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The Last September Paperback – March 14, 2000
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"Brilliant.... A successful combination of social comedy and private tragedy."--The Times Literary Supplement (London)
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The Last September is Elizabeth Bowen's portrait of a young woman's coming of age in a brutalized time and place, where the ordinariness of life floats like music over the impending doom of history.
In 1920, at their country home in County Cork, Sir Richard Naylor and his wife, Lady Myra, and their friends maintain a skeptical attitude toward the events going on around them, but behind the facade of tennis parties and army camp dances, all know that the end is approaching--the end of British rule in the south of Ireland and the demise of a way of life that had survived for centuries. Their niece, Lois Farquar, attempts to live her own life and gain her own freedoms from the very class that her elders are vainly defending. The Last September depicts the tensions between love and the longing for freedom, between tradition and the terrifying prospect of independence, both political and spiritual.
"Brilliant.... A successful combination of social comedy and private tragedy."--"The Times Literary Supplement (London)
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Top Customer Reviews
While this is not a style of writing that story that are popular today, it's an interesting look into the "troubled times" in Ireland. The author's preface is a good explanation of how some people tried to carry on while things were changing rapidly around them.
Lois is infatuated with Gerald, a British Black and Tan, but she also briefly imagines being in love with a married friend of her uncle’s, Mr. Montmorency, who literally could have been her father as he was once in love with Lois’ mother. She is fond of making outlandish pronouncements such as, "I hate women. But I can't think how to be anything else," and dreaming up romantic, idyllic European tours where she can travel unfettered and alone (unheard of for a lady in that day) to places where people “don’t care for politics.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with those repressive and delimiting attitudes, but nevertheless, I can still resent the naïve and ridiculous mindsets they foster in these pale, privileged, delicate but useless women. (I have more respect for Molly Bloom, and as anyone who reads my work knows, Marion and I are hardly bff, because Joyce uses her as a tool to valorize an anti-intellectual purely sensual (not to mention slutty) and chauvinistic portrayal of women.) Calling Lois insufferable really doesn’t cover it. While she and her friends are obsessing over petty social slights, houseguests, the weather, and tennis parties, Gerald and his fellows at-arms are out capturing and murdering rebels and innocent civilians in the name of God and Empire without so much as a second thought. I wish I could maintain the guise of critical objectivity, but I find Lois and Bowen, as her creator, utterly abhorrent. I want to smack their smug, Ascendancy faces.
So, Gerald ends up murdered in an ambush after dumping Lois, who heads to Tours. In February, after her departure, Danielstown and the two other local Big Houses are burned to the ground. I can’t call it an entirely satisfying conclusion because Lois doesn’t seem genuinely devastated or irrevocably altered by Gerald’s death, or if she is, Bowen doesn’t do an effective job of portraying her as such. In fact, there is very little of Lois’ inner turmoil; she flees to the garden to see the last place she and Gerald spoke, but she is not weeping uncontrollably and inconsolably. She seems to stoically endure in a rather uncompelling way. Trust, I am the queen of subtlety and can find a way to rationalize pretty much any turn on a dime conversion. As previously stated, I have a very forgiving heart but there was no perceptible change.
I think the whole project of the novel is a strange one and crystallizes in Lois’ cousin, Laurence’s dreams of an alternative past, present, and future with different outcomes. Laurence is the standard laze-about abstract Oxbridge type, reminiscent of Tibby in E.M. Forster's <i> Howards End </i>. Lois, too, from her romance with Gerald to her friendship with Marda Norton is full of fantasy. The Naylors and the Montmorencys seem likewise willfully unaware of the conditions of violence that surround them, even if they are ostensibly offended by the actions of the army—they do nothing and barely react at all beyond some brief complaining— until one of the other officers comes to Danielstown to announce Gerald’s death. The whole environment of <i> The Last September </i> with its focus on minor social dramas and privileged malaise with national conflict as merely a minor annoyance in the backdrop, a ripple that barely troubles the placidly banal surface of their lives until smack-bang at the novel's end, seems to function as Bowen’s own dream of alternative universe unmarred by struggle. Yet ignorance is not bliss, but ennui.