Thursday, 24 November 2011

The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen

The Anglo in Anglo-Irish is very different from the Anglo in Anglo-Indian. The latter is a racial mixture, the former is a marked racial aloofness that when mingled with the native Irish loses caste as definitively as a Brahmin who has touched a plough. The Vikings and the Normans went bush early and became more Irish than the Irish themselves the only trace being their towns and castles and of course that strange uvular r that lingers round some areas. Brendan Behan, puer Borstalus for his Republican sins, referred to the Anglo Irish as a protestant on a horse. Yeats tried to identify with 'hard riding country gentlemen' whereas his stock was of the clerical protestant, professional adjuncts to the land owing class. Perhaps it is that wariness and otherness, that aloof noting of the correct distance that brings out the writer in a group that discovers when they go to their putative mother-country that they really are not English at all. They need to be in Ireland to feel that they are after all English.

I've been reading Joyce Cary and Elizabeth Bowen recently and though it may seem that their connection with Ireland is exiguous, their writing has a specific gravity, a weighting that is Irish and a glancing off the surface that is unmistakable. I'm reading The House in Paris from 1935 at the moment. It is achieved in the sense that it creates precisely those harmonics between Past and Present which form the structure of the book. The Present is represented by the young of the Past and the interplay between the 11 year old girl and the 9 year old boy has some of the fatality of replication.

She thought, young girls like the excess of any quality. Without knowing, they want to suffer, to suffer they must exaggerate; they like to have loud chords struck on them. Loving art better than life they need men to be actors; only an actor moves them, with his telling smile, undomestic, out of touch with the everyday that they dread. They love to enjoy love as a system of doubts and shocks.
(Karen from The Past section)

It is a subtle book requiring a vigilant meditativeness to enjoy.

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