Quotations by Bowen, Elizabeth


Good general-purpose manners nowadays may be said to consist in knowing how much you can get away with.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
“Manners,” Collected Impressions (1950)
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Added on 24-Aug-17 | Last updated 24-Aug-17
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If a theme or idea is too near the surface, the novel becomes simply a tract illustrating an idea.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
“Truth and Fiction,” BBC Radio (Oct 1956)
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Added on 13-Jul-20 | Last updated 13-Jul-20
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A novel which survives, which withstands and outlives time, does do something more than merely survive. It does not stand still. It accumulates round itself the understanding of all these persons who bring to it something of their own. It acquires associations, it becomes a form of experience in itself, so that two people who meet can often make friends, find an approach to each other, because of this one great common experience they have had.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
“Truth and Fiction,” BBC Radio (Oct 1956)
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Added on 20-Jul-20 | Last updated 20-Jul-20
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The importance to the writer of first writing must be out of all proportion of the actual value of what is written.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
Encounters, Preface to the 1951 Edition (1923)
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Added on 27-Jul-20 | Last updated 27-Jul-20
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As a novelist, I cannot occupy myself with “characters,” or at any rate central ones, who lack panache, in one or another sense, who would be incapable of a major action or a major passion, or who have not a touch of the ambiguity, the ultimate unaccountability, the enlarging mistiness of persons “in history.” History, as more austerely I now know it, is not romantic. But I am.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
Pictures and Conversations, ch. 1 (1975)
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Added on 10-Aug-20 | Last updated 10-Aug-20
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To return to the matter of the persona, I repeat that one cannot wholly eliminate oneself for a second, and also sufficient, reason: any fiction (and surely poetry too?) is bound to be transposed autobiography. (True, it may be this at so many removes as to defeat recognition.) I can, and indeed if i would not I still must, relate any and every story I have written to something that happened to me in my own life. But here I am speaking of happenings in a broad sense — to behold and react, is where I am concerned a happening; speculations, unaccountable stirs of interest, longings, attractions, apprehensions without knowable cause — these are happenings, also.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
Stories by Elizabeth Bowen, Preface (1959)
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Added on 6-Jul-20 | Last updated 6-Jul-20
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Some people are molded by their admirations, others by their hostilities.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The Death of the Heart (1938)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Experience isn’t interesting till it begins to repeat itself — in fact, till it does that, it hardly is experience.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The Death of the Heart (1938)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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The heart may think it knows better: the senses know that absence blots people out.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The Death of the Heart (1938)
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Added on 20-Jun-17 | Last updated 20-Jun-17
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Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The House in Paris (1935)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Nobody speaks the truth when there is something they must have.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The House in Paris (1935)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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No object is mysterious; the mystery is in your eye.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The House in Paris (1935)
Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 6-Nov-13
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The writer, like a swimmer caught by an undertow, is borne in an unexpected direction. He is carried to a subject which has awaited him — a subject sometimes no part of his conscious plan. Reality, the reality of sensation, has accumulated where it was least sought. To write is to be captured — captured by some experience to which one may have given hardly a thought.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The Last September, Preface (1929)
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Added on 17-Aug-20 | Last updated 17-Aug-20
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Ghosts seem harder to please than we are; it is as though they haunted for haunting’s sake — much as we relive, brood, and smoulder over our pasts.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
The Second Ghost Book, Preface (1952) [ed. C. Asquith]
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Added on 3-Aug-20 | Last updated 3-Aug-20
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I am sure that in nine out of ten cases the original wish to write is the wish to make oneself felt … the non-essential writer never gets past that wish.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
Letter to Graham Greene, quoted in Why Do I Write? (1948)

Ellipses in the original.
Added on 24-Aug-20 | Last updated 24-Aug-20
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