Elizabeth Bowen and the Irish Landscape

Blog by UCC US Student Ambassador Kathryn Anderson  

Picking up Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September is only slightly (super) intimidating because the first paragraph alone will throw you for a loop. Her language and sentence structure is unlike most things you’ll read, mostly because so many other writers simply don’t think like her. This can cause one to feel deep agitation while reading her world-renowned works, and by “one”, I mean me. I felt deep agitation while attempting to get through the first several pages of The Last September. It is a distinguished piece of literature that reveals a lot about the Anglo-Irish lifestyle and the struggles that occurred during the nineteenth century, but my gosh, it can be a challenging read.  

Her diction and imagery is something that should be studied all over the world, because it is just that beautiful. It is complex, yet simple at the same time. Bowen personifies everyday, mundane objects and actions in the most incredible ways. She almost impedes your understanding of ordinary objects. Bowen writes on the very first page of The Last September, “Two toppling waves of excitement crashed and mingled; for moments everybody was inaudible”. Here, Bowen is referring to the arrival of house-guests and the excitement that arrives with them. The fact that excitement is personified and takes on the movement of a wave in a tumultuous ocean allows the reader to understand the mood so vividly and abstractly. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

I find this aspect of Bowen’s work captivating because I see parallels between her style of writing and the Irish landscape. Bowen’s writing makes you go back and reexamine what’s in front of you. It makes you look at it over and over because it is puzzling, novel, pure, and nothing short of magnificent. The Irish landscape shows itself in the same light. Exploring the west coast of Ireland was one of the first occurrences that this feeling hit me. The amount of times that I found myself stopping and staring at the countryside are innumerable. The landscape has this indescribable way of capturing your mind and making you only focus on what is in front of you. The interesting part is that on the surface, the landscape is so simple; it’s a blur of green grass and gray rocks. However, once I focused on what was in front of me, I saw so much more. As painfully cliche as this is, the landscape truly took my breath away. The raw and unfiltered beauty that Ireland possesses is unlike anything that I have ever experienced in my 20 years on this planet. And just like in Bowen’s imagery and personification, the Irish landscape has this worldly-magic where it comes alive with all its gusts of wind, droplets of rain, and sights of rolling green hills.

Kathryn Anderson

Kathryn is an American who found her way to Cork, Ireland while studying abroad at University College Cork. She normally attends Siena College in Albany, New York, and is from Long Island. If there’s one thing Kathryn loves, it’s business marketing. She is a marketing major and plans to work in the corporate marketing and advertising world.

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