without her own being threatened. Thus the maternal, stable family servant goes to collect Portia. If the family cannot maintain family feeling, she can: "No, I'm not going on at you. No, I'm done now.... You come back with Matchett and be a good girl" (317).

And, perhaps, there is some hope at the end that there will be more naturalness at Windsor Terrace. For, though Anna says she and Portia shall surely not be able to make a new start, there is a sense that some of the terrible pressure of maintaining an unflawed style has been relieved through this tough therapy. Nothing is resolved exactly--Anna does not seem to see that her youthful broken romance with the off-stage character Pigeon is what has made her as she is--but everyone has had to imagine the possibilities and consequences of differing viewpoints and styles. St. Quentin, in one of the most quoted passages from Bowen's work, suggests that there has to be a constant generic struggle between drama and routine: "This evening the pure in heart have simply got us on toast. And look at the fun she has--she lives in a world of heroes. Who are we to be sure they're as phony as we all think? ... [B]etter (at least, arguably) the big flop than the small neat man who has more or less come off. Not that there is, really, one neat unhaunted man. I swear that each of us keeps, battened down inside himself, a sort of lunatic giant--impossible socially, but full-scale--and that it's the knockings and batterings we sometimes hear in each other that keep our intercourse from utter banality" (310). The Death of the Heart is a major achievement--exploring not only what the novel can do in its representation and exploration of reality, but making it clear that novelistic devices are, in fact, devices of everyday life too: as St. Quentin says, style, viewpoint, representation cannot be done without.

Bowen's next novel, The Heat of the Day, set during the Second World War, is also considered a masterpiece (and it sold better than any other of her novels). However, her volume of short stories, The Demon Lover, published in 1945 and equally drawing on her experiences of wartime, was also a significant publication, containing some striking stories and particularly Bowen's most famous short story, "Mysterious Kor." In "Postscript by the Author," Bowen explains the wartime conditions under which these stories were produced. She was working mainly on a novel (The Heat of the Day) and wrote short stories at this time only if she had a specific commission. She felt that the peculiar atmosphere of the short stories in the collection stems from the combination of this writing practice and the atmosphere of wartime London:

Does this suggest that these ... stories have been in any way forced or unwilling work? If so, that is quite untrue.... Each time I sat down to write a story I opened a door; and the pressure against the other side of that door must have been very great....

During the war I lived, both as a civilian and as a writer, with every pore open; I lived so many lives ... all under stress, that I see now it would have been impossible to be writing only one book.... I do not feel I "invented" anything I wrote. It seems to me that during the war the overcharged subconsciousnesses of everybody overflowed and merged. It is because the general subconsciousness saturates these stories that they have an authority nothing to do with me. (Demon Lover 216-17)

If, as Bowen herself said, her short stories were where fantasy, or the "crazy," could have free reign, it seems that in these wartime short stories this vein of fantasy became more than an individual experience, as ordinary life was lived at a continual high pitch of emotion and possibility.

"Mysterious Kor" itself is the outstanding example of the atmosphere of these stories. The title comes from a poem called "She" by Andrew Lang, written to his friend Rider Haggard and inspired by his novel She (1887), set in the lost city of Kor. The story opens with a description of London at night. The city is completely silent and empty. The emptiness is strange, for while there is no movement, the description suggests that it is full of intensity:

London looked like the moon's capital--shallow, cratered, extinct....

The Germans no longer came by the full moon. Something more immaterial seemed to threaten, and to be keeping people at home.... People stayed indoors with a fervour that could be felt: the buildings strained with battened-down human life.... (196)

Two figures, a soldier and a girl, emerge from the Underground: they are Pepita and her boyfriend Arthur. He has a brief leave in London. Looking at the moonlit, silent streets, she says, "Mysterious Kor," and quotes the opening of Lang's poem:
 "Mysterious Kor thy walls forsaken stand,
 Thy lonely towers beneath a lovely moon--." (198)

It is not only that the city reminds Pepita of Kor: she often lives now in that imagined city. She and Arthur discuss the meaning of the poem. He remembers that the poem goes on to "prove that Kor's not really anywhere" (199). She argues that what the poem tries to say does not matter. Things have changed; when it was written, "Every thing and place had been found and marked on some map; so what wasn't marked on any map couldn't be there at all" (199). It was these rationalist, empirical ways of mapping the possible and impossible that first started Pepita "hating civilisation." But now the logic of that project seems completely out of date. As Arthur says, in response to Pepita's comment on civilization, "cheer up ... there isn't much of it left": "Oh, yes, I cheered up some time ago. 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.... By the time we come to the end, Kor may be the one city left: the abiding city. I should laugh" (199).

From this topic of high imagination, the two have to turn to a more mundane problem. They have nowhere where they can spend the night together alone. They have to return, as arranged, to the tiny flat that Pepita shares with another girl. Arthur is to sleep in one room on a divan, while the two women share the bed in the other room. This is something of a drawback, given Arthur's comment that the first thing they should do is "Populate Kor" (201). In the end, Arthur does not seem that upset, but Pepita is cross with Callie for not removing herself from the scene.

Callie, who for the first part of the story is a mere background figure, moves to greater prominence in the second half. For she too has an imaginary topos that sustains her. Without any romantic relationship of her own, she has come to think of Arthur and Pepita in love as an imaginary perfection: "she had been content with reflecting the heat of love.... [S]he became the guardian of that ideality which for Pepita was constantly lost to view" (203). Pepita sleeps deeply, but, awaking in the night, Callie and Arthur have a conversation about Pepita and mysterious Kor. It is part of the peculiarity of wartime London that they talk frankly about the problem of Arthur and Pepita not being able to sleep together. Arthur then begins to talk about Pepita's obsession with Kor:

"But I could have sworn she saw it, and from the way she saw it I saw it, too. A game's a game, but what's a hallucination? ... Well, I can't see any harm: when two people have got no place, why not want Kor, as a start? There are no restrictions on wanting, at any rate."
 "But, oh, Arthur, can't wanting want what's human?"
 He yawned. "To be human's to be at a dead loss." (213)

In a very specific way Arthur, like Pepita, knows that nineteenth-century rationalist dreams of factual progress toward happiness for the human race are over, now. If the rational has failed, then we need more than ever to turn toward worlds, or cities, beyond. But this renunciation of the human destroys Callie's less idiosyncratic dream and puts it into a larger perspective: "The loss of her own mysterious expectation, of her love for love, was a small thing beside the war's total of unlived lives" (214). Nevertheless, she has discovered what so many Bowen characters find, that desire can never find a real object which is finally satisfying. Arthur is not the final goal for Pepita that Callie has imagined: "He was the password, but not the answer: it was to Kor's finality that she turned" (215).

If Bowen's short stories and novels were separated to a degree by their approach to the idiosyncrasies of the imagination, it must be said that in the two works of the war, there is a shared sense of hauntedness. Hermione Lee notes how in both "Mysterious Kor" and The Heat of the Day "unnatural turns of phrase," "peculiar sentence structures," "create unease" (165). In particular, there is much use of the passive--things happen, but agency is unclear. There is, as Jocelyn Brooke points out, an even more Jamesian style than in earlier novels (26). This renders the blitzed world of this novel in which things are not really explicable: the possible and unimaginable have become blurred. People go to work every day (but some are killed each night); people return home in the evening (but sometimes they no longer have homes to go to). In the novel as in the story, that which is absent, or no longer exists, or belongs to "unlived lives," is as important as, or indistinguishable from, physical events. The dead are always with us in The Heat of the Day: "Those rendered homeless sat where they had been sent; or, worse, with the obstinacy of animals retraced their steps to look for what was no longer there. 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" (91).

