A portrait of Elizabeth Bowen

Tuesday, 19 December, 2017

Our Christmas meditations are inspired this year by the work of Elizabeth Bowen, the great Anglo-Irish writer, who died in 1973. But who was Elizabeth Bowen?

The Irish artist Patrick Hennessy captured a crucial aspect of her identity in 1957 with his portrait of the writer standing at the head of the staircase in her family home, Bowen’s Court, in north county Cork. Her ancestors had built the house in Cromwellian times and her novel The Last September, set during the Irish War of Independence records the fears, dilemmas and decline of her class — the Anglo-Irish. She sold Bowen’s Court in 1959, and was broken-hearted when it was promptly demolished by the new, local, philistine owner.

Patrick Hennessy uses aspects of surrealism and magic realism in his portrait of Elizabeth Bowen to create an image of a great woman at home in her great house.

Elizabeth Bowen

“The happy passive nature, locked up with itself like a mirror in an airy room, reflects what goes on but demands not to be approached. A pact with life, a pact of immunity, appears to exist. But this pact is not respected for ever — a street accident, an overheard quarrel, a certain note in a voice, a face coming too close, a tree being blown down, someone’s unjust fate.” — Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart

Tomorrow, coming home to Bowen’s Court for Christmas.


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