This article explores how Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Last September relies on a spatial aesthetic to convey interpersonal and political tensions, corresponding with the novelistic trend toward greater historical and political engagement that recent scholars have deemed “late modernism.” Bowen's spatial aesthetic in turn insists on a related spatial interpretative practice, which is consistent with theoretical developments in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s that consider how space and time cooperate in the configuration of narrative. Her poetics destabilizes time and linear plot as the primary constituents of narrative and undermines the ostensible authority of the “narrator” in service of representing focalizers' internal experiences. Her experiments with spatiality and focalization are less overtly radical than those of high modernist or avant-garde fiction writers. Instead, her subtly indeterminate narrative discourse uses space and time cooperatively and incorporates variable focalization to propel narrative in service of an engagement with the historico-political context. The subtlety with which the poetics expresses its politics conveys the experience of the historical moment even to a reader to whom the political outcome is known. Thus Bowen's changes to narrative discourse produce a tension between the focalized present and the project of looking back at history, conveying an ambivalent mixture of lamentation, critique, and tentative responsibility that characterizes the ongoing experience for many Anglo-Irish of her generation. Bowen's early regional novel is of its own moment, historical, political, and also aesthetic, at the forefront of the broader trend in midcentury aesthetics that we now call late modernism.
Siân E. White; Spatial Politics/Poetics, Late Modernism, and Elizabeth Bowen's The Last September. Genre 1 April 2016; 49 (1): 27–50. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-3429225
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