Through such scenes and ghostly absences move the characters of the novel. As in every Bowen novel, the unfolding of the narrative is not in chronological order, and the texture and sequence of revelation is particularly dense and complex in this novel. The main character is Stella Rodney; she has a son, Roderick, who is in the army, and had a divorced husband, who is now dead. She works at the War Office, and there she meets and falls in love with Robert Kelway. He is a captain who has been wounded at Dunkirk. There is also an important subplot concerning the working-class woman Louie Lewis and her need for "company" while her husband is posted overseas for the duration. The mysterious, insubstantial character Harrison turns up to warn Stella off Kelway: "You should be a bit more careful whom you know" (29). Harrison is, it is made clear, a preposterous figure--like a spy in a thriller. He hardly ever says anything himself, but conveys his meaning in long, drawn-out sequences of half-questions--which his interlocutor is driven by exasperation to articulate into meanings which he will never exactly confirm or deny:

She said indifferently: "I imagine most people know."

"Most people don't know the half--in fact no one does. Certainly not you."

"What don't I know?"

"What I know."

"You want me to ask what that is?"

"Better not, I think. Better just take the hint." (32)

As it turns out, Harrison is, indeed, a counter-espionage agent. His loyalties are somewhat idiosyncratic, however. Though he warns Stella that Robert is a spy, he also reveals that he has not reported him to his superiors. If Stella would consent to see more of him, Harrison, he could fail to make that report. Stella is outraged and refuses to believe Harrison, let alone transfer her affections. But once the suspicion is planted, it is difficult to shake off. Nothing seems certain in this surreal world, where fiction seems to have come alive without seeming plausible.

Stella confronts Robert and he denies everything, but later he confesses; it is true that he is a Nazi spy. She asks him why:

"Then what are you against?"

"This racket. It's not I who am selling out this what you call a country; how could I?--it's sold itself out already."

"What racket?"

"Freedom. Freedom to be what?--the muddled, mediocre, damned.... Look at it happening: look at your mass of `free' suckers, your democracy--kidded along from the cradle to the grave.... Do you suppose there's a single man of mind who doesn't realise he only begins where his freedom stops?" (268)

In trying to escape from the watching Harrison, Robert flees across the roof of a house and falls--or leaps--to his death.

The Heat of the Day is an extraordinary novel--with some of the atmosphere and plot complexity of a thriller, it has a dense texture which does not give up its secrets easily at any level. Not all critics have been convinced that everything in it does work. The nature of Robert's betrayal has sometimes been felt to lack conviction or any real explanation: "It's easy to pick holes in the plot, to look in vain for practical espionage, to find vagueness where particularity seems called for, to accuse the author of creating an insubstantial traitor figure" (Craig 115). Graham Greene doubted the integral logic of making Kelway a Nazi traitor, feeling that a communist betrayal would have been better motivated and more plausible. However, what is perhaps most important is that Robert Kelway justifies his decision with abstractions--abstractions that may be intended to appear unconvincing. Against these, as Hermione Lee argues, Stella for all her uncertainties knows there are things that are true and real: "It is that attachment to place which forms the centre of resistance.... When Robert says he has no country, Stella's response evokes the whole atmosphere of the novel, which by the end becomes the justification for patriotism" (186). Her response: "`No, but you cannot say there is not a country!' she cried aloud, starting up. She had trodden every inch of a country with him.... Of that country she did not know how much was place how much was time" (274). This concern with a particular place at a particular time is, of course, familiar Bowen country.

Bowen wrote three more novels in the postwar period. Critics have generally thought that these have a certain "unsatisfactoriness" (Lee 191). They are perhaps not as astonishing as the work of the thirties and forties; nevertheless, it would be quite wrong to see in these novels a sudden decline in power--it would be more accurate to detect a change in direction and a certain lack of hope in the contemporary. As Hermione Lee observes: "Elizabeth Bowen's post-war writing deals more than ever with the failure of feeling and certainty in modern civilization, and with the need for consolatory retreats into memory and fantasy" (190). A characteristic complexity and density remain, though, and there is no pause in the exploration of complex forms of narrative.

