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Elizabeth Bowen

  • Revenge was a very wild kind of justice ...

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Making Arrangmenets," Ann Lee's ()
  • I do like Italian graves; they look so much more lived in.

  • What's the matter with this country is the matter with the lot of us individually — our sense of personality is a sense of outrage ...

  • Gerald's straight, round writing had, to her imagination, a queer totter, like someone running for life in tight shoes.

  • Dogs are a habit, I think.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Aunt Tatty," Joining Charles ()
  • ... the sky hung over the valley, from hill to hill, like a slack white sheet.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "The Working Party," Joining Charles ()
  • The children were there, unannounced, unapologized for; young children, still fresh from the impropriety of birth.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Mrs. Moysey," Joining Charles ()
  • She had to confess inexperience; her personality was still too much for her, like a punt-pole.

  • Proximity was their support; like walls after an earthquake they could fall no further for they had fallen against each other.

  • Art, at any rate in a novel, must be indissolubly linked with craft ...

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • introduction (1948), in Antonia White, Frost in May ()
  • ... one should discuss one's difficulties only when they are over.

  • [She is] like a bear you have to keep throwing buns at.

  • ... she liked to receive confidences if these were conferred prettily, with some suggestion of her own specialness, not dropped on her toes all anyhow, like a bulky valise someone is anxious to put down.

  • The straight sunny tombstones looked sociable, fresh wreaths were laid on the breasts of the graves. You could almost see the dead sitting up holding their flowers, like invalids on a visiting-day, waiting to hear the music. Only the very new dead, under raw earth with no tombstones, lay flat in despair ...

  • ... life is a succession of readjustments.

  • 'You certainly are not yourself to-day.' 'I so seldom am,' said Cecilia.

  • Social activity right on top of a crisis had the same effect on Cecilia nervously as, on her inside, exercise taken too soon after a meal: undigested experience hung heavily on her spirit.

  • Cecilia's lunch party, having heard through the open door the first phrase of the interlude, had exchanged less than a glance and, all raising their voices, maintained a strenuous conversation till she came back. They were not English for nothing.

  • 'Ha-ha,' said Sir Mark. 'Hum. Very good, yes, ha-ha!' Thumbs under his lapels he looked, however, rather anxiously round the room. Conversation with someone at whose joke you have heartily laughed without seeing the point is apt to become precarious.

  • Though she had never met Markie's conscience she had heard it sometimes, creeping about the house.

  • ... rudeness to Mrs. Dosely was like dropping a pat of butter on to a hot plate — it slid and melted away.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Maria," The Cat Jumps ()
  • Someone soon to start on a journey is always a little holy.

  • Where would the Irish be without someone to be Irish at?

  • With no banal reassuring grown-ups present, with grown-up intervention taken away, there is no limit to the terror strange children feel of each other, a terror life obscures but never ceases to justify. There is no end to the violations committed by children on children, quietly talking alone.

  • All your youth you want to have your greatness taken for granted; when you find it taken for granted, you are unnerved.

  • ... she longed to occupy people's fancies, speculations and thoughts.

  • She seemed to lie less in weakness than in unwilling credulity as though the successive disasters that make an illness had convinced her slowly, by repetition.

  • Her illness seemed to be one prolonged mistake. Her self looked, wildly smiling, out of her body: what was happening in here was too terrible to acknowledge; she had to travesty it and laugh it off. Unserene, she desperately kept her head.

  • Nobody speaks the truth when there's something they must have.

  • Meetings that do not come off keep a character of their own. They stay as they were projected.

  • Going to meet a stranger or semi-stranger, can you help asking yourself what they are coming to meet?

  • But fate is not an eagle, it creeps like a rat.

  • Meeting people unlike oneself does not enlarge one's outlook; it only confirms one's idea that one is unique.

  • But silences have a climax, when you have got to speak.

  • ... no object is mysterious. The mystery is your eye.

