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Saturday, October 08, 2016

A World of Love (1954) by Elizabeth Bowen


Book Review
A World of Love (1954)
by Elizabeth Bowen

   I honestly thought I'd covered all of the Elizabeth Bowen titles on the original 1001 Books list.  No author more encapsulates the values of that original list than Bowen, a moderately well-known Anglo-Irish novelist who placed no fewer than six titles in the original edition of 1001 Books to read before you die.  This dramatic over-representation of her work, cut in half in the first revised edition, is precisely in line with the weaknesses in that original edition:  An over-representation of English and Anglo-Irish voices at the expense of non-Western, or at least non-English options.

    But I ain't mad at them.  I've genuinely enjoyed the minor classics of 20th century English literature, particularly the female voices, which the editorial staff of 1001 Books seemed particularly concerned with representing in their original book.   Bowen, with her six titles during the early to middle 20th century, is a strong element of the over-all list during those decades.  Like The Last September, A World of Love is actually set at a country house in rural Ireland (her other titles are set in London, with the exception of A House in Paris (Paris).   Even at the beginning of her career, the "country house" novel was a cliche, and rarely showed up in sophisticated literature, except for appearances in genre and social comedy.

   A half century later, the fact that Bowen was writing country house novels in the 1950's means nothing.  What matters is whether A World of Love is a good country house novel.  While it lacks the large cast of characters that a reader traditionally expects from high exemplars of the genre, A World of Love makes up with loving craft and attention to detail.   At 150 pages, A World of Love is spare to the point of minimalism.  There is no excess, and A World of Love is a fine example of traditionalist author working in the twilight of her career.

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