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Elizabeth BowenCBE (; 7 June 1899 – 22 February 1973) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer notable for her fiction about life in wartime London.
Elizabeth Bowen was born and spent her first seven winters in this house
Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen was born on 7 June 1899 at 15 Herbert Place in Dublin and baptised in the nearby St Stephen's Church on Upper Mount Street. Her parents, Henry Charles Cole Bowen and Florence (née Colley) Bowen, later brought her to Bowen's Court at Farahy, near Kildorrery, County Cork, where she spent her summers. When her father became mentally ill in 1907, she and her mother moved to England, eventually settling in Hythe. After her mother died in September 1912 Bowen was brought up by her aunts. She was educated at Downe House School under the headship of Olive Willis. After some time at art school in London she decided that her talent lay in writing. She mixed with the Bloomsbury Group, becoming good friends with Rose Macaulay who helped her seek out a publisher for her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Encounters (1923).
In 1923 she married Alan Cameron, an educational administrator who subsequently worked for the BBC. The marriage has been described as "a sexless but contented union." The marriage was reportedly never consummated. She had various extra-marital relationships, including one with Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat seven years her junior, which lasted over thirty years. She also had an affair with the Irish writer Seán Ó Faoláin and a relationship with the American poet May Sarton. Bowen and her husband first lived near Oxford, where they socialized with Maurice Bowra, John Buchan and Susan Buchan, and where she wrote her early novels, including The Last September (1929). Following the publication of To the North (1932) they moved to 2 Clarence Terrace, Regent's Park, London, where she wrote The House in Paris (1935) and The Death of the Heart (1938). In 1937, she became a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.
In 1930 Bowen became the first (and only) woman to inherit Bowen's Court, but remained based in England, making frequent visits to Ireland. During World War II she worked for the British Ministry of Information, reporting on Irish opinion, particularly on the issue of neutrality. Bowen's political views tended towards Burkean conservatism. During and after the war she wrote among the greatest expressions of life in wartime London, The Demon Lover and Other Stories (1945) and The Heat of the Day (1948); she was awarded the CBE the same year.
Her husband retired in 1952 and they settled in Bowen's Court, where he died a few months later. Many writers visited her at Bowen's Court from 1930 onwards, including Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Iris Murdoch, and the historian Veronica Wedgwood. For years Bowen struggled to keep the house going, lecturing in the United States to earn money. In 1957 her portrait was painted at Bowen's Court by her friend, painter Patrick Hennessy. She travelled to Italy in 1958 to research and prepare A Time in Rome (1960), but by the following year Bowen was forced to sell her beloved Bowen's Court, which was demolished in 1960. In the following months, she wrote for CBS the narrative of the documentary titled Ireland the Tear and the Smile which was realized in collaboration with Bob Monks as camera man and associate
producer. After spending some years without a permanent home, Bowen finally settled at "Carbery", Church Hill, Hythe, in 1965.
St Colman's Church, Farahy, County Cork, Bowen's burial place
In 1972 Bowen developed lung cancer. She died in University College Hospital on 22 February 1973, aged 73. She is buried with her husband in St Colman's churchyard in Farahy, close to the gates of Bowen's Court, where there is a memorial plaque to the author (which bears the words of John Sparrow) at the entrance to St Colman's Church, where a commemoration of her life is held annually.
In 1977, Victoria Glendinning published the first biography of Elizabeth Bowen. In 2009, Glendinning published a book about the relationship between Charles Ritchie and Bowen, based on his diaries and her letters to him. In 2012, English Heritage marked Bowen's Regent's Park home at Clarence Terrace with a blue plaque. A blue plaque was unveiled 19 October 2014 to mark Bowen's residence at the Coach House, The Croft, Headington from 1925 to 1935.
Bowen was greatly interested in "life with the lid on and what happens when the lid comes off", in the innocence of orderly life, and in the eventual, irrepressible forces that transform experience. Bowen also examined the betrayal and secrets that lie beneath a veneer of respectability. The style of her works is highly wrought and owes much to literary modernism. She was an admirer of film and influenced by the filmmaking techniques of her day. The locations in which Bowen's works are set often bear heavily on the psychology of the characters and on the plots. Bowen's war novel The Heat of the Day (1948) is considered one of the quintessential depictions of London's atmosphere during the bombing raids of World War II.
She was also a notable writer of ghost stories. Supernatural fiction writer Robert Aickman considered Elizabeth Bowen to be "the most distinguished living practitioner" of ghost stories. He included her tale 'The Demon Lover' in his anthology The Second Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories.
Heather Bryant Jordan: "A Bequest of Her Own: The Reinvention of Elizabeth Bowen" in New Hibernia Review Vol. 12, No. 2 (2008)
Céline Magot: "Elizabeth Bowen's London in The Heat of the Day: An Impression of the City in the Territory of War" in Literary London (2008)
Éibhear Walshe: "No abiding city." The Dublin Review No. 36 (2009)
Jessica Gildersleeve: "An Unnameable Thing: Spectral Shadows in Elizabeth Bowen's The Hotel and The Last September" in Perforations
John D. Coates: "The Misfortunes of Eva Trout" in Essays in Criticism 48.1 (1998)
Karen Schaller: "'I know it to be synthetic but it affects me strongly': 'Dead Mabelle' and Bowen's Emotion Pictures" in Textual Practice 27.1 (2013)
Patricia J. Smith: "'Everything to Dread from the Dispossessed': Changing Scenes and the End of the Modernist Heroine in Elizabeth Bowen's Eva Trout" in Hecate 35.1/2 (2009)
James F. Wurtz: "Elizabeth Bowen, Modernism, and the Spectre of Anglo-Ireland" in Estudios Irlandeses No. 5 (2010)
Patrick W. Moran: "Elizabeth Bowen's Toys and the Imperatives of Play" in Éire-Ireland Vol. 46, Issue 1&2 (Spring/Summer 2011)
Kathryn Johnson:"'Phantasmagoric Hinterlands': Adolescence and Anglo-Ireland in Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris and The Death of the Heart" in Irish Women Writers: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Elke d'Hoker, et al. (2011)
Tina O'Toole: "Unregenerate Spirits: The Counter-Cultural Experiments of George Egerton and Elizabeth Bowen" in Irish Women Writers: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Elke d'Hoker, et al. (2011)
Lauren Elkin: "Light's Language: Sensation and Subjectivity in Elizabeth Bowen's Early Novels." Réfléchir (sur) la sensation, ed. Marina Poisson (2014)
Gerry Smyth, "A Spy in the House of Love: Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day (1949)" in The Judas Kiss: Treason and Betrayal in Six Modern Irish Novels (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 115-34
^Notes on Éire: Espionage Reports to Winston Churchill by Elizabeth Bowen. (2nd Edition). Aubane Historical Society (2008), Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return by Neil Corcoran, Oxford University Press (2004)[ISBN missing] and That Neutral Island by Clair Wills, Faber and Faber (2007)[ISBN missing].