  • Good-byes breed a sort of distaste for whomever you say good-bye to; this hurts, you feel, this must not happen again.

  • ... she stayed bound to a gone moment, like a stopped clock with hands silently pointing an hour it cannot be.

  • Never to lie is to have no lock to your door ...

  • Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies ...

  • ... to leap is not only to leap, it is to hit the ground somewhere.

  • ... memory is to love what the saucer is to the cup.

  • People in love, in whom every sense is open, cannot beat off the influence of a place.

  • Spoilt pleasure is a sad, unseemly thing; you can only bury it.

  • Disappointment tears the bearable film off life.

  • Grown-up people seem to be busy by clockwork: even when someone is not ill, when there has been no telegram, they run their unswerving course from object to object, directed by some mysterious inner needle that points all the time to what they must do next. You can only marvel at such misuse of time.

  • ... we can surmount the anger we feel. To find oneself like a young tree inside a tomb is to discover the power to crack the tomb and grow up to any height.

  • But to be quite oneself one must first waste a little time.

  • ... he diagnosed her as prey to one creeping growth, the Past, septic with what had happened.

  • Forgiveness should be an act, but this is a state with him.

  • Silence sat in the taxi, as though a stranger had got in.

  • When you love someone all your saved-up wishes start coming out.

  • We are minor in everything but our passions.

  • Not only is there no question of solitude, but in the long run we may not choose our company.

  • After inside upheavals, it is important to fix on imperturbable things. Their imperturbableness, their air that nothing has happened renews our guarantee.

  • There is no doubt that sorrow brings one down in the world. The aristocratic privilege of silence belongs, you soon find out, to only the happy state or, at least, to the state when pain keeps within bounds.

  • Pity the selfishness of lovers: it is brief, a forlorn hope, it is impossible.

  • Nobody can be kinder than the narcissist while you react to life on his own terms.

  • A romantic man often feels more uplifted with two women than with one: his love seems to hit the ideal mark somewhere between two different faces.

  • ... there are no half measures. We either have dinner or telephone the police ...

  • Style is the thing that's always a bit phony, and at the same time you cannot write without style.

  • She posed as being more indolent than she felt, for fear of finding herself less able than she could wish.

  • Sins cut boldly up through every class in society, but mere misdemeanours show a certain level in life.

  • ... in big houses in which things are done properly, there is always the religious element. The diurnal cycle is observed with more feeling when there are servants to do the work.

  • Sacrificers ... are not the ones to pity. The ones to pity are those that they sacrifice. Oh, the sacrificers, they get it both ways. A person knows themselves that they're able to do without.

  • The innocent are so few that two of them seldom meet — when they do meet, their victims lie strewn all round.

  • Illusions are art, for the feeling person, and it is by art that we live, if we do.

  • ... often intimacies between women go backwards, beginning with revelations and ending up in small talk without loss of esteem.

  • Only in a house where one has learnt to be lonely does one have this solicitude for things. One's relation to them, the daily seeing or touching, begins to become love, and to lay one open to pain.

  • I swear that each of us keeps, battened down inside himself, a sort of lunatic giant — impossible socially, but full-scale — and that it's the knockings and batterings we sometimes hear in each other that keeps our intercourse from utter banality.

  • If you look at life one way, there is always cause for alarm.

  • Let's face it — who ever is adequate? We all create situations each other can't live up to, then break our hearts at them because they don't.

  • ... very young people are true but not resounding instruments.

  • Some people are molded by their admirations, others by their hostilities.

  • Expectations are the most perilous form of dream, and when dreams do realise themselves it is in the waking world: the difference is subtly but often painfully felt.

  • One can suffer a convulsion of one's entire nature, and, unless it makes some noise, no one notices. It's not just that we are incurious; we completely lack any sense of each other's existences.

  • What I have found is, anything one keeps hidden should now and then be hidden somewhere else.

  • The heart may think it knows better: the senses know that absence blots people out. We have really no absent friends.

