The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen Critical Essays

Elizabeth Bowen


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

While Bowen’s short stories are in the tradition of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) and Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), they came from her personal experience; they were her autobiography transformed into art. Her stories are written in the third person; no “I” or all-knowing ego is present in her tales. For Bowen, literature provided the lens through which to see life. Her use of imagery and metaphors lets the reader know that the story is an artistic creation of the literary imagination. The stories are realistic in detail, but they often express a strong supernatural element of awe and wonder at the end.

Her stories contain strong naturalistic details with vivid description of places. Depending on when she wrote a particular story, the setting might be the English countryside, isolated and beautiful, or wartime London. Both locations are realistically described, but the general impression has a supernatural element in its presentation to the reader. Many of them are nearly ghost stories, but their shock value is generally understated. While her stories demand a close reading and attention to detail, the chill of psychological horror remains. Her stories are also suggestive of some of the short fiction of Henry James (1843-1916) in their sublime and ambivalent qualities and conclusions.

Although her work compares in technique and subject matter to other great writers, Bowen’s art is not derivative or second-rate. It grew directly out of her life experiences. These events taught her artistic sensibilities that, on closer examination, the concrete is not always as certain as it seems. External physical details of apparent solidity have a way of turning into internal feelings of a sense of betrayal and isolation. The biographical fact that Elizabeth Bowen was the first member of her family to live in England from childhood added to her identity problem as an Anglo-Irish writer. The issue...

(The entire section is 781 words.)