A World of Love is markedly nostalgic and recalls early novels such as Friends and Relations and The House in Paris in its interest in the disjunctions of time--of the bearing of what was--or was not--on what is and what could be. The plot and its revelations are as delayed as those of Friends and Relations--and might be found similarly irritating by readers not attuned to this pace. The story is set in a house in Ireland called Montforte. There live the Danby family: Lilia and her husband Fred and their daughters Jane and Maud. But they do not own the house they live in--a sure sign of dislocation in a Bowen novel--it is owned by Antonia, to whom it was left by her cousin Guy. He was killed in France in 1918. The mysteries that are slowly explored concern Guy's legacy to Lilia and Antonia. Jane Danby finds a bundle of love letters from Guy, but it is unclear to whom they are addressed. Were they intended for Antonia or for Lilia, engaged to Guy at his death? The removal of Guy from the scene has left many matters unresolved and an atmosphere of resentment and frustration has developed over the decades since. On Guy's death Antonia had taken command of the situation and had arranged for Fred Danby to marry the young, confused Lilia. Their marriage has gone through periods of passion, but it did not develop naturally, brought into sudden being by Antonia. There is currently no communication between Fred and Lilia--partly because of their undefined position at Montforte (are they guests or tenant farmers or caretakers?). By the end of the novel, these matters are both revealed and in many ways worked through as the frozen problems of the past are brought to a crisis by the rediscovered letters. Jane is so taken with the imagination of the dead Guy that she sees him at a dinner party to which she has been invited at a neighboring castle. However, she is able to move on from this phantom of the past when she helps meet a guest of her hostess at Shannon Airport and falls in love with him at once. Fred and Lilia are also able to see that, in fact, they did, and could, love each other. Where other of Bowen's novels tend to end at a moment of crisis, with sometimes a hint of better things to come, this novel actually suggests a hopeful future. As Lee says it is "the most benign of the novels" (193).

The Little Girls draws on Bowen's own school days in Kent. It has three sections, the middle one set at St. Agatha's in 1914, the two outer parts set contemporaneously in the 1960s. In the 1914 section are three friends known to each other as Dicey, Mumbo, and Sheikie. The modern sections concern the same three grown into late middle-age: Dinah Delacroix, Clare Burkin-Jones, and Sheila Artworth. Dinah, who has retained a childlike enthusiasm, remembers that at school the three buried a coffer "for posterity." Feeling that they are, now, their own posterity, she persuades the others to dig up the box. It turns out that St. Agatha's was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War, but they manage somewhat comically to locate the box in the garden of a new villa called "Blue Grotto." But the box is empty, and Dinah, rather like Henrietta in The House in Paris, feels that "Nothing's real any more.... [T]he game's collapsed" (188). She has a nervous breakdown and, in decline, is looked after by Sheila and Clare. She learns that their lives have been unhappy. In the last part of the novel she feels nothing but the emptiness of life. The hopefulness of the end of A World of Love is not repeated here. It is the most despairing of Bowen's novels, perhaps seeing life not so much as densely textured and complex, but as actually hollow: "there being nothing was what you were frightened of all the time, eh?" (277).

Bowen's final novel, Eva Trout, might also be seen as despairing, but at least here we see the active, if destructive, power of a Bowen innocent: the nostalgia of the previous two novels is replaced by a tragic mode more like that of her best novels. Critics have often not much liked the novel, though some have seen its peculiar power: "This last novel, as much in its unhappy struggle with its own language and structure as in its account of alienation, describes an unbearable present, with which the traditional novel of order and feeling can no longer deal" (Lee 211). It is certainly a very strange and disconcerting novel, and one that is even more difficult to summarize or represent than other Bowen novels. It concerns the life of the orphaned Eva Trout. She is a Bowen innocent writ large, wreaking havoc wherever she goes. Instead of being contained by society, society is at the mercy of this "lunatic giant." Victoria Glendinning notes this: "there is no longer a cracked crust over the surface of life. People say and do extreme things" (225-26). In particular, Glendinning remarks a new development: "There is one major conceptual shift ... and that is that instead of responding and reacting to situations, as most of Elizabeth's heroines do, Eva creates the situations herself" (226). Indeed, Eva Trout's extremity, her size and awkwardness, both physical and social, is stressed throughout the novel: she cannot fit in anywhere. She speaks a bizarre language which, though it is grammatically correct, belongs to no known social idiom: she is the only speaker of this dialect. Hence the following characteristic conversation, in which an estate agent letting her a house is treated somewhat unusually:

"You make too many noises in my house," Eva, from a distance, deigned to explain....

