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Elizabeth Bowen: The Last September

Bowen’s second novel is a classic Big House novel, with the big house in question being based on her own big house, Bowen’s Court and the main character, Lois Farquar, based on Bowen herself though, as Bowen was later to say, not as regards the details of her life. I have to admit that this is my favourite of her novels, despite the fact that her later novels are certainly worthwhile, perhaps because of the theme – the rich and powerful dancing to oblivion, while all around them their world is crumbling. The classic and brilliant version of this story is of course The Masque of the Red Death, one of Edgar Allen Poe‘s many wonderful stories. While Bowen is not so direct as Poe, she still produces a first-class novel on this theme.

Lois lives with her uncle and aunt, Sir Richard and Lady Naylor. While they are well aware of the violence going on around them – many of their friends are army officers involved in its repression – they would rather pretend that it is not happening so they carry on with their parties and other activities. Lois, meanwhile, is bored with life in the Big House and as much as a means of getting out as for love, she becomes engaged to a British army officer, Gerald Lesworth, who is there, of course, to help quell the rebellion. Of course, as you would expect in a good novel of this kind, the Troubles slowly but surely creep closer to the Big House, as army patrols are attacked and soldiers killed (including, eventually, Gerald), houses are burned down and people working on the estate are not all as loyal as Sir Richard and Lady Naylor might like to think. When their Big House burns down, they are finally forced to concede what they had denied for so long and they, and Lois, are left facing a reality that they do not really know how to deal with.

Publishing history

First published 1929 by Constable