Elizabeth Bowen

Last updated

Elizabeth Bowen
Elizabeth Bowen.jpg
BornElizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen
(1899-06-07)7 June 1899
Dublin, Ireland
Died22 February 1973(1973-02-22) (aged 73)
London, England
Notable works The Last September (1929)
The House in Paris (1935)
The Death of the Heart (1938)
The Heat of the Day (1949)
Eva Trout (1968)

Elizabeth Bowen, CBE ( /ˈbən/ ; 7 June 1899 22 February 1973) was an Irish-British 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 Bowen (here-was-born plaque).jpg
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 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." [1] The marriage was reportedly never consummated. [2] 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. [1] 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. [3]

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. [4] Bowen's political views tended towards Burkean conservatism. [5] [6] 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. 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 St Colman's Church, Farahy - geograph.org.uk - 1392163.jpg
St Colman's Church, Farahy, County Cork, Bowen's burial place

Her final novel, Eva Trout, or Changing Scenes (1968), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1969 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1970. Subsequently, she was a judge (alongside her friend Cyril Connolly) that awarded the 1972 Man Booker Prize to John Berger for G . She spent Christmas 1972 at Kinsale, County Cork with her friends, Major Stephen Vernon and his wife, Lady Ursula (daughter of the Duke of Westminster) but was hospitalised upon her return. Here she was visited by Connolly, Lady Ursula Vernon, Isaiah Berlin, Rosamund Lehmann, and her literary agent, Spencer Curtis Brown, among others. [7]

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 Farahy, County Cork churchyard, 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. [8] [9] [10]


In 1977, Victoria Glendinning published the first biography on 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. [11] A blue plaque was unveiled 19 October 2014 to mark Bowen's residence at the Coach House, The Croft, Headington from 1925-35. [12]


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 the 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 atmosphere during the bombing raids of World War II.

She was also a notable writer of ghost stories. [13] 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. [14]

Selected works


Short story collections


Critical studies of Bowen

Critical essays on Bowen

Television and film adaptations

Related Research Articles

Mary Elizabeth Braddon English author

Mary Elizabeth Braddon was an English popular novelist of the Victorian era. She is best known for her 1862 sensation novel Lady Audley's Secret, which has also been dramatised and filmed several times.

Frances Burney English satirical novelist, diarist, playwright (1752-1840)

Frances Burney, also known as Fanny Burney and later as Madame d'Arblay, was an English satirical novelist, diarist and playwright. Born in Lynn Regis, now King's Lynn, England, on 13 June 1752, to the musician Dr Charles Burney (1726–1814) and his first wife, Esther Sleepe Burney (1725–1762), she was the third of her mother's six children. She began her "scribblings" at the age of ten. In 1786–1790 she was an unusual courtier appointment as "Keeper of the Robes" to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, George III's queen. In 1793, aged 41, she married a French exile, General Alexandre D'Arblay. Their only son Alexander was born in 1794. After a long writing career, and travels in which she was stranded in France by warfare for over ten years, she settled in Bath, England, where she died on 6 January 1840. Of her four novels, the first, Evelina (1778), was the most successful, and remains the most highly regarded. Most of her plays remained unperformed in her lifetime. She also wrote a memoir of her father (1832) and many letters and journals, which have been gradually published since 1889.

Rebecca West British feminist and author

Dame Cicily Isabel Fairfield DBE, known as Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, was a British author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer. An author who wrote in many genres, West reviewed books for The Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Republic, and she was a correspondent for The Bookman. Her major works include Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), on the history and culture of Yugoslavia; A Train of Powder (1955), her coverage of the Nuremberg trials, published originally in The New Yorker; The Meaning of Treason (1949), later The New Meaning of Treason (1964), a study of the trial of the British fascist William Joyce and others; The Return of the Soldier (1918), a modernist World War I novel; and the "Aubrey trilogy" of autobiographical novels, The Fountain Overflows (1956), This Real Night, and Cousin Rosamund (1985). Time called her "indisputably the world's number one woman writer" in 1947. She was made CBE in 1949, and DBE in 1959, in each case, the citation reads: "writer and literary critic". She took the pseudonym "Rebecca West" from the rebellious young heroine in Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen. She was a recipient of the Benson Medal.

Elizabeth Bibesco writer, actress; Romanian princess

Elizabeth Lucy, Princess Bibesco was an English writer and socialite. She was the daughter of a British Prime Minister and the wife of a Romanian prince. Active as a writer between 1921 and 1940, she drew on her experience in British high society in her work. A final posthumous collection of her stories, poems and aphorisms was published under the title Haven in 1951, with a preface by Elizabeth Bowen.

Frank OConnor Irish writer

Frank O'Connor was an Irish writer of over 150 works, best known for his short stories and memoirs. The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award is named in his honour.

Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin was one of the most influential figures in 20th-century Irish culture. A short-story writer of international repute, he was also a leading commentator and critic.

Olivia Manning novelist, writer

Olivia Mary Manning was a British novelist, poet, writer, and reviewer. Her fiction and non-fiction, frequently detailing journeys and personal odysseys, were principally set in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle East. She often wrote from her personal experience, though her books also demonstrate strengths in imaginative writing. Her books are widely admired for her artistic eye and vivid descriptions of place.

Emma Donoghue Irish novelist, playwright, short-story writer and historian

Emma Donoghue is an Irish-Canadian playwright, literary historian, novelist, and screenwriter. Her 2010 novel Room was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and an international best-seller. Donoghue's 1995 novel Hood won the Stonewall Book Award. and Slammerkin (2000) won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction. She is a 2011 recipient of the Alex Awards. Room was adapted by Donoghue into a film of the same name. For this, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Kate OBrien (novelist) Irish novelist, playwright and activist

Kate O'Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright.

Marjorie Bowen British writer

Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long, who used the pseudonym Marjorie Bowen, was a British author who wrote historical romances, supernatural horror stories, popular history and biography.

<i>The House in Paris</i> novel by Elizabeth Bowen

The House in Paris is Elizabeth Bowen's fifth novel. It is set in France and Great Britain following World War I, and its action takes place on a single February day in a house in Paris. In that house, two young children—Henrietta and Leopold—await the next legs of their respective journeys: Henrietta is passing through on her way to meet her grandmother, while Leopold is waiting to meet his mother for the first time. The first and third sections of the novel, both called "The Present," detail what happens in the house throughout the day. The middle section of the book is an imagined chronicle of part of the life of Leopold's mother, Karen Michaelis, revealing the background to the events that occur in Mme Fisher's home on the day.

<i>The Last September</i> novel by Elizabeth Bowen

The Last September is a novel by the Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen, concerning life in Danielstown, Cork during the Irish War of Independence, at a country mansion. John Banville wrote a screenplay based on the novel; the film adaptation was released in 1999.

Victoria Glendinning is a British biographer, critic, broadcaster and novelist; she is an Honorary Vice-President of English PEN, a winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, was appointed a CBE in 1998 and is Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature.

Julia O'Faolain is an Irish novelist and short story writer. Her parents were Irish writers Seán Ó Faoláin and Eileen Gould.

Val Mulkerns was a noted Irish writer and member of Aosdána. Her first novel, A Time Outworn, was released to critical acclaim in Ireland in 1952. She continued to publish up to her death, notably a series of novels and short stories in the 1970s and 1980s. She also worked as a journalist and columnist and was often heard on the radio.

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., is an author, editor, and a scholar of modern British and Irish literature and rhetoric and composition who teaches in the English department at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, on a part-time basis as a lecturer. She founded and serves as director of the Princeton Writing Center, a privately owned operation, unaffiliated with Princeton University.

Bowen's Court was a historic country house or Anglo-Irish big house near Kildorrery in County Cork, Ireland.

Heather Elizabeth Ingman is a British academic, noted for her work on Irish and British women's writing, the Irish short story, gender studies and modernism. Also a novelist and journalist, Ingman has worked in Ireland and the UK, especially at Trinity College Dublin, where she is an Adjunct Professor of English and Research Fellow in Gender Studies.

Marie Agnes Pearn (1913–1976), known as Inez Pearn and by the pen name Elizabeth Lake, was a British novelist who was acclaimed for her "remorseless interest in emotional truth", her "formidable ... characterisation", and her ability to evoke places with "almost magical clarity". The author and critic Elizabeth Bowen considered that she belonged to the school of literary realism.

Elizabeth Hely Walshe (1835-1869), was an Irish born writer of both children's stories and histories.


  1. 1 2 Morrissey, Mary (31 January 2009). "Closer than words". Irish Times . Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  2. Walshe, Eibhear (ed.) (2009). Elizabeth Bowen (Visions and Revisions: Irish Writers in Their Time). Sallins, County Kildare, Ireland: Irish Academic Press. ISBN   978-0716529163.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. Glendinning, Victoria (1977). Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer . London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p.  119. ISBN   9780297773696.
  4. 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 ].
  5. Glendinning, p. 239.
  6. "St Colman's Church, Farahy near Bowen's Court" Archived 22 December 2013 at Archive.today , Ireland Reaching Out
  7. "Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen", (1899–1973), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, online edition
  8. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 4898). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  9. "Bowen, Elizabeth (1899-1973)". English Heritage. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  10. "Elizabeth BOWEN (1899–1973)". Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  11. http://www.tartaruspress.com/b36.htm
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 July 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)