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Elizabeth Bowen

The Shadow Across the Page

Maud Ellmann

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WINNER of the British Academy's Rose Mary Crawshay Literary Prize

This study reveales both the pleasures offered by Elizabeth Bowen's works to the general reader and the literary critic, theorist and historian.

Elizabeth Bowen was one of the finest writers of fiction in English in the twentieth century and one of the strangest. Born in 1899, her historical vision extends from the Irish Troubles of the 1920s to the London Blitz and the technological revolution of the post-war years. Her fiction is always entertaining – funny, moving and full of suspense – but it is also profoundly disconcerting.

Maud Ellmann teases out Bowen's strangeness through close readings informed by historical, psychoanalytic and deconstructive methods of interpretation. She contextualises Bowen's work in the Irish and modernist traditions to investigate connections between her life and writing. She thoroughly expores Bowen's conflicting and complicit relations with other Irish, British, and European writers, her negotiations between contemporary history and with the long decline of the Anglo-Irish Protestant ascendancy, her peculiar take on gender and sexuality, her hallucinatory treatment of objects, particularly furniture and telephones and the surprising ways in which her writing pre-empts and in some cases confounds the literary theories brought to bear upon it. Bowen's writing is demonstrated to reach from a Dickensian comprehensiveness to an uncanny premonition of postmodernism.


Chapter 1: Shadowing Elizabeth Bowen
Chapter 2: Fall: Bowen's Court and The Last September
Chapter 3: Impasse: The Hotel, Friends and Relations, and 'The Shadowy Third'
Chapter 4: Transport: To the North and The House in Paris
Chapter 5: Furniture: The Death of the Heart, The Heat of the Day, and Wartime Stories
Chapter 6: Incubism: A World of Love and The Little Girls
Chapter 7: Folly: Eva Trout
Selected Bibliography

About the Author

Maud Ellmann is Randy L. & Melvin R. Berlin Professor of the Development of the Novel in English at the University of Chicago. Her books include The Poetics of Impersonality: T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing, and Imprisonment, and Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism. She has also published widely on modern literature and literary theory, feminism, and deconstruction.


A brilliant summation of Bowen's work, marked by economy and insight, and a command of English prose akin to Bowen's own.
- Anne Barton, Professor of English, Trinity College Cambridge
Brilliant, original … Maud Ellmann's book makes a powerful intervention in the still-shifting reputation of this great writer ... A bold, innovative, challenging study, which should be very influential.
- Hermione Lee
The time is right for a full consideration of Bowen’s work by a critic of outstanding gifts. Maud Ellmann certainly is this.
- Seamus Deane, Keough Professor of Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame, Indiana
In this remarkable book Ellmann shows us how to read Elizabeth Bowen - what we might need to know, and what we should be able to hear - without merely placing her. The sheer attentiveness of Ellmann's prose, the wit of her interests and the reach of her words, make this an exemplary study. It reminds us that writers can only rely on critics that are writers themselves.
- Adam Phillips, psychoanalyst
Ellmann writes a searching, critical monograph about a novelist whose idiosyncratic work has enjoyed a much more continuous reception … Scholarly, informative, and pleasurably readable.
- Field Day Review