Within the last twenty years, precipitous declines in fertility have begun to reverse the population explosion. Women's access to contraception, education, and employment is reflected in the falling birthrate, and even in Ireland the single-child family is an expanding demographic group. Yet despite the advantages for working women and the health of the planet, having or being an only child is still perceived as a misfortune. Sociologists contend that only children are no more lonely or selfish than their peers, but they cannot shake the old diagnosis: "Being an only child is a disease in itself." In this paper I analyze Elizabeth Bowen's literary representations of the only child, showing how she negotiates negative popular stereotypes through gendered aesthetic techniques. I argue that in Bowen's first three novels, The Hotel, The Last September, and Friends and Relations, onliness is the driving force of her creative process: it shapes her characterization and her formal structures, governs her choice of modernist high-cultural allusions, and, most importantly, enables her exploration of unstable gender identities and queer sexualities.


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pp. 276-305
Launched on MUSE
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