The 1920s were years of great change, in all aspects of society. Women were gaining rights that many thought were impossible to attain just a generation earlier. Despite the feeling of great change that pervaded the world, especially Ireland, women were still frozen within a system of patriarchy that would allow them to do little to express their personal freedom or their ability to think critically and complexly. In Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, Bowen explores internal conflicts in relation to the external forces that oppress the characters. One of the most pervasive of these external forces is traditional society and the history of patriarchy and misogyny that it represents. The Last September is a story that subverts and disrupts the Irish patriarchal society by referencing feminist ideals and challenging patriarchal expectations.
Bowen once said, when praising Jane Austen’s prose, “the constraints of polite behavior” only serve to “store up” the character’s “energies” (Glendinning 81) She said that life with the “lid off” is not “necessarily more interesting than life with the lid on” (81). While this was said in praise of another author’s work, the idea that the constrained behavior of the characters hides inner turmoil can be seen in The Last September. Much of the action in the novel occurs internally, and it is through these internal conflicts that the traditional patriarchal structure is subverted. It is through subtle relationships and conversations among characters that the traditional ideals of society are challenged.In The Irish Women’s Movement: From Revolution to Devolution, Connolly described three distinct waves of feminism in Ireland. The novel takes place in the first phase, the “suffragette …
…are where she goes, as long as it is far away from the War and as long as it is far away from where she is now, because she knows she will never feel real there.
The Last September works as a text that challenges society’s traditional views on women and on women’s lives. Bowen does this by demonstrating the idiosyncrasies of many of these traditional practices and by including characters whose thoughts and actions exhibit feminist ideals.
Works CitedBowen, Elizabeth. The Last September. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. Print.
Connolly, Linda. The Irish Women’s Movement: From Revolution to Devolution. 1st.
New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print.
Glendinning, Victoria. Elizabeth Bowen. 1st. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978. Print.
Paxton, Nancy L. “George Eliot and the City.” Trans. Array Women Writers and the City.
Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984. Print.