Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Phillip Sipiora, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pat Rogers, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Victor Peppard, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Marty Gould, Ph.D.

Keywords

Anglo-Irish, Big House, Domestic Space, Uncanny

Abstract

In much of the writing of twentieth century Anglo-Irish author Elizabeth Bowen, houses, and in particular family homes, often reflect the psychological and social status of their inhabitants. They can be understood as the structural embodiments of the vast cultural and economic network taking shape as the forces of urbanization and industrialization changed the landscape. Yet, even as these domestic spaces represent the predominant social relations characterizing the first half of the twentieth century, the family homes also can play a key role in character development and gender identity, defining the lives of those who inhabit them, by perpetuating these same previously established and codified social roles and relationships. The family home in Bowen is often characterized by the furniture and objects that fill and structure its interior space, and the resulting pattern of experience functions to confine and represent the lives and expectations of its residents. As a result, for each of these families, this domestic space and the memories with which it is associated exert a strong and compelling force on the family members’ present psychological and emotional states, as well as their expectations for the future. Although the social conventions of the family home can be suffocating in their definition of these expectations, especially for the women of the house, these conventions also supply a stability and constancy that is perhaps conducive to the very formation of a stable identity. The security promised by the inner order of the home comes to determine the psychological stability of the inhabitants’ subjective reality, though the many upheavals that inundated the first half of the twentieth century succeeded in revealing that spatial security as an illusion. If Bowen’s characters are to succeed in achieving a self-determined identity in the new, precarious reality of the modern century, they must not only reconcile themselves to the legacy of the family home and the past traditions that it embodies, but also determine a new basis for self-realization as a twentieth century subject outside of the prescribed roles defined and perpetuated by a more traditional domestic space.

In order to determine the extent to which these modern family homes reflect the dominant social discourses of the period and perpetuate their codes of identity and behavior, it will be necessary to acknowledge and take into consideration the political and cultural environment in which Bowen’s representations of domestic space exist. For example, Bowen’s depiction of the Anglo-Irish Big House Danielstown in The Last September must be understood in light of the declining political and economic power of the Ascendancy that occurred throughout the early twentieth century. In a further effort to examine the significance of homes in Elizabeth Bowen, I will also focus on selected texts from her short fiction. The moments of dispossession that are scattered throughout Bowen’s texts appear to suggest the possibility of the fictions that lie behind the stability of both the family home and the identities of family members attached to that space.

Share

COinS