If you read The Observer this weekend, you will have caught their fascinating article on the novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Bowen, and the private letters that have now come to light detailing her affair with the academic Humphry House. These never-before-seen letters were discovered by Julia Parry, Humphrey’s granddaughter, after his death and became the groundwork for her upcoming bookThe Shadowy Third: Love, Letters and Elizabeth Bowen, publishing on the 25th February from Duckworth books.
A sudden death in the family delivers Julia Parry a box of love letters. Dusty with age, they reveal an illicit affair between the celebrated Irish novelist, Elizabeth Bowen, and the academic Humphry House – Julia’s grandfather. So begins a life-changing quest to discover and understand this affair, one with profound repercussions for Julia’s family, not least her grandmother, Madeline.
Using fascinating unpublished correspondence, Julia follows the lives of three very different characters through some of the most dramatic decades of the twentieth century: from the rarefied air of Oxford in the 1930s and the Anglo-Irish Big House, to the last days of Empire in India and into the Second World War. The story opens up a lost world, one with complex and often surprising attitudes to love and sex, work and home, duty and ambition, and to writing itself, spiced throughout with social history and a celebrated supporting cast that includes Isaiah Berlin and Virginia Woolf.
Inspired by Bowen’s own obsession with place and memory, Julia travels to all the locations in the letters – from Kolkata to Cambridge; from Ireland to Texas weaving present-day storytelling with historical narrative and literary exploration.
From an assured, elegant new voice, The Shadowy Third is a beautifully written investigation of family, love, and the lasting power of literature.
Julia Parry was brought up in West Africa, educated at St Andrews and Oxford, she now divides her time between London and Madrid. She teaches English literature and has worked as a writer and photographer for a variety of publications and charitable organisations.