Friday, May 1, 2009

Project 1929: "The Last September"

Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September. Penguin Modern Classic. Originally published in 1929.

September 1920. The War in Europe is over, but British troops have been dispatched to Ireland to act as an army of occupation to counter the revolutionary threat posed by the Irish Republican Army. Amid the mounting tensions, the threat of violence and reprisals, life goes on at its usual languid pace in the country homes of the Anglo-Irish nobility. There are tennis parties, visits, dances, and engagements. Elizabeth Bowen marvelously recreates the wistful atmosphere of a sheltered world about to be violently swept away. Her writing is sophisticated and occasionally difficult. Her sophisticated wit often reminded me of Tom Stoppard. Unfortunately, the characters in the novel never quite connect with each other, and I found it difficult to connect with the characters. One of my favorite lines in the novel comes as the inhabitants of the country house are waiting around to see off a guest, a young woman named Marda, whose stay has ended. Hugo, another guest at the house, has become rather irritably infatuated with Marda, and stands around awkwardly as she prepares to leave. Bowen writes: "There was to be no opportunity for what he must not say to be rather painfully not said." That clever line, with its accumulation of negatives, summed up the novel for me: it's about missing opportunities that never really existed. A kind of tragic inertia hangs over the story, as people again and again fail to commit to the difficult process of knowing each other.

No comments:

Now Available: Domestication: Collected Poems 1996-2016.

Domestication: Collected Poems 1996-2016 . Published February 25, 2017.  Available now from Shipwreckt Books in Rushford, Minnesota, ...