Thursday, June 07, 2007

Happy Birthday to Elizabeth Bowen

Only dispossessed people know their land in the dark.
-Elizabeth Bowen


The Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen was born on June 7, 1899. In an appreciative review in the New York Times Book Review* of Neil Corcoran's study of Bowen (Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return, Oxford University Press, 2004), Stacey D'Erasmo wrote: "Corcoran groups Bowen's work thematically into 'Ireland,' 'Children,' and 'War.' Bowen can indeed be read this way, beginning with her memoir, 'Bowen's Court' (1942), and her delicate early novels of the Irish uprising, 'The Last September' (1929). It is also possible to go straight to the center of Bowen's emotional forest by beginning with 'The House of Paris' (19535) and 'The Death of the Heart' (1938). A.S. Byatt has said that 'The House of Paris' is Bowen's best novel, 'one of thoese books that grow in the mind in time.'"

Bowen died on February 22, 1973, and is buried in a churchyard in Dublin, not far from the gate of Bowen's Court, her family's ancestral home, which was torn down in 1959.

In her review, D'Erasmo also wrote: "Bowen was indeed a great cartographer of the in-between, not only nationally but in the seemingly smallest internal moments and interactions between characters. 'Only dispossessed people,' she wrote, 'know their land in the dark.' For 'land' read: everything most beloved. It as as if Bowen had a sixth sense for the ambiguous, the irresolvable and the fractured, whether in the form of a fleeting emotion, an impossible love, a memory or an entire nation."

I love this notion, and Bowen's sentence. I am using her words as the epigraph for Figured Dark: Poems, my forthcoming collection from The University of Arkansas Press.

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*"A Bowen Fan's Notes" by Stacey D'Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review, February 20, 2005.

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