Running Away from Home: Perpetual Transit in Elizabeth Bowen’s Novels

  • Janice Rossen


“Few people questioning me about my novels, or my short stories, show curiosity as to the places in them,” observed Elizabeth Bowen, near the end of her life — and with some astonishment: “Why? Am I not manifestly a writer for whom places loom large?”1 In Bowen’s view, art imitates life; and this seems particularly true to her in the matter of her fictional settings, over which she exercises great deliberation: “Since I started writing, I have been welding together an inner landscape, assembled anything but at random.”2 The author, she says, must create a “recognisable world, geographically consistent and having for [the writer] a super-reality. Lacking that, his or her art would be unconcrete, insulated and unconvincing-most fatal of all! — to the writer himself.”3 Her literary models include nineteenth-century French realists Balzac and Stendhal, and her novels tend to follow a traditional narrative pattern. Yet although she describes her fictional “inner landscape” in great detail, with the aim of making it appear to the reader to be concrete, it often seems tenuous and fragmentary. While she writes consciously within a realist tradition, she has also absorbed from the Modernists a tendency to perceive life and the physical world itself in flux. In Virginia Woolfs novels, time is continually seen to be in flux; Bowen’s fiction appropriates this sense and attaches it most clearly to the aspect of place.


Physical World Short Story Literary Tradition Transitional Space Country House 
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  1. 1.
    Elizabeth Bowen, Pictures and Conversations (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975), p. 34.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    See Victoria Glendinning’s biography, Elizabeth Bowen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977).Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Edwin J. Kenney, Jr., Elizabeth Bowen (Lewisburg: Buckneil U. P., 1975), p. 19.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    John Hildebidle, Five Irish Writers: The Errand of Keeping Alive (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 93.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

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  • Janice Rossen

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