New Critical Perspectives
Ann Owens Weekes
Towards Her Own History: A Century of Irish Women’s Fiction Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929) is an obvious and canonical starting point for any survey of Irish women’s twentieth-century fiction; it also illustrates how dimly perceived circumstances impinge on the life of its protagonist. Setting her novel during the Anglo-Irish war of 1920, Bowen uses several characters to highlight the plight of her heroine, Lois Farquar, the immature eighteen-year-old niece and heir of Sir Richard Naylor, landlord of the Danielstown estate. Sir Richard and Lady Naylor represent the passing order of Anglo-Ireland; their houseguests, Hugo and Francie Montmorency, the degeneracy of their class; a later guest, Marda Norton, the politely desperate resorts of those who sense and fear pending change. Lois and her cousin Laurence might be expected to represent the future, but both are detached from class and country. This, apparently, is an endemic condition: Sir Richard and Lady Naylor foster detachment from reality as they suppress all talk of revolution, focusing on the trivial while war rages around them. Presiding over dinner, Lady Naylor attempts to stif le discussion: ‘From all the talk you might think almost anything was going to happen, but we never listen. I have made it a rule not to talk, either’ (Bowen 1979: 27). Bowen satirises Lady Naylor’s mistaken presumption of the ‘people’s’ af fection: ‘One knew that one’s coming gave pleasure and gratification: she would enter the little drawing-room, even when empty, with her queenliness at its full’ (230). Demanding that...
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