This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for June 7, 2017: Father

June 7, 2017: birthday: Elizabeth Bowen

It’s the birthday of novelist Elizabeth Bowen (books by this author), born in Dublin (1899). She was an only child, and her parents came from good families but didn’t have much money. Her father was mentally ill, in and out of hospitals, and her mother died when she was 13; after that, she was raised by various relatives. In 1923 she published her first book, Encounters, and got married to an administrator—it was apparently a platonic marriage more than a passionate one, but they were content.

Bowen was friends with Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, and Eudora Welty. Welty wrote about visiting Bowen at her family house in rural Ireland in the 1930s: “It was so lovely to be in that house, and I immediately fell into the way things were done. Elizabeth worked in the morning, which is what I like to do, and at about 11 o’clock you could come downstairs if you wanted and have a sherry and then go back to work. Then you met at lunch, I mean to talk, and the whole afternoon was spent riding around, and the long twilights coming back. There was usually company at dinner time. And evenings, just a few people, or maybe more. We liked to play games. Eddy Sackville-West was visiting her, and we all played ‘Happy Families,’ a children’s card game—it’s just like ‘Going Fishing’ where you try to get all of a family in your hand by asking ‘May I have?’ except that it’s done with Victorian decorum.”

Bowen’s novels include The Death of the Heart (1938), The Heat of the Day (1949), and Eva Trout (1968).

She said, “I am sure that in nine out of ten cases the original wish to write is the wish to make oneself felt. It’s a sign, I suppose, of life’s decreasing livableness as life that people should feel it possible to make themselves felt in so few other ways. The non-essential writer never gets past that wish.”