Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Significant for its insights into the concerns of Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction, Bowen’s Court, written during the war years between 1939 and 1941, is that rare book in which an author successfully weaves the saga of a family into the fabric of the history of a culture and a country. In the book Elizabeth Bowen portrays the generations of the Bowen family against the tragic tapestry of Irish history, creating in the process an elegy for a way of life that could not survive the encroachments of progress and industrialization.

One of the two books Bowen has written about her ancestral home (the other is The Last September, 1929), Bowen’s Court is divided into ten chapters. The first two chapters, “Bowen’s Court” and “Colonel Bowen and the Hawk,” provide a description of Bowen’s Court and the surrounding countryside, and a chronicle of the establishment of the Bowen family over three centuries. The next eight chapters derive their titles from successive Bowen patriarchs from John I to Henry VI. Any resemblance of the names to those of kings is not accidental; to Elizabeth Bowen, “each man’s life is a reign, a reign over his own powers.” Each Bowen, as the lord of the Big House, dominated the affairs of his family and community; each chapter is the story of a whole generation and the man whose personality provided its distinctive character.

Although there are few illustrations, they are particularly useful. A map of the northeast corner of County Cork, a photograph of Bowen’s Court, other photographs or portraits of Bowen ancestors and of Elizabeth’s twentieth century guests—all provide another...

(The entire section is 683 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Austin, Allen E. Elizabeth Bowen, 1971.

Bowen, Elizabeth. “The Big House,” in Collected Impressions, 1950.

Bowen, Elizabeth. Seven Winters, 1942.

Brooke, Jocelyn. Elizabeth Bowen, 1952.

Fraser, G. S. The Modern Writer and His World, 1953.

Glendenning, Victoria. Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer, 1977.

Kenney, Edwin J. Elizabeth Bowen, 1975.

Lee, Hermione. Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation, 1981.

Sellery, J’nan. Elizabeth Bowen: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1977.

Seward, Barbara. “Elizabeth Bowen’s World of Impoverished Love,” in College English. XVII (October, 1956), pp. 30-37.