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Elizabeth BowenTheory, Thought and Things$
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Jessica Gildersleeve and Patricia Juliana Smith

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474458641

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474458641.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 05 December 2021

‘How Much of Nothing There Was’: Trying (Not) to Understand Elizabeth Bowen

‘How Much of Nothing There Was’: Trying (Not) to Understand Elizabeth Bowen

Chapter:
(p.113) Chapter 7 ‘How Much of Nothing There Was’: Trying (Not) to Understand Elizabeth Bowen
Source:
Elizabeth Bowen
Author(s):

Damian Tarnopolsky

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474458641.003.0008

This chapter notes that one of the strangest aspects of Bowen’s novels of the 1930s and 1940s is the prevalence of nothing in these texts. Examples range from sentences including double or triple negatives and words that cancel themselves out, to descriptions of parts of London destroyed by the Blitz, to scenes built around something missing. Her characters complain that they know nothing about each other or their own motives; her plots often resist final explanation, as if the novels are in some sense about nothing. On every page, in sentences, in her characters’ lives, in her sense of the world, Bowen’s novels pursue a paradoxical task: charting the presence of lack, absence and negativity. The chapter argues that Bowen’s obsessive dealing with nothingness is a clue to her sense of her place and time. Exploring Bowen’s ‘nothings’ is a way of understanding the fractured historical moment in which she wrote, and her response to it; it is also a way of placing her responses to late and high modernism, to world history and literary history.

Keywords:   Elizabeth Bowen, Absence, Modernism, Aesthetics

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