This essay reads Elizabeth Bowen’s The Little Girls (1963) alongside recent theorists of “thingness,” namely, Bill Brown and Jane Bennett. While Bowen’s things intersect with the social terrain, they also simultaneously and paradoxically destabilize that very reality. This consideration of the nonhuman elements (i.e., the “things”) of Bowen’s work also gives rise to a thinking about the posthuman, which this article approaches in two ways: (1) as, quite literally, a concern about the world after humanity; and (2) as a non-anthropocentric worldview, opened up by a realization that “things” have a life outside the realm of the human. Bowen’s fiction expresses an obvious need for objects to mean something or to represent the human, but her fiction also recognizes their inability to do so. In The Little Girls, this obsession with objects is coupled with the threat of extinction, which also operates in a dual manner, where the conversation about extinction reveals a fear for the future of the human but also acknowledges the inevitable disappearance of humanity.
Elizabeth Bowen’s Things: Modernism and the Threat of Extinction in The Little Girls
Laci Mattison is visiting lecturer at Florida State University. She is one of the general editors for Bloomsbury’s Understanding Philosophy, Understanding Modernism series and coeditor of a special issue of Deleuze Studies titled “Deleuze, Virginia Woolf and Modernism.” She has published articles on Woolf, H.D., and Nabokov.
Laci Mattison; Elizabeth Bowen’s Things: Modernism and the Threat of Extinction in The Little Girls. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2015; 61 (3): 392–410. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-3154015
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