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Elizabeth Bowen (1899–1973)

Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen (1899–1973) was born in Dublin on 7 June 1899. She was the only child of the barrister Henry Charles Cole Bowen and Florence Isabella Pomeroy.

Her father had a mental breakdown when she was six years old, and in 1906 she was taken by her mother to England.

At the time of the 1911 census Elizabeth (11) was living at 1 Church Villas, Lyminge, Kent with her mother Florence (46), who described herself as married, and their cook. Meanwhile her father Henry (49) was boarding at Lower Leeson Street in Dublin.

In 1912 her mother Florence Isabella Bowen died of cancer at the age of 48, and Elizabeth was brought up by aunts.



In 1923 Elizabeth Bowen married Alan Charles Cameron. and when he was appointed Secretary to the City of Oxford Education Committee in 1925, they moved to Waldencote in the Croft in Old Headington (right). This house was originally the Coach House for Headington Lodge, and has now reverted to that name.

Elizabeth had previously only published a collection of short stories, but at Waldencote she wrote The Hotel (1927), The Last September (1929), Friends and Relations (1931), and To the North (1932).

Her father Henry Charles Cole Bowen died in Fermoy, Ireland at the age of 68 in 1930.

Elizabeth's marriage to Cameron (which survived until his death 22 years later) was apparently not consummated, and early in 1933 Elizabeth fell in love with Humphry House. She had an affair with him that continued after his marriage in December 1933, and his wife, Madeleine House, came with her baby to stay with Elizabeth Bowen at Waldencote in the spring of 1935.

Later in 1935 Elizabeth Bowen left Waldencote and moved to London with her husband, who had been appointed Secretary to the Central Council for Schools Broadcasting.

In 1952 (after more books and more affairs), Elizabeth Bowen moved with her husband to Bowen’s Court (the house in Cork that Elizabeth had inherited back in 1930 on the death of her father); and in August that year her husband died there.

In 1959 she was forced to sell Bowen's Court (which was demolished in 1960).

Elizabeth Bowen returned to Old Headington in 1960, and for the next five years lived at White Lodge, where she is listed in Kelly’s Directory simply as “Mrs A. Cameron”. She was President of the Old Headington branch of the Women's Institute from 1961 to 1964.

Elizabeth Bowen moved to Hythe in 1965. She died of lung cancer in University College Hospital on 22 February 1973. Her obituary in the Oxford Times on 2 March 1973 read simply:

Elizabeth Bowen dies at 73

Elizabeth Bowen, the novelist – who received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from Oxford University in 1956 – died in a London hospital last Thursday at the age of 73.

Miss Bowen used to live at the White Lodge, Old Headington and was the wife of Mr Alan Cameron, a Director of Education for Oxford who died in 1952.

She was the first president of Old Headington Evening Women's Institute.

She was buried with her husband in Cork.

Bowen blue plaque




Right: Blue plaque to Elizabeth Bowen, unveiled at The Coach House, The Croft, Headington on 19 October 2014

There is a much fuller entry on Elizabeth Bowen in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The ODNB online is available free to many public library users, including those in Oxfordshire:
enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box

Wikipedia: Elizabeth Bowen

© Stephanie Jenkins

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