  • We desert those who desert us; we cannot afford to suffer; we must live how we can.

  • Looking back at a repetition of empty days, one sees that monuments have sprung up. Habit is not mere subjugation, it is a tender tie: when one remembers habit it seems to have been happiness.

  • ... autumn arrives in the early morning, but spring at the close of a winter day.

  • It is in this unearthly first hour of spring twilight that earth's almost agonised livingness is most felt. This hour is so dreadful to some people that they hurry indoors and turn on the lights ...

  • Experience isn't interesting till it begins to repeat itself — in fact, till it does that, it hardly is experience.

  • The passion of vanity has its own depths in the spirit, and is powerfully militant.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "The Apple Tree," Look at All Those Roses ()
  • She saw that events led nowhere, crisis was an illusion, and that passions of momentary violent reality were struck off like sparks from the spirit, only to die.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "The Disinherited," Look at All Those Roses ()
  • A Bowen, in the first place, made Bowen's Court. Since then, with a rather alarming sureness, Bowen's Court has made all the succeeding Bowens.

  • The Irish landowner, partly from laziness but also from an indifferent delicacy, does not interfere in the lives of the people round. Sport and death are the two great socializing factors in Ireland, but these cannot operate the whole time: on the whole, the landowner leaves his tenants and work-people to make their own mistakes, while he makes his.

  • When one is a child, the disposition of objects, tables and chairs and doors, seems part of the natural order: a house-move lets in chaos — as it does for a dog.

  • ... children like change — for one thing, they never anticipate regret.

  • Ireland is a great country to die or be married in.

  • Also, perhaps children are sterner than grown-up people in their refusal to suffer, in their refusal, even, to feel at all.

  • The most steady, the most self-sufficient nature depends, more than it knows, on its few chosen stimuli.

  • The children worked on each other like two indestructible pieces of sand-paper.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "The Inherited Clock," Ivy Gripped the Steps ()
  • The coldness had been admitted by none of the seven or eight people who, in degrees of elderly beauty, sat here full in the sun, at this sheltered edge of the lawn: they continued to master the coldness, or to deny it, as though with each it were some secret malaise.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Sunday Afternoon," Ivy Gripped the Steps ()
  • Louie had, with regard to time, an infant lack of stereoscopic vision; she saw then and now on the same plane; they were the same. To her everything seemed to be going on at once; so that she deferred, when she did, in a trouble of half-belief to either the calendar or the clock.

  • ... love dreads being isolated, being left to speak in a void — at the beginning it would often rather listen than speak.

  • Wariness had driven away poetry; from hesitating to feel came the moment when you no longer could.

  • Some ideas, like dandelions in lawns, strike tenaciously: you may pull off the top but the root remains, drives down suckers and may even sprout again.

  • Habit, of which passion must be wary, may all the same be the sweetest part of love.

  • Every love has a poetic relevance of its own; each love brings to light only what to it is relevant. Outside lies the junk-yard of what does not matter.

  • ... in my experience one thing you don't learn from is anything anyone set up to be a lesson; what you are to know you pick up as you go along.

  • One can live in the shadow of an idea without grasping it.

  • Don't you understand that all language is dead currency? How they keep on playing shop with it all the same ...

  • ... art is the only thing that can go on mattering once it has stopped hurting ...

  • Mechanical difficulties with language are the outcome of internal difficulties with thought.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Foreword," Collected Impressions ()
  • Two things are terrible in childhood: helplessness (being in other people's power) and apprehension — the apprehension that something is being concealed from us because it is too bad to be told.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Uncle Silas," Collected Impressions ()
  • Proust has pointed out that the predisposition to love creates its own objects: is this not true of fear?

