The revised afterword to Bowen’s Court shows how Elizabeth Bowen’s experiences of wartime fundamentally changed her view of the role of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. Over the course of the war, Bowen’s increasing awareness of social inequality in blitz-ravaged London jarred with her continuing reliance on established social structures as the owner of a large stately home, an Irish Big House. Her connection to such a potent symbol of the Anglo-Irish elite’s power sits uneasily against a recognition that the war, as it was experienced across the Irish Sea, was very much a people’s war, in which ordinary people suffered to a disproportionate extent.
The revised afterword represents an astonishing volte-face on Bowen’s part. Initially, she’d attempted to gloss over the class conflicts inherent in Irish society by presenting Ireland’s social system as being somehow more benevolent and less corrupt than anything that existed in Europe. She’d even gone so far as to compare what she saw as the benevolent exercise of power by the Irish landlord with that of the Nazis.
Yet the experiences of war have shaken Bowen out of her complacency. Now she realizes that, in the new egalitarian era ushered in by the “People’s War”, there is no longer a place for the Anglo-Irish ascendency in internal Irish politics. And this decline of the Protestant elite is aptly symbolized by the destruction of Bowen’s Court.