Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Jane Garrity

Second Advisor

Janice Ho

Third Advisor

Laura Winkiel

Abstract

Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, set during the Irish War of Independence, draws insistent attention to the elaborate fiction of normalcy on which the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy has come to depend through its highly self conscious meta-text. The novel’s fictionality, and the fictionality of the lives of its characters, emerges as a result of the characters’ sense that language can be used to defer and shape reality. The palpable sense of performance that pervades the novel, in addition to its insistence of the formative role of text, stories, and conversations in shaping character, prefigures the Ascendancy’s end long before the war has intruded on the demesne. The novel’s metatext is used to illustrate that the narratives of nation and gender that have been used to support the English empire are no longer viable. The Ascendancy’s tendency to define itself solely through its solipsistic past dooms its members to define themselves through social and sexual roles composed of outmoded narratives, and the complete lack of potential that characterizes their fate is evidence of their inability to create alternative narratives.

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