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Uncle Silas," Collected Impressions ()
  • But complex people are never certain that they are not crooks, never certain their passports are quite in order, and are, therefore, unnerved by the slightest thing.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Manners," Collected Impressions ()
  • Good general-purpose manners nowadays may be said to consist in knowing how much you can get away with.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Manners," Collected Impressions ()
  • Love of privacy — perhaps because of the increasing exactions of society — has become in many people almost pathological.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Manners," Collected Impressions ()
  • ... there are dancing motes or elements in genius which are impossible to pin down. One can only note their action, marvel at what they leave behind.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Manners," Collected Impressions ()
  • ... nobody ever dies of an indignity.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Ivy Compton-Burnett," Collected Impressions ()
  • Dress has never been at all a straightforward business: so much subterranean interest and complex feeling attaches to it. As a topic ... it has a flowery head but deep roots in the passion. On the subject of dress almost no one, for one or another reason, feels truly indifferent: if their own clothes do not concern them, somebody else's do. ... Ten minutes talk about clothes (except between perfect friends) tends to make everyone present either overbearing, guarded or touchy.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Dress," Collected Impressions ()
  • ... nothing is more restful than conformity.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Dress," Collected Impressions ()
  • ... fashion seems to exist for an abstract person who is not you or me.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Dress," Collected Impressions ()
  • Exhibitionism and a nervous wish for concealment, for anonymity, thus battle inside the buyer of any piece of clothing.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Dress," Collected Impressions ()
  • Mr. [Aldous] Huxley has been the alarming young man for a long time, a sort of perpetual clever nephew who can be relied on to flutter the lunch party. Whatever will he say next? How does he think of those things? He has been deplored once or twice, but feeling is in his favor: he is steadily read. He is at once the truly clever person and the stupid person's idea of the clever person; he is expected to be relentless, to administer intellectual shocks.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Mr. Huxley's Essays," Collected Impressions ()
  • Silences can be as different as sounds.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Dover: 1 June, 1944," Collected Impressions ()
  • Plot is the knowing of destination.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Notes on Writing a Novel," Collected Impressions ()
  • I know that I have in my make-up layers of synthetic experiences, and that the most powerful of my memories are only half true.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Out of a Book," Collected Impressions ()
  • ... without fiction, either life would be insufficient or the winds from the north would blow too cold.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Out of a Book," Collected Impressions ()
  • No, it is not only our fate but our business to lose innocence, and once we have lost that it is futile to attempt a picnic in Eden.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Out of a Book," Collected Impressions ()
  • The child lives in the book; but just as much the book lives in the child.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Out of a Book," Collected Impressions ()
  • ... the process of reading is reciprocal; the book is no more than a formula, to be furnished out with images out of the reader's mind.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Out of a Book," Collected Impressions ()
  • Though not all reading children grow up to be writers, I take it that most creative writers must in their day have been reading children.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Out of a Book," Collected Impressions ()
  • But she had told them nothing, given them the stone of her abstract, colourless idealism while they sat there, open-mouthed for sentimental bread.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Daffodils," Early Stories ()
  • ... nothing became real for her until she had had time to live it over again. An actual occurrence was nothing but the blankness of a shock, then the knowledge that something had happened; afterwards one could creep back and look into one's mind and find new things in it, clear and solid. It was like waiting outside the hen-house until the hen came off the nest and then going in to look for the egg.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Coming Home," Early Stories ()
  • The charm, one might say the genius, of memory is that it is choosy, chancy and temperamental; it rejects the edifying cathedral and indelibly photographs the small boy outside, chewing a hunk of melon in the dust.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • in Vogue ()
  • Convention was our safeguard: could one have stronger?

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "A Day in the Dark," in Mademoiselle ()
  • Knowledge of Rome must be physical, sweated into the system, worked up into the brain through the thinning shoe-leather. ... When it comes to knowing, the senses are more honest than the intelligence. Nothing is more real than the first wall you lean up against sobbing with exhaustion. Rome no more than beheld (that is, taken in through the eyes only) could still be a masterpiece in cardboard — the eye I suppose being of all the organs the most easily infatuated and then jaded and so tricked. Seeing is pleasure, but not knowledge.

