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Monday, November 10, 2014

To The North (1932) by Elizabeth Bowen

Author Elizabeth Bowen

Book Review
To The North (1932)
by Elizabeth Bowen

  This is Anglo-Irish author Bowen's second book within the 1001 Books projects.  Her first was The Last September, published in 1929.  In To The North, Bowen has moved on from her rural Irish homeland to the fast times of post World War I, pre Great Depression London.  Any discussion of To The North needs to address the role of technology on the characters of To The North.  Opining that technology has changed our lives in many way is beyond a common place in 2014, but it's interesting to see how long it took Art to absorb and reflect the way technology and innovation changed the way we lived.

  For example, To The North is one of two books in the 101 Books project up until this point that uses the automobile as an active element in telling the story, and maybe one of five books where the characters use a telephone.  Both this novel and The Last September deal with  a changing world where the characters struggle to adapt.  The difference is that in The Last September the changing world is of a recognizable type: political upheaval brought about by the English colonial adventure in Ireland.   In To The North, the change is stranger, less familiar to the author and the characters, but infinitely more familiar to a present day reader.

  The female protagonists of To The North are sisters in law, Cecilia, 29, was married to Emmeline's brother Henry, but Henry died.  During the novel Cecilia does not much of all, while Emmeline has a travel agency with a partner and tools around town in her own car.  Emmeline is involved with a brilliant but decadent barrister who goes by "Markie."  Emmeline and Cecilia are a kind of mid point between the heroines of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters and those of Bridget Jones and Sex & the City.

  And while no one is likely to mistake the chaste description of the interactions between Markie and Emmeline for a Sex & the City episode, the modernity of Emmeline with her car, business and lack of interest in marriage and children is impossible to miss.  

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