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Elizabeth Bowen: A Reputation in Writing

renée c. hoogland
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 390
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  • Book Info
    Elizabeth Bowen
    Book Description:

    Immensely popular during her lifetime, the Ango-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) has since been treated as a peripheral figure on the literary map. If only in view of her prolific outputten novels, nearly eighty short stories, and a substantial body of non- fictionBowen is a noteworthy novelist. The radical quality of her work, however, renders her an exceptional one. Surfacing in both subject matter and style, her fictions harbor a subversive potential which has hitherto gone unnoticed. Using a wide range of critical theories-from semiotics to psychoanalysis, from narratology to deconstruction-this book presents a radical re-reading of a selection of Bowen's novels from a lesbian feminist perspective. Taking into account both cultural contexts and the author's non-fictional writings, the book's main focus is on configurations of gender and sexuality. Bowen's fiction constitutes an exploration of the unstable and destabilizing effects of sexuality in the interdependent processes of subjectivity and what she herself referred to as so-called reality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4488-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    Despite the efforts of lesbian and feminist publishing houses and a few university presses, the bulk of the most important lesbian works has traditionally been available only from rare-book dealers, in a few university libraries, or in gay and lesbian archives. This series intends, in the first place, to make representative examples of this neglected and insufficiently known literature available to a broader audience by reissuing selected classics and by putting into print for the first time lesbian novels, diaries, letters, and memoirs that are of special interest and significance but that have moldered in libraries and private collections for...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. 1 Introduction: Elizabeth Bowen—A Story of Sorts
    (pp. 1-23)

    The Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen (1899–1973) considered herself to be in the most eligible position to write a book about Elizabeth Bowen. She did not live to complete the set of autobiographical sketches that were to become such a book. EntitledPictures and Conversations, her retrospective self-inscriptions were posthumously published in 1975. However, undaunted by the author’s claim to “unchecked power” over the story of her self, several persons have brought “something of their own” to Elizabeth Bowen. She has been the subject of a few (biographically informed) critical studies, one full-length and one short biographical work, and diverse...

  6. 2 Technologies of Female Adolescence
    (pp. 24-71)

    Fictionalization/Factualization. In her preface (1952) to the American edition ofThe Last September(1929; hereafterLS), Elizabeth Bowen remarked upon a number of respects in which this, her second novel, deviates from any of the others she had written so far. Set in County Cork at the time of the Irish Troubles (1920), it is one of the two novels whose action takes place entirely in Ireland. It is also the only one “set back deliberately, in a former time.” Clearly reminiscent of her own girlhood summers,LSis, as Bowen avers, a “work of instinct rather than knowledge” and,...

  7. 3 Authoring Sexual Identities
    (pp. 72-106)

    Lesbian Desire and Cultural Intelligibility. It should be clear by now that the constitutive function of ideology does not allow Lois to simply “withdraw” from the heterosexual contract in which both Gerald and her friends so forcefully urge her to implicate herself. The restrictive social codes of the Anglo-Irish community make any deviation from established patterns of behavior, let alone a transgression of heterosexual gender boundaries, a risky affair. With the intrusion of the outside world upon the secluded world of Danielstown in the form of Miss Marda Norton, potential alternatives nonetheless appear to offer themselves. Comprising the second and...

  8. 4 Histories of Narrative Desire
    (pp. 107-153)

    Fragmented Figments. InLS, Bowen presents an as yet unformed character trying to negotiate her position within fixed and oppressive ideological structures. Embodied in the figure of the female adolescent, gendered subjectivity itself represents the unstable, disruptive, or indeterminate element. In her war-time novel,The Heat of the Day(hereafter,HD), the same themes of dislocation and dispersal emerge, but the roles of agency have been reversed: it is not internal but external forces that are in flux and that set in motion a process of destabilization in the middle-aged protagonist. Although not an adolescent in the clinical sense, Stella...

  9. 5 The Discourse of Suspension
    (pp. 154-205)

    Linking Plots. Stella’s last dialogue with Robert appropriately takes place in the enclosure of her blacked-out flat. “Bathed in a red appearance of heat from the electric fire,” the room forms a suitably “infernal” setting to the crushing exposure of her lover’s political and moral leanings (267). Listening to his voice, “familiar only in more and more intermittent notes,” she is beginning to grasp “some undercurrent in it, hitherto barely to be detected, all the time forbidden and inadvertent” (269). It is this subtext in the narrative of love that the heroine is presently forced to recognize and peruse.


  10. 6 Subtexts of Psychosexuality
    (pp. 206-248)

    Structuring Stylistics. Eva Trout or Changing Scenes(hereafter,ET), as the full title of Bowen’s tenth and final novel reads, was published forty-odd years after her first (The Hotel, 1927) and twenty years after the appearance of her seventh (HD). Since 1949, two volumes of nonfictional writings, a historical work, two more novels, a travel book, a children’s book, and her last collection of short stories had been published.¹ The only work to appear in print afterETwasPictures and Conversations(1975), the unfinished set of autobiographical essays published posthumously two years after Bowen’s death in 1973. At once...

  11. 7 Sexual/Textual Transgressions
    (pp. 249-290)

    Ex-centric Outlaws. It is no coincidence that Eva and Jeremy spend their first eight years together in the United States.¹ As a country less exclusively rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, or at least with a much shorter (patriarchal) history than any European country, America is not only the mythical land of opportunity; its proverbial melting-pot culture also makes the New World the topos of accommodation to all sorts of displaced persons. There is, however, a further aspect that renders these surroundings highly plausible for Eva and her adopted son: the boy turns out to be a deaf-mute. If his mother’s...

  12. 8 From Marginality to Ex-centricity
    (pp. 291-312)

    Poststructuralist theories of difference and the cultural break occasioned by postmodernism have rendered any foundationalist claims to universal validity politically suspect and theoretically untenable: no category by which individual human beings (however provisionally) define themselves can any longer be maintained to ground the subject. Whether specified in terms of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, or any of the categories subsumed under the by-now notorious phrase “and so on,” no single element of differentiation can be assumed to form the only, or even the primary, founding aspect of any identity defined in exclusionary terms. Feminist discourse has functioned centrally in this...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 313-344)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 345-356)
  15. Index
    (pp. 357-370)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 371-371)