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It is London in the late 1930s, and into a coterie of rather grand early-middle-aged people the sixteen-year-old orphan Portia is plunged beyond her depth. Disconcertingly vulnerable, Portia is manifestly trying to understand what is going on around her and looking for something that is t there. Evident victim, she is also an inadvertent victimiser - her impossible lovingness and austere trust being too much for her admirer Eddie, who is himself defensive and uncomfortable in this society which has managed to bring them together. In the midst of the rising tension is set perhaps Elizabeth Bowen's most brilliant piece of social comedy, when, at a seaside villa full of rollicking young people, Portia experiences at least temporary relief from the misery Eddie seems determined to bring her.
Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin in 1989, the only child of an Irish Lawyer and landowner. She was educated at Downe House School in Kent. Her book Bowen's Court (1942) is the history of her family and their house in County Cork, and Seven Winters (1943) contains reminscences of her Dublin childhood. In 1923 she married Alan Cameron, who held an appointment with the BBC who died in 1952. She travelled a good deal, dividing most of her time between London and Bowen's court, which she inherited. Elizabeth Bowen is considered by many to be one of the most distinguished novelists of the twentieth century. Her first book, a collection of short stories, Encounters, appeared in 1923, followed by another, Ann Lee's in 1926. The Hotel (1927), was her first novel, and was followed by The Last September (1929), Joining Charles (1929), another book of short stories, Friends and Relations (1931), To the North (1932), The Cat Jumps (short stories, 1934) The House in Paris (1935), The Death of the Heart (1938), Collected Impressions (essays, 1950), The Shelbourne (1951), A World of Love (1955), A Time in Rome (1960), After-thought (essays, 1962), The Little Girls (1964), A Day in the Dark (1965), and her last book, Eva Trout (1969) She was awarded the CBE in 1948, and received the honourary degree of Doctor of Letters from Trinity College, Dublin in 1949 and from Oxford University in 1956. In the same year she was appointed Lacy Martin Donnelly Fellow at Bryn Mawr College in the United States. In 1965 she was made a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature, Elizabeth Bowen died in 1973.