On this day in 1899, the famous novelist and master of the
short-story form, Elizabeth Bowen, was born in Dublin, Ireland.
Photographed circa the late 1940s, Elizabeth lies on a chair with her face turned away from the camera (x).
Although she was born in Dublin, Elizabeth and her family soon
moved to Bowen’s Court – the family’s ancestral home at Farahy, County Cork. The
Bowens were an old, prestigious family who were known to have lived in Ireland
for generations, but even then, the glint of her last name could not shield
Elizabeth from a sorrowful childhood; her father became mentally ill when she
was only eight years old, causing him to be hospitalized and Elizabeth and her
mother to move to England. Just five years after the move, Elizabeth’s
mother grew ill and died. Despite the back-to-back family tragedies, Elizabeth remained in England with her aunts and attended Downe House
School. She eventually moved to London to pursue art school, but dropped out after she discovered that her true passion was for literature.
Elizabeth stands in a field with her horse. Her ancestral home of Bowen’s Court can be seen in the background (x).
After quitting art school, Elizabeth fell in with the
Bloomsbury Group – a loose group of writers, artists, and philosophers that
ruled London in the 1920s. The Bloomsbury Group included people such as
Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, and Rose Macaulay and was known
for critiquing societal conventions in the way of sexuality, gender, and
economics. In 1923, Elizabeth’s first book, Encounters,
was published and she was also married to her friend Alan Cameron. Elizabeth
and Alan had a happy but sexless marriage; it was well-known that they were
simply friends who had married for convenience and both had many extramarital
affairs. Elizabeth had affairs with both men and women; the most notable of who
were the American poet May Sarton and a Canadian diplomat named Charles
Ritchie, whose relationships with Elizabeth spanned the course of over thirty years.
Sitting on the far left with a cigarette in hand, Elizabeth entertains a group of young women writers in the parlor of Bowen’s Court (x).
In 1930, Elizabeth became the first ever woman to inherit
Bowen’s Court, but rather than move back to Ireland she chose to stay in
London. It was in this period when Elizabeth produced some of her best-known
stories; To The North, The House in Paris, and The Death of the Heart were all
published between the years 1932 and 1938. In 1937, Elizabeth was inducted into
the Irish Academy of Letters. After World War II, she came into the spotlight
once again for her novels The Demon Lover
and Other Stories and The Heat of the
Day, which have been praised as particularly touched accounts of life in
wartime London. Elizabeth and her husband Alan eventually did move back to
Bowen’s Court in their later years and the home became somewhat of a salon/safe
haven for what remained of the Bloomsbury Group, such as Carson McCullers,
Sylvia Plath, and Patrick Hennessy. Elizabeth passed away from lung cancer on
February 22, 1973 at the age of 73.