Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen was the author of ten novels, over 100 short stories, one children’s book and countless reviews and magazine articles. She was read in volume in her lifetime; however, following her death in 1973, interest in Bowen declined. Her reputation and her place in literary history was revived in the latter part of the twentieth century following the publication of Victoria Glendinning’s biography, Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer (1977), Hermione Lee’s Elizabeth Bowen (1981) and Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle’s study, Elizabeth Bowen and the Dissolution of the Novel (1995).
Bowen was born Dublin in 1899 to Anglo-Irish parents and spent the summers of her childhood at Bowen’s Court in County Cork, and her winters in the family home in Herbert Place in Dublin. In 1906 Bowen’s mother, Florence (née Colley), was advised to move away from her husband who had suffered a breakdown, so she and Bowen moved to England, settling on the south coast in Hythe. After her mother’s death in 1913, Bowen went to live with her aunt in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, and then attended Downe House, a boarding school in Kent. Bowen married Alan Cameron in 1923. He was an education administrator who, at that time, worked for Northamptonshire County Council, then in Oxford and later for the BBC (the British Broadcasting Company). When they lived in Oxford, Bowen became part of a circle which included, among others, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Rosamund Lehmann, and Rose Macaulay.
On her father’s death in 1930, Bowen inherited Bowen’s Court and then spent much of her time in both England and Ireland. She worked as an ARP (Air Raid Precaution) warden in London during the Second World War, and also provided reports to the British government on the neutrality of Ireland. After the end of the war, she travelled extensively, spending long periods in America, either working for the British Council or lecturing at a number of universities. In 1948 she was made a Companion of the British Empire and was also awarded honorary doctorates from Trinity College, Dublin and Oxford. Although Bowen had numerous affairs throughout her married life (most notably with Humphry House, Sean O’Faolain and the Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie), when Alan Cameron died in 1953, Bowen was grief stricken.
The bibliography on this website will help to fill the many gaps in this very brief biography which does not do justice to Elizabeth Bowen, her life and her work, but I hope it provides a small introduction to the author.