Welcome to the next in our series of Curtis Brown 120 blog posts, these blogs include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides.
In this year of grace 2019, both the writer Elizabeth Bowen and the Curtis Brown Agency turn 120. We are celebrating this double birthday by shining a light on a woman who stands among the very greatest writers in English of the past two centuries.
Born in Dublin on the 7th of June, 1899, Bowen was a novelist, a short story writer, a biographer (of houses and hotels), an essayist and a critic. She was Anglo-Irish – the Anglo-Irish writer of her generation, and her works span the Irish War of Independence, two World Wars, England and Ireland, Rome and Paris, America and beyond. She was – by all accounts – a great romantic; complex, vital and brave-hearted, sophisticated and unpredictable, with a talent for friendship.
But beyond all that, she is the essential link between the great literary movements of the 20th century. As Victoria Glendinning, in her exquisite biography of Bowen, puts it: ‘She is what happened after Bloomsbury; she is the link which connects Virginia Woolf with Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark.’ Five years after Bowen’s death, Glendinning opened her biography by saying that it was too soon to assess Bowen’s place among 20th century novelists; 120 years after her birth, we ask: why is it that Bowen stands so unfairly in the shadow of these other brilliant writers?
The writer John Carey has written that ‘No writer has ever pursued people’s thoughts and feelings – or half-formed thoughts and half-recognised feelings – with such keen intricacy.’ And Anne Tyler – that anatomist of the heart, that ‘Bowen’s stories show the awesome capabilities of the English language and the surprise and mystery of the human soul’.
For those who have long known her genius, read her again now. For those new to her writing, we’ve brought together a short list of essential reading below, to get you started… And we are so envious of your meeting with Bowen’s writing – of coming to know her perception, her unconventionality, her vision, her wit and her great humanity – for the first time.
I’ll leave you with the words of her agent, Spencer Curtis Brown himself, about this most absolute of writers: ‘What she saw was an Eden in the seconds after the apple has been eaten, when Evil was known, imminent and unavoidable, but while there was still awareness of what innocence had been.’