Elizabeth Bowen – a Literary Life: Refreshing interpretation of novelist’s life

Patricia Laurence’s valuable contribution is to discuss Bowen’s identity

Novelist Elizabeth Bowen  at Bowen’s Court, her ancestral home, in Co Cork in 1962. Photograph:  Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Novelist Elizabeth Bowen at Bowen’s Court, her ancestral home, in Co Cork in 1962. Photograph: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

“How shall I fall! How sorrowful and lowly/Unmastered all my mortal fantasy,” wrote Elizabeth Bowen in a poignant poem for the great love of her life, Charles Ritchie, just before she died on February 22nd, 1973. But the poem also illuminates what Hermione Lee, in her literary biography, Elizabeth Bowen, called “the Bowen unwillingness to face up to reality”. Patricia Laurence’s refreshing interpretation of Bowen’s life captures that reality, wherein she was a rule-maker and a risk-taker in both love and letters.

Lovers were curiously agreed about the visible Bowen. “The contrast between her face and body seems symbolic,” wrote Ritchie. “It is a powerful, mature rather handsome face. But the body is that of a young woman . . . Naked she becomes poetic, ruthless and young.”

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