Biography of Elizabeth Bowen
by Miguel Boucher
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
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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,
Beacham Group LLC. “Elizabeth Bowen.” Research Guide to Biography & Criticism 4
Beetz, Kirk H. “Elizabeth Bowen.” Research
Guide to Biography & Criticism 5 (1991):
Pickering, James H. Fiction 100 An
Anthology of Short Fiction. 11th ed. Upper Saddle
River (NJ): Prentice Hall, 2007
Thomson, Gale. “Elizabeth Bowen
Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography (2005-2006). 12 November 2007 <http://www.bookrags.com/biography/elizabeth-bowen/>.