Elizabeth Bowen, the Big House heiress with the ‘constricted mind’

Extraordinary Emigrants: Writer was a chronicler of her class in its dying days

Elizabeth Bowen’s  fiction abounds with lost and alienated young women trying to find a place for themselves in the world.

Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction abounds with lost and alienated young women trying to find a place for themselves in the world.

“A very honourable horsefaced, upper class hard constricted mind.” So wrote Virginia Woolf about Elizabeth Bowen, the Anglo-Irish writer of ten novels and more than 80 short stories, who immortalised the plight of the Irish Big House in novels such as The Last September.

Although sharp in tone, Woolf’s observation on Bowen contains more nuance than a first reading might suggest. Bowen was a chronicler of her class in its dying days, crafting considered comparisons between the English upper middle classes and the Anglo-Irish ascendancy in her works. If her people were dying out, she was keen to memorialise them without sentiment.

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