Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen (1929, 205 Pages)

On September 9 I read and posted on Elizabeth Bowen's most famous short story, "The Demon Lover".   I really enjoyed this story and I wanted to read more of her work.     The best chain of book stores in Manila, Fully Booked, had four of her novels and a collection of short stories (87 stories in all-a beautiful collection spanning many years) in stock so I bought them all.    I admit I decided to read The Last September first as it is the shortest one of the four novels.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899 to 1973-Dublin) was a well known writer of short stories and novels.   Her best known work is the novel, The Heat of the Day (1949) which is considered one of the best literary treatments of London during the WWII years.    She moved to London at age eight.    She attended art school in London but decided that her primary talent was  writing.   She socialized with various Bloomsbury members and was a friend of Virginia Woolf.     Bowen is mentioned twenty times in Hermione Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf.   One gets the feeling that Bowen had an attitude of near worship toward Woolf.   The friendship between Woolf and Bowen was not as important to Woolf as her friendships with Katherine Mansfiield and Vita Sackville-West were.    By the time Woolf and Bowen became friends, Mansfield had already died and Woolf was quite famous.

The Last September is set entirely in an Irish country estate.   The time frame is around 1915 during what is called the Time of Troubles.     All of the plot action occurs on the country estate, Danielstown.    Much of the novel is taken up with conversations about  minutiae of the life of Sir Richard and Lady Naylor and their niece Lois, who lives with them.   In a simply wonderful line one of their guests describes himself as living "from meal to meal".     There is a lot of preoccupation with food and planning meals in The Last September.   The occupants of the big house have managers who run the estate and servants who do all the work.    No one seems to have any particular compelling interests so a lot of the time is spent talking about other members of the local gentry and worrying over what people will think of this or that.    The times are troubling and there is a vague sense of whistling as you walk past the grave yard in The Last September.   A lot of energy and time is spent on visits back and forth between estate residents.     The area around the estate's location in Cork, Ireland is occupied by British soldiers, referred to as "The Black and The Tan".    These soldiers were veterans of WWI recruited to keep order among the Irish and to suppress any signs of opposition to the English rule.     The residents of  Danielstown and other estates tried to keep on good terms with the British officers, even having them to dine.    Of course the occupants of the estates want to keep their very privileged positions and they do not think much at all about the lives of the common people of Ireland.

The Last September is what could be called a comedy of manners.    It is not a sharp edged book.    Some will, I think, find this a book of an era to remote from ours for them to relate too.   Others, me included, will like this!-      The writing is beautiful and some of the turns of phrase are simply marvelous.   Readers of Jane Austin or The Makioka Sisters will like this book.    Lovers of Ryu Murakami,  famous for his stories of the dark side of modern Japan, might find it boring.     I think in typical class of college students most of the students would find it boring.    It is for a reader and a world not in a hurry.

It was made into a movie in 1995.

I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more of her work.

Mel u


Anonymous said...

I had to read The Heat of the Day at uni, and really loathed it, but I REALLY enjoyed The Last September. It was sort of what I'd expect Edith Wharton to write if she lived in a big house in Ireland :)

Mel u said...

The Heat of the Day is one of her four novels I purchased-I hope I like it but will post on it in any case-thanks very much for your comment