Elizabeth Bowen Bowen, Elizabeth (Vol. 6)

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Bowen, Elizabeth (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bowen, Elizabeth 1899–1973

Elizabeth Bowen was an Irish-born English novelist, short story writer, and essayist. A master of the traditional novel, Ms Bowen has received less general recognition than critics believe she deserves. The House in Paris, The Death of the Heart, The Little Girls, and Eva Trout are her finest novels, Ms Bowen was awarded the C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire) in 1948. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18; obituary, Vols. 41-44; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)

[Miss Bowen] did not intend ["Pictures and Conversations"] to be an autobiography in the accepted sense. (It got its title from "Alice in Wonderland.") It was not to follow a time sequence, and "it will be anything but all inclusive." Rather, "the underlying theme—to which the book will owe what it is necessary that a book should have, continuity—will be the relationship (so far as that can be traceable, and perhaps it is most interesting when it is apparently not traceable) between living and writing."

Instead of the "personal" (in the accepted sense) we were to be given the more revealing findings she herself could bring out of her life and her work, calling for the truer candor, the greater generosity—a work to do reader as well as writer honor….

She believed that what she had managed to set down in however small part would carry a strength to make known to her readers what was to have been the burden of the whole. Her fragment is all affirmation and she was right. Most of her readers will feel less pain in there being so little completed for the radiance of what is here: this is what would have filled the book we shall never see.

The book we do have fairly ripples with life….

One is made aware in these pages of the scattering of seeds due for later flowering into "The Death of the Heart," "The Little Girls," "Eva Trout" and other fiction. And well does one recognize this child. There is the same sense of expectation, the eagerness to join in, take part, that gives its special strength and delight to her writing. She was a prime responder to this world. It was almost as if she'd been invited here. Some great pleasure lay deep inside her great sophistication—and here she was, at the top of her form, arrived to do it honor: a romantic, of course—self-described. A romantic with a particularly penetrating power of observation, and a joyous sense of the absurd….

"I am not a 'regional' writer in the outright sense"—but she is in another: "Since I started writing, I have been welding together an inner landscape, assembled anything but at random." Not people and places in their own identities, but people and places that experience called up in her became her stories and novels. They represent her reactions to experience, her "beholding afresh." (p. 4)

"Pictures and Conversations" was important to Elizabeth Bowen. Published, it is important to her readers, for, fragment that it is, it is whole in its essence, which survives interruption to the page. That relationship between her life and her art—and here I use, for her, the word she forbore to use for herself—she has divined in its spontaneous and still mysterious source and has traced it part way at least toward its broadening stream. What is here holds a particular blessing for those who loved Elizabeth, for they will not be able to read any sentence of it without being brought the cadence of her voice and the glow of her company. (pp. 4, 20)

Eudora Welty, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 5, 1975.

["Pictures and Conversations," a] collection left behind by the late author,… is at once delightful, because it is so good, and saddening, because that's all there is. The book includes lovely memories of Miss Bowen's childhood transplantation from Ireland to England; the first chapter of a novel one badly wants the rest of; an acute and entertaining essay on one of Proust's characters, the writer...

(The entire section is 2,028 words.)