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Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen, CBE (7 June 1899 – 22 February 1973) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer.



Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin and later brought to Bowen’s Court in 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 find a publisher for her first book, 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]. 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 at least one lesbian entanglement, with the American poet, May Sarton [2].

Bowen inherited Bowen's Court in 1930, 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 Irish neutrality [3].

Her husband retired in 1952 and they settled in Bowen’s Court, where Alan Cameron died a few months later. For years Bowen struggled to keep the house going, lecturing in the United States to earn money. In 1959 the house was sold and demolished.

Bowen received recognition for her work, being awarded the 1969 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Eva Trout as well as Doctorates in Literature from Trinity College, Dublin (1949) and the University of Oxford (1952). She was also awarded the CBE.

After spending some years without a permanent home, Bowen settled in Hythe and died of cancer in 1973, aged 73. She is buried with her husband in Farahy church yard, close to the gates of Bowen’s Court. A commemoration of her life is held annually in Farahy church.


Elizabeth Bowen was greatly interested in ‘life with the lid on and what happens when the lid comes off,’ or in other words, 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, thus, also on the plots.

Selected works


Short stories

  • Encounters (1923)
  • Joining Charles and Other Stories (1929)
  • The Cat Jumps and Other Stories (1934)
  • The Easter Egg Party (1938 in The London Mercury)
  • Look At All Those Roses (1941)
  • The Demon Lover and Other Stories (1945)
  • Stories by Elizabeth Bowen (1959)
  • A Day in the Dark and Other Stories (1965)
  • The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen (1980)
  • Elizabeth Bowen’s Irish Stories (1978)


  • Bowen's Court (1942)
  • Seven Winters: Memories of a Dublin Childhood (1942)
  • English Novelists (1942)
  • Anthony Trollope: A New Judgement (1946)
  • Why Do I Write: An Exchange of Views between Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and V.S. Pritchett (1948)
  • Collected Impressions (1950)
  • The Shelbourne (1951)
  • A Time in Rome (1960)
  • Afterthought: Pieces About Writing (1962)
  • Pictures and Conversations (1975)
  • The Mulberry Tree (1999).


Critical Studies

  • Hermione Lee: Elizabeth Bowen (1981)
  • Phyllis Lassner: Elizabeth Bowen (1990)
  • Maud Ellmann: Elizabeth Bowen: The Shadow Across the Page (2003)
  • Neil Corcoran: Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return (2004)
  • Susan Osborn: Elizabeth Bowen: New Critical Perspectives (2009)

External links


  1. ^ Book Review by Mary Morrisy, The Irish Times Weekend Review, page 13, 31 January 2009
  2. ^ Irish Times, op cit
  3. ^ See 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), and That Neutral Island by Clair Wills, Faber and Faber, (2007).


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-06-071973-02-22) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer.



The Last September (1929)

  • "What's the matter with this country is the matter with the lot of us individually— our sense of personality is a sense of outrage and we'll never get outside of it."

    But the hold of the country was that, she considered, it could be thought of in terms of oneself, so interpreted.

The House in Paris (1935)

  • Fate is not an eagle, it creeps like a rat.
  • This is the worst of love, this unmeant mystification — someone smiling and going out without saying where, or a letter arriving, being read in your presence, put away, not explained, or: "No, alas, I can't to-night" on the telephone — that, one person having set up without knowing, the other cannot undo without the where? who? why? that brings them both down a peg. Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies.
  • And yet in a way I would rather fail point blank. Things one can do have no value. I don't mind feeling small myself, but I dread finding the world is.
  • It is a wary business, walking about a strange house you are to know well. Only cats and dogs with their more expressive bodies enact the tension we share with them at such times. The you inside you gathers up defensively: something is stealing upon you every moment; you will never be quite the same again. These new unsmiling lights, reflections and objects are to become your memories, riveted to you closer than friends or lovers, going with you, even, into the grave: worse, they may become dear and fasten like so many leeches on your heart.

The Death of the Heart (1939)

  • Experience isn't interesting until it begins to repeat itself - in fact, till it does that, it hardly is experience.


  • Nobody speaks the truth when there's something they must have.
  • Intimacies between women often go backwards, beginning in revelations and ending in small talk, without loss of esteem.
  • when you love someone, all your saved-up wishes start coming out

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