Traditions and Trends
The Ghostly Fields of North Cork: Ireland in the Short Stories of Elizabeth Bowen
In this essay, I consider the Irish stories of Elizabeth Bowen, in particular ‘The Back Drawing Room’ (1926) and ‘The Happy Autumn Fields’ (1945), in relation to Bowen’s complex and divided relationship with Ireland. I draw on the illuminating readings of Sinéad Mooney, Neil Corcoran and others to explore the elusive nature of these modernist stories of haunting, uncanny fields and houses, where Bowen’s own fractured identity as Anglo-Irish enables her fictive vision of the unknowable and the ghostly. In these two stories, as with other of her Irish stories, Bowen uses the familiar landscape of North Cork around her ancestral home in Farrahy to create an uncanny world, to defamiliarize the landscape as a key element of her aesthetic as a modernist writer.
Andrew Bennett has identified Bowen’s modernist aesthetic when he writes that ‘Bowen’s writing of the 1920s and early 1930s responds to and registers a sense that the world has changed’1 and I would argue that both of these stories embody her modernist sense of a frayed, threatening even murderous Irish landscape, where the threat of extinction lurks and the past overwhelms the fragile present. Her Irish identity is key to her modernist vision, providing her with an insight into unease, change, the collision of past and present within an impressionistic and multi-layered text. Bowen wrote essays and reviews about Ireland all throughout her working life but it is significant that her fictive writings set in her own country were sporadic. Two...
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