Biography of Elizabeth Bowen

by Miguel Boucher


The author's 1938 work resonates.


Elizabeth Bowen was an Irish novelist who has left an inspiring mark in English literature. She was the only child of Anglo-Irish Protestant parents, Henry Cole Bower and Florence Colley Brown. Her father, Henry, was a lawyer by profession and he married her mother, Florence, at the age of 29 in 1890. Elizabeth Bowen saw the first light of dawn on June 7, 1899 and passed away on February 22, 1973. She was born in Ireland, more precisely in Dublin, where she lived until she reached the age of seven. In 1907, when her father became mentally ill because of a nervous break down, Elizabeth Bowen and her mother moved to England and settled in Hythe, in Kent. Her mother died a few years later in 1912 and Elizabeth Bowen was then raised by her aunts.

She completed her education at Downe House in Kent and immediately after her studies, she returned to Dublin in 1916 to work in a hospital as a nurse where she tended to the needs of World War I veterans. When she returned to England two years later, she studied at the London County Council School of Art. However, after a while, she realized that her real vocation and talent was as a writer. In 1923, she married Alan Charles Cameron who was, at that time, an assistant Secretary for Education in Northampton. In the same year, she also published her first book entitled Encounters.

In 1925, Bowen’s husband, Alan, obtained a position to work as the Secretary of Education for the city of Oxford. Therefore, they moved to Oxford to enable Cameron to progress further in his own career. Living in Oxford helped Bowen grow and develop as a writer. She soon became friends with important literary figures of that period including such people as Sir Isaiah Berlin and Lord David Cecil. The environment of the city inspired her enormously and this led her to write her first four novels, which were: The Hotel (1927), The Last September (1929), Friends and Relations (1931), and To the North (1932).

            Elizabeth and her husband returned to London in 1935 where she expanded her career and produced her fifth novel called: The House in Paris. Three years later, she released her most famous and refined book, The Death of the Heart. Shortly after World War II erupted, Bowen started working for the British Ministry of Information. Her duties there were to report on Irish public opinion and more precisely on the Irish attitude of neutrality towards the war. In 1941, she published another work named: Look at All Those Roses: Short Stories. World War II affected her life as well as her writing and this can be easily felt through two of her works: The Heat of the Day (1949) and The Demon Lover and Other Stories (1945). These two works are often viewed as a very close representation of life in London during the war years.

            When the war ended, Elizabeth Bowen kept writing short stories and essays. She also released three other novels: A World of Love (1955), The Little Girls (1964), and Eva Trout; or, Changing Scenes (1968). For the latter work, in 1970, she received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In addition to all her books, she composed several short stories and she wrote numerous essays and reviews for different magazines such as the Tatler, the Cornhill Magazine, the New Statesman and Nation, the New York Times Magazine, and many others.

            After the death of Bowen’s husband in 1952, she spent part of her time giving lectures in the United States and working as a writer. “Bowen was one of the important writers who expressed in her works the fears of women trapped by proper English society” (Beacham Group 43). Throughout her career, she also used her painful childhood experiences to write books that still touch the lives of many people today. Elizabeth Bowen breathed her last breath on February 22, 1973 when she died of lung cancer at her home, in Kent, in England.






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