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The Uncanny House in Elizabeth Bowen’s Fiction

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Olena Lytovka

The book focuses on the uncanny in the domestic space of Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction. Providing a psychoanalytic reading of selected works it aims to examine the image of the house in Bowen’s prose and to analyse its uncanniness in relation to the characters’ identity.
In her book, Olena Lytovka focuses on an important aspect of Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction – the motif of the uncanny house. By applying the Freudian notion of the unheimlich to the analysis of selected novels and short stories, Lytovka demonstrates how the traumatic experience of loss is mirrored in the characters’ perception of the domestic space as uncanny. The uncanny, she argues, is a reflection of the psychological condition of the perceiving mind in the state of crisis rather than the quality of the space. This insightful and well-researched study is a valuable contribution to Bowen criticism and will be relevant to literary scholars and students alike. ( Anna Kędra-Kardela, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin)
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Introduction

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Elizabeth Bowen occupies a special place among twentieth-century writers. A superb novelist and a master of short story, she is known for her exquisite style and unconventional narrative technique. For the deep psychological insight she demonstrates in her works, Bowen has been called the “anatomist of consciousness” (Ellmann 2003, xi), the “historian and custodian of memory” (McCarthy, x). Her fiction has been considered in the light of modernist experimentalism and realist innovation, Gothic tradition and gender studies. Nevertheless, without doubt, her contribution to world literature has been considerably underestimated. In critical accounts, for a long time, Bowen’s fiction has been overshadowed by the achievements of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and other canonical writers of the time.

Born in Dublin in 1899, heiress of a Big House in the south of Ireland, Elizabeth Bowen belonged to Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy but spent a great part of her life in England. Her literary sensibilities were largely influenced by the ambiguities of her cultural identity as well as by her disintegrating childhood, fractured by her father’s mental illness and her mother’s early death, and by witnessing the two most horrible wars of the previous century. Thus, the world of Bowen’s protagonists is never secure, never defined; men and women in her novels and short-stories become hostages of their memories which keep returning and haunting them in most disturbing ways. The uncanny atmosphere becomes one of the elements that distinguishes Bowen’s fiction from the work of other great writers and makes...

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