He put a finger in to loosen his collar. "I had been intending to ask you: fuel?"

"No. Not now."

"The heating-system requires--"

"--Have you set free my bicycle, my new bicycle?"

"Miss Trout ...?"

"Have you untied my bicycle from your Rover?"

He stuffily said: "It is in the hall."

"Is there no garage for my bicycle?" (82)

The use of unusual combinations of verbs and nouns (set free my bicycle / untied my bicycle) makes it appear as if Eva is a non-native English speaker, but in fact she is. Her language is characteristic of her: she can relate to other people in a very broad way. But she uses her own language with her own meanings--and she does not care, or notice, if she is understood or not. It is as if she suffers from some form of autism (something hinted at but never quite articulated in the novel).

Eva is an orphan because her mother was killed in a plane crash (with her lover), just after Eva's birth. Her father had left her mother for a man--Constantine Ormeau--and then committed suicide some twenty years later. Eva is not exactly brought up; she is moved from one kind of temporary "home" or school to another. Eibhear Walshe notes Eva's reply to a teacher who asks if she finds school strange: "Anything would seem strange to me that did not" (ix). There is nowhere Eva belongs. Never having had any natural place to slot into, she has to make decisions about herself, which she does without consulting anybody. She adopts (illegally in the U.S.) a little deaf and dumb boy called Jeremy. The two live a self-absorbed life in which they do what they want, reveling inside a world of their own creation:

Yes: during the at-large American years, insulated by her fugue and his ignorance that there could be anything other, they had lorded it in a visual universe. They came to distinguish little between what went on inside and what went on outside the diurnal movies, or what was or was not contained in the television flickering them to sleep. From large or small screens, illusion overspilled on to all beheld. Society revolved at a distance from them like a ferris wheel dangling buckets of people. They were their own. Wasted, civilisation extended round them as might acres of cannibalized cars. Only they moved. They were in a story to which they imparted the only sense. (189)

The story ends with the only pistol shot in Elizabeth Bowen's work, when Jeremy--taking the destructive powers of the innocent to a new pitch--kills Eva accidentally with a revolver he has found. If some critics are not keen on this last novel, others have seen it as a "culmination": "Here, Bowen presents her most uncompromising portrayal of the gap between self and society.... The heroine embodies Bowen's life-long themes of dispossession and emotional dereliction" (Walshe xi). Like each of Bowen's novels, it both returns to her obsessive themes and pushes the novel reader into compelling, illuminating, but sometimes disquieting ways of reading. As in all her writing, there is in this last book a strong sense of the traditions of what the novel can do, and a pushing of those conventions into quite new and strange forms.


Bowen, Elizabeth. Bowen's Court & Seven Winters. Intro. Hermione Lee. London: Vintage, 1999.

--. The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen. Intro. Angus Wilson. London: Cape, 1981.

--. The Death of the Heart. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.

--. The Demon Lover and Other Stories. London: Cape, 1945.

--. Eva Trout or Changing Scenes. London: Vintage, 1999.

--. Friends and Relations. London: Cape, 1931.

--. The Heat of the Day. London: Vintage, 1998.

--. The Hotel. London: Constable, 1927.

--. The House in Paris. London: Cape, 1949.

--. The Last September. London: Vintage, 2000.

--. The Little Girls. London: Cape, 1964.

--. The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen. Intro. Hermione Lee. London: Vintage, 1999.

--. Pictures and Conversations. London: Allen Lane, 1975.

--. To the North. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1945.

--. A World of Love. London: Cape, 1955.

Brooke, Jocelyn. Elizabeth Bowen. London: British Council and Longman, Green, 1952.

