Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen (BOH-uhn), born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 7, 1899, the only child of a landed Protestant attorney, Henry Charles Cole Bowen, and his wife, Florence Colley Bowen, was a distinguished Anglo-Irish writer. Her introverted and shy parents responded to their only child with emotional vagueness and hired nurses and governesses to supervise her schedule. Though stories were read to her, she was not permitted to learn to read before she was seven years old, for fear it would stress her mind. During these early years, which Bowen articulates in her first autobiography, Seven Winters, she spent the winter months of each year in Dublin and the rest of the year at Bowen’s Court, the eighteenth century estate deeded to her ancestor Colonel Bowen, a professional soldier who was a lieutenant colonel in Oliver Cromwell’s army in 1653.
Throughout her life, Bowen was not only reticent about discussing personal experiences but also elusive when asked overt questions. Much of her childhood was buried within her until she began to write. This emotional diffidence resulted from the traumas which occurred between her seventh and thirteenth years. Her father had a mental breakdown when she was seven years old, and her mother died of cancer when Bowen was thirteen. After her father’s hospitalization, the doctor recommended that Bowen and her mother leave Ireland and go to England to live. There, they settled near her mother’s cousins on the Kent coast. After the death of her mother, Bowen became afflicted with a significant but well-controlled stammer. One word that she could never say without stammering was “mother.” After her mother’s death, Bowen attended Downe House, a girls’ boarding school in Kent, and during the first year, insisted upon wearing a black armband. She loved Downe House and remained in school from 1914 to 1917, leaving to go to art school in London.
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