Elizabeth Bowen: a ‘Debate’ in the Irish Examiner

INTRODUCTION Why all the fuss about Elizabeth Bowen?

Elizabeth Bowen was a British writer who happened to be born in Ireland, and to inherit a Cromwellian property in Co. Cork. Britain was an Empire and a great many of her well-known writers were born in the Empire. For example, Kipling was born in India and Orwell in Burma. Bowen was Irish only if one takes Irish as a subset of British – as was done, of course, for centuries.

She adopted an Irish persona for espionage purposes during the War. But in various memoirs, written without an ulterior motive she made it clear that she was not milk and watery British but English. The part of the world that made her buzz was Kent.

She was English Churchillian. After the rejection of Churchill in 1945 England was no longer English enough for her. She could not stand it when the lower classes came to the top. So she retreated to her property in Ireland – not because it was Ireland but because it was not Welfare State England.

Her espionage reports to Churchill are objective, well informed and well written accounts of Irish opinion during the War. It is a great pity that more of them are either withheld or destroyed. But they are espionage reports to her Government, written frankly in the confidence that they would remain secret.

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