Chadwick Healey. LION (Literature On-Line). 5 June 2000. <http://>.

Craig, Patricia. Elizabeth Bowen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.

Glendinning, Victoria. Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977; published in U.S. as Elizabeth Bowen: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Lassner, Phyllis. Elizabeth Bowen. London: Macmillan, 1990.

Lee, Hermione. Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation. London: Vision Press, 1981.

Walshe, Eibhear. Introduction. Eva Trout, by Elizabeth Bowen. New York: Vintage, 1999.

An Elizabeth Bowen Checklist

Encounters. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1923; New York: Boni & Liveright, 1923.

Ann Lee's and Other Stories. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1926; New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926.

The Hotel. London: Constable, 1927; New York: Dial, 1928; New York: Avon, 1979.

The Last September. London: Constable, 1929; New York: Dial, 1929; London: Vintage, 2000.

Joining Charles and Other Stories. London: Constable, 1929; New York: Dial, 1929.

Friends and Relations. London: Constable, 1931; New York: Dial, 1931; London: Vintage, 1999.

To the North. London: Victor Gollancz, 1932; New York: Knopf, 1933; London: Vintage, 1999.

The Cat Jumps and Other Stories. London: Victor Gollancz, 1934.

The House in Paris. London: Victor Gollancz, 1935; New York: Knopf, 1936; London: Vintage, 1998.

The Death of the Heart. London: Victor Gollancz, 1938; New York: Knopf, 1939; London: Vintage, 1998.

Look at All Those Roses. London: Victor Gollancz, 1941; New York: Knopf, 1941.

Seven Winters: Memories of a Dublin Childhood. Dublin: Cuala Press, 1942; London: Longman, 1943.

Bowen's Court. London: Longman Green, 1942; New York: Knopf, 1942.

English Novelists. London: Collins, 1942.

The Demon Lover and Other Stories. London: Cape, 1945; New York: Knopf, 1946 (as Ivy Gripped the Steps and Other Stories).

Anthony Trollope: A New Judgement. London: Oxford UP, 1946.

Why Do I Write? An Exchange of Views between Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and V. S. Prichett. London: Percivall Marshall, 1948; Folcroft: Folcroft Library Editions, 1969.

The Heat of the Day. London: Cape, 1949; New York: Knopf, 1949; London: Vintage, 1998.

Collected Impressions. London: Longman Green, 1950; New York: Knopf, 1950.

A World of Love. London: Cape, 1955; New York: Knopf, 1955; London: Vintage, 1999.

The Little Girls. London: Cape, 1964; New York: Knopf, 1964; London: Vintage, 1999.

Eva Trout or Changing Scenes. London: Cape, 1969; New York: Knopf, 1969; London: Vintage, 1999.

Pictures and Conversations. London: Allen Lane, 1975; New York: Knopf, 1975.

The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen. Intro. Angus Wilson. London: Cape, 1981; New York: Knopf, 1981; London: Vintage, 1999.

The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen. Intro. Hermione Lee. London: Virago, 1986; London: Vintage, 1999; San Diego: Harcourt, 1987.

Bowen's Court & Seven Winters. Intro. Hermione Lee. London: Vintage, 1999.

CHRIS HOPKINS is Senior Lecturer in English Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, England. He works mainly on British writing between the wars and Anglo-Welsh writing. He has published on these topics in such journals as Critical Survey, Literature and History, Notes and Queries, the Journal of Gender Studies, the Review of Irish Studies, English Language Notes, and Style. He has contributed chapters to a number of books: Recharting the Nineteen Thirties (1996), Varieties of Victorian Writing (1998), New Perspectives on Robert Graves (1999), English and the Other Languages (1999), Beyond Modern Memory: The Literature of the Great War Reconsidered, (2001), And in Our Time: Literature of the Nineteen Thirties (2001). He has recently published Thinking about Texts--An Introduction to English Studies (Palgrave, 2001).
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Title Annotation:author
Author:Hopkins, Chris
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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