  • History is not a book, arbitrarily divided into chapters, or a drama chopped into separate acts; it has flowed forward. Rome is a continuity, called 'eternal.' What has accumulated in this place acts on everyone, day and night, like an extra climate.

  • Memory must be patchy; what is more alarming is its face-savingness. Something in one shrinks from catching it out — unique to oneself, one's own, one's claim to identity, it implicates one's identity in its fibbing.

  • Curiosity in Rome is a form of courtesy.

  • To the sun Rome owes its underlying glow, and its air called golden — to me, more the yellow of white wine; like wine it raises agreeability to poetry.

  • Nothing, that is say no one, can be such an inexorable tour-conductor as one's own conscience or sense of duty, if one allows either the upper hand: the self-bullying that goes on in the name of sight-seeing is grievous.

  • ... whenever possible I avoid talking. Reprieve from talking is my idea of a holiday. At risk of seeming unsociable, which I am, I admit I love to be left in a beatific trance, when I am in one. Friendly Romans recognize that wish.

  • The novel does not simply recount experience, it adds to experience.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Truth and Fiction" (1956), Afterthought ()
  • Language is a mixture of statement and evocation ...

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Advice," Afterthought ()
  • Chance is better than choice; it is more lordly. Chance is God, choice is man.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • foreword, Pictures and Conversations ()
  • Nothing can happen nowhere.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • notebook entry, Pictures and Conversations ()
  • I became, and remain, my characters' close and intent watcher: their director, never.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "People," Pictures and Conversations ()
  • The paradox of romantic love — that what one possesses, one can no longer desire — was at work.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "The Art of Bergotte," Pictures and Conversations ()
  • Story involves action. Action towards an end not to be foreseen (by the reader) but also towards an end which, having been reached, must be seen to have been from the start inevitable.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Notes on Writing a Novel" (1945), Pictures and Conversations ()
  • Have not all poetic truths been already stated? The essence of a poetic truth is that no statement of it can be final.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Notes on Writing a Novel" (1945), Pictures and Conversations ()
  • Roughly, the action of a character should be unpredictable before it has been shown, inevitable when it has been shown. In the first half of a novel, the unpredictability should be the more striking. In the second half, the inevitability should be the more striking.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Notes on Writing a Novel" (1945), Pictures and Conversations ()
  • In 'real life' everything is diluted; in the novel everything is condensed.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Notes on Writing a Novel" (1945), Pictures and Conversations ()
  • Characters should on the whole, be under rather than over articulate. What they intend to say should be more evident, more striking (because of its greater inner importance to the plot) than what they arrive at saying.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Notes on Writing a Novel" (1945), Pictures and Conversations ()
  • Often when I write I am trying to make words do the work of line and color. I have the painter's sensitivity to light. Much ... of my writing is verbal painting.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • 1970, in Victoria Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • ... somehow at parties at which one stays standing up one seems to require to be more concentratedly intelligent than one does at those at which one can sit down.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • 1970, in Victoria Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • I think the main thing, don't you, is to keep the show on the road.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • in Victoria Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • ... every short story is an experiment — what one must ask is not only, did it come off, but was it, as an experiment, worth making?

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • 1959, in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • I am fully intelligent only when I write. I have a certain amount of small-change intelligence, which I carry round with me as, at any rate in a town, one has to carry small money, for the needs of the day, the non-writing day. But it seems to me I seldom purely think ... if I thought more I might write less.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Why Do I Write?" in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • My writing, I am prepared to think, may be a substitute for something I have been born without — a so-called normal relation to society. My books are my relation to society.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Why Do I Write?" in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • Yes, writing a novel, my boy, is like driving pigs to market — you have one of them making a bolt down the wrong lane; another won't get over the right stile ...

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • 1945, in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • ... writers do not find subjects: subjects find them. There is not so much a search as a state of open susceptibility.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • 1952, in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()

Elizabeth Bowen, Irish-born, English-based writer

(1899 - 1983)

Full name: Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen Cameron.