Elizabeth Bowen was born on 7th June 1899 at 15 Herbert Place, Dublin and baptised in nearby St Stephen’s Church, Upper Mount Street (‘The Pepper Canister’) shortly afterwards. The family owned a big house, Bowen’s Court, in Faraghy, near Kildorrey, Co Cork where she spent her early summers. However, when her father, Henry Cole Bowen, suffered a mental illness in 1907, she and her mother moved to Hythe, Kent. Years later Bowen would return here before her death on 22nd February 1973.
Her mother Florence died when Bowen was only twelve and she was brought by various aunts in Ireland and England. This ‘rootlessness’ gave her a feeling of not belonging and sharpened her observations on life. These themes pervade her writings, as do life in the ‘big house’ during the turbulent times following the creation of the Irish Free State. Many such houses were burnt to the ground but Bowen’s Court survived and she inherited the property in 1930. She often visited the ‘Court’ and spent a lot of money maintaining it, but in 1959 she was forced to sell it.
In London she knew members of the Bloomsbury Group and one of them assisted in getting Bowen’s first book, Encounters, published in 1923. She wrote ten novels, thirteen collections of short stories and numerous works of non-fiction. The Last September is the book that she felt closest to and deals with the tensions of the early 1920s for the Anglo-Irish community. As a member she wrote with an insider’s view, giving the story ‘a reality’.
Later, during WWII she worked for the Ministry of Information and her book The Heat of the Day (1948) is considered by many commentators to be one of the most evocative observations of life during the Blitz. And in the same year her literary work was recognised when she was awarded a CBE. After she died in London her body was brought back and she was buried in Faraghy churchyard, close to her beloved Bowen’s Court.