If there ever was a writer of genius, or neargenius - time will decide - who was heart-cloven and split-minded it is Elizabeth Bowen. Romantic-realist, yearning-sceptic, emotional-intellectual, poetic-pragmatist, objective-subjective, gregarious-detached (though everybody who resides in a typewriter has to be a bit of that), tragi-humorous, consistently declaring herself born and reared Irish, residing mostly in England, writing in the full European tradition: no wonder all her serious work steams with the clash of battle between aspects of life more easy for us to feel than to define. It is evident from the complex weave of her novels that it can have been no more easy for her to intuit the central implication of any one of those conflicts - she never trod an obvious line; nor easy for her to express those intuitions in that felicitous language which, more than any other writer of her generation, she seemed to command as if verbally inspired. But that suggestion of inspiration lifts a warning finger of memory. Once, when one of her guests at Bowen's Court, I inadvertently interrupted her when she was, as I at first thought, tapping away fluently at her desk. She turned to me a forehead spotted with beads of perspiration.
LRB 4 March 1982 | PDF Download