Elizabeth Bowen, Howards End and the luggage of modernity

Emily Anna Maria RIDGE

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The 'house of fiction' has long been in the working vocabulary of critics of the realist novel while little or no attention has been given, by contrast, to literary luggage. This article begins by proposing that the luggage analogue for fiction came to the fore in and around the turn of the twentieth century in tension with the architectural analogue and that this figurative conflict between paradigms of house and case is epitomised in E.M. Forster's 1910 novel Howards End. In this novel, the stability associated with the image of the house is put to the test by what the narrator disparagingly refers to as the 'civilisation of luggage'. For Forster, modernity is mobile, its key proponents of the mover and shaker variety. Amid all of this moving and shaking, Howards End, both house of brick and house of words, remains standing though demonstrably shows the strain of its resistance to the pressures of modernity. The civilisation of luggage is a central subject of Elizabeth Bowen's interwar work and her formal paradigm of choice is arguably a case rather than a house of fiction. Yet the house looms just as large for her as a writer. If Forster looks out at the civilisation of luggage from the inside of a threatened structure, Bowen looks in wistfully from the outside, as at a house of words no longer possible. Reading Bowen through her own reading of Forster, this article will examine the figurative tension between luggage and architectural imagery, so prominent in Howards End, as it plays out in her fictional and non-fictional work, with a particular emphasis on The House in Paris (1935). The broader aim is to explore the manner in which this complex interplay of symbolic paradigms reflects her uncertain position in relation to modernist fiction and to the experience of modernity. Copyright © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-126
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number1
Early online dateFeb 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013


Ridge, E. (2013). Elizabeth Bowen, Howards End and the luggage of modernity. Textual Practice, 27(1), 109-126. doi: 10.1080/0950236X.2013.752221


  • Elizabeth Bowen
  • E.M. Forster
  • Howards End
  • The House in Paris
  • Luggage
  • Architecture
  • Modernism
  • Fictional form


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