Elizabeth Bowen: A Literary Life

Palgrave Macmillan (2019), Most Recent.

Elizabeth Bowen: A Literary Life reinvents Bowen as a public intellectual, propagandist, spy, cultural ambassador, journalist, and essayist as well as a writer of fiction. Patricia Laurence counters the popular image of Bowen as a mannered, reserved Anglo-Irish writer and presents her as a bold, independent woman who took risks and made her own rules in life and writing. This biography distinguishes itself from others in the depth of research into the life experiences that fueled Bowen’s writing: her espionage for the British Ministry of Information in neutral Ireland, 1940-1941, and the devoted circle of friends, lovers, intellectuals, and writers whom she valued: Isaiah Berlin, William Plomer, Maurice Bowra, Stuart Hampshire, Charles Ritchie, Sean O’Faolain, Virginia Woolf, Rosamond Lehmann, and Eudora Welty, among others. The biography also demonstrates how her feelings of irresolution about national identity and gender roles were dispelled through her writing. Her vivid fiction, often about girls and women, is laced with irony about smooth social surfaces rent by disruptive emotion, the sadness of beleaguered adolescents, the occurrence of cultural dislocation, historical atmosphere, as well as undercurrents of violence in small events, and betrayal and disappointment in romance. Her strong visual imagination―so much a part of the texture of her writing―traces places, scenes, landscapes, and objects that subliminally reveal hidden aspects of her characters. Though her reputation faltered in the 1960s-1970s given her political and social conservatism, now, readers are discovering her passionate and poetic temperament and writing as well as the historical consciousness behind her worldly exterior and writing.

Elizabeth Bowen



"With its rigorous new archival research and sensitive, detailed, and astute analysis, this literary and cultural biography of Elizabeth Bowen is bound to become a crucial resource for Bowen scholars as well as British and Irish culture and modernist Studies.  Through newly discovered correspondence and a widened cultural and historical sphere, Patricia Laurence offers a new perspective that establishes Bowen’s significant place among the most prominent intellectuals and writers of her day." 

–Phyllis Lassner, Professor Emerita, Northwestern University and author of Elizabeth Bowen (Women Writers Series), 1990, and The Short Fiction of Elizabeth Bowen (1991).


“Linearity does not tally with Elizabeth Bowen’s style of writing, living, or remembering, and this engaging critical biography presents what Laurence ably demonstrates to be Bowen’s ‘kaleidoscopic life’ as private woman, public intellectual, spy, propagandist, and author in a style and format that does her intriguing and contradictory subject justice.”

–Mary Burke, Associate Professor of English, University of Connecticut, USA, and author of Tinkers”: Synge and the Cultural History of the Irish Traveller."


"Patricia Laurence's approach to her elusive subject who was a public intellectual, a spy and a cultural ambassador as well as a writer and a woman of very private, many-layered emotions, is appropriately experimental and modernist. She integrates important new material in her resulting mosaic concerning Elizabeth Bowen's active anti-fascism in World War Two, Eire and in London under the Blitz. Laurence advocates persuasively for a new 'placing' of Bowen in the context of transnational 20th C. women's writing that includes Somerville and Ross, Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty and Christa Wolf."

–Sybil Oldfield, Reader Emeritus, Sussex University, England, and biographer of Spinsters of this Parish: the life and times of F. M. Mayor and Mary SheepshanksWomen Against the Iron Fist; and ed. Afterward: Letters on the Death of Virginia Woolf.


"Roundtable Discussion: Patricia Laurence in Conversation with Kelly Sullivan and Emily Bloom,"  sponsored by Glucksman House, NYU; Heyman Center, Columbia University & New York City Irish Studies Consortium, June 20, 2020.  Watch video footage on Youtube or listen to the radio broadcast on the Irish American Radio Hour with Miriam Nyhan.



Laurence, Patricia. "Elizabeth Bowen: Writer and Woman of Substance, "The Irish Examiner, February 28, 2020.


Literary Reviews:

d'Alton, Ian  "Elizabeth Bowen – a Literary Life: Refreshing interpretation of novelist’s life," The Irish Times, December 21, 2019.

Turner, Nick. "Patricia Laurence, Elizabeth Bowen: A Literary," The Elizabeth Bowen Review, (p. 45) 2019.

Sacks, Sam. "Fiction: Bad News Served with the Morning Tea," Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2019.


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