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The Shadowy Third

Love, Letters and Elizabeth Bowen

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The Shadowy Third tells the story of a literary love triangle, in which the 1930s novelist, Elizabeth Bowen, is a pivotal player.

Duckworth Books
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Julia Parry


Winner of the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2022

The Shadowy Third tells the story of a literary love triangle, in which the 1930s novelist, Elizabeth Bowen, is a pivotal player.

The other two characters are the scholars Humphry and Madeline House, the author’s grandparents. Part literary biography, part family memoir, part social history, the book deals with the initial affair between Bowen and Humphry House and its unexpected consequences – in the work of Elizabeth Bowen, in the lives of the protagonists, and in successive generations of Julia Parry’s family. Using unpublished correspondence, Julia set out to discover the truth of the affair, this episode that casts a shadow across her family’s past.


‘a marvelous, gently elegiac, beautifully written, and fascinating book.’
John Banville, The New York Review of Books

‘A fascinating and moving portrait of love, loyalty and infidelity.’
Sarah Waters

‘Julia Parry has a fascinating tale to tell, and she does so with a compelling immediacy and also with admirable finesse. Bowen fans will be in her debt; and those interested in the milieux she frequented.’
Peter J. Conradi

‘A vivid picture of an important and immensely gifted writer in love.’
Joseph O’Connor

The Shadowy Third is the intimate portrait of a love triangle, with the novelist Elizabeth Bowen as one of the protagonists. It is also a work of discovery, using letters with sensitivity and intelligence, rebuilding a lost world with imaginative flair, seeing Bowen and her world with insight, and the lives of Julia Parry’s own grandparents with a sharp eye for detail and a skill at telling a fascinating story.’
Colm Tóibín, author of The Empty Family: Stories

‘I have always taken a particular interest in other people’s lives. It is the life of’ the shadowy third’ , the betrayed wife, that interests me as much as those of the lovers. Even if you have never read Elizabeth Bowen’s novels and have never heard of Humphry House, his grand-daughter’s quest will hold your attention as it held mine.’
Ann Thwaite, award-wining author of AA Milne: His Life (Whitbread Biography of the Year)

‘Part family memoir, part investigation of a secret love affair, part celebration of Elizabeth Bowen’s writing: Julia Parry’s sensitive debut is a treat for fans of biography, social history and twentieth century literature. Thoroughly recommended.’
Emily Midorikawa, co-author of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontё, Eliot and Woolf

The Shadowy Third reveals the secret life of the author of The Death of the Heart, a title that applies to the man and women whose sepia- covered correspondence led to this riveting memoir.’
Marlene Wagman Geller author of Women of Means: Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls

‘Julia Parry’s The Shadowy Third is a captivating mélange of memoir, biography, social history and literary evaluation… Parry offers us rich, rewarding new insights into the extraordinary life and character of Elizabeth Bowen, one of our best-loved writers… Beyond her access to valuable primary material, what distinguishes Parry’s book from more conventional biographies is her unique ability to empathise with her grandmother, who shared her husband with a rival. Parry describes her research as akin to reading over her grandmother’s shoulder. She channels Madeline’s voice in a way that no dispassionate biographer could.’
Eleanor Fitzsimons, biographer of Oscar Wilde and E. Nesbit (Wilde’s Women and The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit)

‘Part exploration of a love affair, part literary history, The Shadowy Third takes up the burdens of the past—its passions and its personalities. Julia Parry writes with the vividness of a novelist about her grandparents and the unexpected geometries that love takes. In its first-person intimacy, this book is as memorable and poignant as Austerlitz or The Hare with the Amber Eyes.’
Professor Allan Hepburn, author of The Weight of a World of Feeling: Reviews and Essays by Elizabeth Bowen

‘I finished The Shadowy Third yesterday and really was quite blown away – what a gorgeous book Julia Parry has written… I fell into the book and read compulsively until the end, travelling around the world sweeping up the big themes of social history through to the minute elegiac personal family details. This is a magnificent debut.’
Gail Crowther, author of Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton

‘Julia Parry’s prose debut is a triumph. Meticulously researched, and based primarily on a box of letters given to the writer by her uncle John, this masterful work tells the story of the author’s grandfather’s affair and friendship with the Anglo-Irish writer, Elizabeth Bowen.’
Jaki McCarrick, playwright of Belfast Girls

‘A compelling story of marriage, passion and betrayal that reads like a richly textured novel. With skill, wit, and empathy, Parry takes readers on a compelling journey to find the truth of her grandfather’s love affair with a famous novelist. Gripping, poignant, and fascinating.’
Charlotte Gordon, author of Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley