Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

I'm about fifty pages into The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen, and so far I'm absolutely loving it! It rather reminds me of an interwar Jane Austen so far, and it also evokes Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding. I think I may have a new favourite author on my hands. :)

The reason I'm posting now is that I just had to share the great preface in my edition (a 1964 Knopf hardcover I bookmooched). She discusses writing the book, and she just seems so graceful and classy. I'd like to share some of her thoughts on writing. While I'm not a writer, these seemed full of insight.
One may perceive that, generally, in the novel the characters are held in the same orbit by some sort of situation which sets, as it were, a trap-some central device, devilmen, search or passion. My own solution, however, was a more childish one: again in The Last September, as in The Hotel, I used the device of grouping my men and women actually under the same roof, and of keeping them thus located, whether by choice or chance, for such time as the story should need to run its course. The Italian resort hotel of my first venture was, for the second, replaced by the Irish country house. I recognise that I am, and was bound to be, a writer intensely subject to scence and time: both do more than figure, they play their parts in my plots. The approaching close of the visitors' winter season adds edge to the little drama of The Hotel. The Last September, even more, takes its pitch from that lovely, too mortal month which gives the novel its name.

The writer is like the swimmer caught by an undertow; he is borne by it back to those scenes of his own life most steeped in subjective experience which he did not know of. Sensation accumulates where it is least sought; meaning flows in, retrospectively, where we were blind to any. One is captured by the mysterious, the imperious hauntedness of a pariod not understood in its own time.

I was very much struck by her observations on being young. I turned twenty-one in April, and I feel as if she put her finger on where I am right now. It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one!
In "real" life, my early girhood in the County Cork, in the house which is the "Danielstown" of the story was, though accented from time to time by aspiration, passing romance or pleasure, mainly a period of impatience, frivolity, lassitude or boredome. I endlessly asked myself what I should be, and when? The young (who are, ironically, so much envied) do all, I suspect, face those patches of barren worry.

When one is young, years are longer; each one one has lived seems dynamic and fraught with a conquest. In most lives (and mine conformed to the shape) the years between twnety and twenty-eight are often important, decisive ones.


Dorothy W. said...

Those are lovely quotations! I'm looking forward to reading this book.

BooksPlease said...

I think I may just have to add this and The Hotel to my list.

Eva said...

It's so good! I'm over half way through it now, and I'm compulsively reading it. I'm also marking every other page, it seems, for some witty or profound quote!

Dark Orpheus said...

"When one is young, years are longer; each one one has lived seems dynamic and fraught with a conquest. In most lives (and mine conformed to the shape) the years between twenty and twenty-eight are often important, decisive ones."

I'm tempted to note this quotation in my notebook. And how I seem to have wasted these important years. *sigh*

Melanie said...

Elizabeth Bowen is one of the outmoded authors I want to read, one whom I can't believe I haven't read! Perhaps I'll start with this one. You make it sound very tempting.

Eva said...

Melanie, I just finished it last night, and I'd highly recommend it as a great introduction! I'll (hopefully) have my review up by the end of the week, but I have soo many passages of gorgeous writing marked, it's kind of ridiculous.

Dark Orpheus, I love the quote! I'm on the younger end of that age range, but I'm already concerned about wasting it. However, I'd like to think that just living those years are enough, you know?