Published in 1929 The Last September written by Elizabeth Bowen highlights the difficulties which faced the Irish-Anglo genre. It was one of many novels published in the nineteenth and twentieth century, based on “Big House” life in Ireland. Bowen herself is critical of the Anglo-Irish gentry as she believes that they are responsible for the downfall in the society. The denial of their predicament and also their refusal to except change had caused Bowen to be censorious of them. She expresses her points of symbolism, imagery and characterization using a variety of tactful techniques.
In the analysis these factors and techniques will be discussed in greater detail. “ She was to later describe her writing as ‘verbal paintings’ saying that she was ‘trying to make words do the work of line and colour’. ( Cronin. , J, p115, 1900-1940) The Troubles of the 1920’s were the backdrop of The Last September. The Naylor’s of Daniels town House were aristocratic Heirs to the big house life. They felt it was their duty to keep the bloodlines and to retain the property by means of keeping the property and estate intact. The opening chapter looks at the anticipated arrival of the Montmorencys.
The Naylor family and also the servants and workers had all gathered harmoniously to greet them. Although it becomes clear to the readers that this is all a big facade. “ Behind the flashing windscreen Mr. and Mrs. Montmorency produced- arms waving and a wild escape to the wind of her mauve motor-veil- an agitation” ( Bowen. , E , p7, 1998) It is later discovered that indeed the Montmorency’s have no house of their own and spend their lives moving from big house to big house in a never ending circle which displays no purpose.
The big houses they visit are justified as their existence remains known and they also gain a sort of credibility and send out the message that the hospitality is very much required and indeed is one of the main functions of the Anglo-Irish gentry. As Hugo refers to the tree’s which have been cut down along the avenue this is the idea being reinforced upon the reader as the technique used by Bowen to describe this portrays a powerful, visualization image.
“The screen of tree’s that reached out like an arm from behind the house – embracing the lawns, banks and terraces in mild ascent – had darkened. (Bowen. , E, p22 1998) This seems to suggest that Bowen is referring to the trees as being a barrier from the outside world. This suggests that the physical barrier had been removed in much the same way that the symbolic barriers of the class, economics and political status are being swept away. “ During the major political crisis of modern Ireland, the Naylors adopt the strategy of denial, preferring not to hear, not to countenance rumours of hostilities that usher in the Anglo-Irish Treaty and their own extinction as an ascendant class” (Krielkamp. , V, p152, 1998)
In chapter three the reader is provided with an almost picturesque view of family and guests gathering in the dining room. It describes the dining room As being surrounded by family portraits and colonial trappings. It is evident that the older generation is caught in a frozen moment of time and is trapped in the past. “The little party sat down under the crowd of portraits. Under the constant interchange from the high up faces staring across. ” (Bowen. , E, p24, 1998) It would suggest that they are unable to move on from the past and break free from the influences of “Big House” lifestyle.
Bowen’s point is that this is regressive as opposed to progressive. In contrast to being morally obsessed with the past Bowen depicts how the younger generation can very well cope with the economical and social changes, specifically Lois, and would be happy to adapt to this new way of life. When Lois appears it is clear that she is emotionally immature with a low self-esteem. She seems to be confused about her own identity as she in next in line to take control of the “Big House”.
Lois is in a relationship with a young British soldier whom she likes, but does not love. The author emphasizes the pressure that is now forcing Lois to marry and to produce an heir so the property can be passed on for more generations. Lois no longer sees “Big House” lifestyle as viable and therefore further adds to the confusion in which she is facing. “ Lois, as the only alternative heir, complains that she feels trapped in a “ cocoon” and longs for some other kind of existence. ” (Genet. , J, p149, 1991)
The ante-room in which Lois visits frequently serves no particular purpose and therefore symbolizes that indeed the room compares to Lois’ feelings within herself of feeling lost and lonely. “In her life – deprived as she saw it – there was no occasion for courage, which like an unused muscle slackened and slept” (Bowen. , E, p33, 1998) Another point which suggests Lois is lost and confused is the fact that often spends time walking outside the boundaries of the house which symbolizes her need to escape from this facade, the so-called birthright of her generation.
Fantasizing how life would be with out having the responsibility of running the Danielstown House. Throughout the novel Bowen uses the unusual technique of personifying the Danielstown house. It is a presence that becomes frequent throughout the poem. (For in February, before those leaves had visibly budded, the death- execution, rather of the three houses… Had occurred on the same night. ) (Bowen. , E, p206, 1998) Bowen has used this technique, which works very well, to highlight the need to protect the house and property and shows it is more important than the people themselves.
The end of the novel portrays the burning down of the big houses and the author symbolizes that this is the end of an era. The younger generation is freed from continuing on with the big house life and values. They are now able to make their own choices in life and follow their dreams, with out being obligated to continue with this fixation. In The Last September Bowen illustrates how Anglo-Irish life had reached the end of an era due to failures among themselves. Themes throughout the book are visibly present with main points being sterility and incest.
As we figured the Naylor’s and the Montmorency’s are childless and references had also been made about Lois’ confused parentage. Lois is unaware that Hugo may be her father as he had a relationship with her mother Laura. Lois indicates an attraction to Hugo and this could lead to an incestuous encounter between the two. These themes illustrate how the obsession of the aristocracy to be married with in the class and to inherit and obtain the property has failed these Anglo-Irish societies. These factors describe this group of people who have lost their values and feel their lives have disintegrated.