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The theme of the declining Big House in Bowen's The Last September

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  1. The big house figure
  2. Danielstown and the past
  3. The link between the architecture of the house and the mentality of its inhabitants
  4. To kill a house

'The Last September', Elizabeth Bowen's second novel, describes the Anglo-Irish life of the provincial aristocracy during the turbulent times of 1920, and deals directly with the crisis of being Anglo-Irish. In this particular context, Bowen makes a combination between social comedy and private tragedy and between the interior need of the characters and their relation to the outside world, through the figure of the ?big house'.

The big house can be considered as a literary movement during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, initiated by Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, published in 1800. It has set enduring conventions in Anglo-Irish literature, symbolized by a decaying house and declining gentry, the improvident, often absent, landlord; and the rise of a predatory middle class.

In Ireland, where families stayed in one place, and often in one house for generations, an individual was known not only for himself, but in the context of his family house. In this period of troubles, the collapse of the Anglo-Irish society is therefore symbolized by the collapse of the big house. ?The Last September' assesses the constraints of belonging to a house and people from whom it is impossible to escape. The subject of the novel is the twilight of Anglo-Ireland and the fate of the younger people, born to inherit the myth of the ancestral home.

[...] At the center of Bowen's life too there was a big house in County Cork: Bowen's Court. The interior of Danielstown, its outside appearance and the way it lies within its demesne, sheltered by trees, and backed by mountains, echoes the descriptions Bowen later wrote in Bowen's Court, a history of three centuries of continuous occupation by one family. Bowen writes of the strong rule of her family myth: 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?[17]. [...]


[...] This point is underlined by the fact that the house seems to be under siege, the outside threat being continuously palpable - as Bowen puts it herself in an essay entitled Big House?: on a ship out at sea, there is a sense of community?[3]. The characters fret about sitting on the steps, for fear that they might be shot by the IRA members lurking in the forest. Even in the simple act of sitting out, they are not allowed to forget that Ireland is in a state of war. [...]


[...] In contrast to the traditional big house novel, which tends to blame decline on the moral dissolution of the landowners, Bowen recognizes that the world of the ascendancy was doomed to self- destruction, regardless of its owners' vices. The forces of disintegration were historical, not personal. However, she does not excuse their policy of noticing? either. The language describing the conflagration at the end testifies to the strange relationship between the house and its inhabitants. Devoid of nurture, compassion and stability, the house is appropriately gutted. [...]

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