Silence, Language, and Power in Elizabeth Bowen’s Work

in Silence in Modern Irish Literature
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This chapter draws upon the thought of Julia Kristeva in exploring the psychologies of silence in Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction, particularly in relation to the pressures within Anglo-Irish society in her lifetime. The chapter argues that while Bowen’s work recognizes that silence may have significance—as a signifier of dissent, desire, or yearning for the lost bond with the mother—it also acknowledges that to remain in silence is to remain powerless. Bowen’s Anglo-Irish background is central to the cultivation of this view. Close readings of The Last September, The Death of the Heart, The Heat of the Day and Eva Trout, reveal language as an important weapon for Bowen’s heroines as they struggle to resist marginalization by the patriarchal society in which they live. Bowen’s fiction insists on the necessity for women to move out of the silence while at the same time her work remains haunted by women’s pre-oedipal bond with their mothers and by women’s difficult entry into language.

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