The Shadowy Third : Love, Letters, and Elizabeth Bowen by Julia Parry


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

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Using fascinating unpublished correspondence, Julia follows the lives of three very different characters through some of the most dramatic decades of the twentieth century: from the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. Praise for The Shadowy Third ‘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 ‘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 Toibin, author of The Empty Family ‘A vivid picture of an important and immensely gifted writer in love.’ Joseph O’Connor ‘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 – Parry is a spirited narrator who is clearly a great admirer of Bowen’s fiction but isn’t blindsided by this, remaining admirably nuanced as she gives a judicious moment-by-moment account of these complicated characters over the decades.’ Lara Feigel, Spectator ‘Fascinating and poetic.’ Ian D’Alton, Irish Times’ An essay of rare sensitivity and intelligent reflection… Julia Parry’s elegantly written The Shadowy Third uncovers the love triangle that consumed the novelist – and her grandmother.’ Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph ‘As literary discoveries go, it’s a big one: the discovery in her uncle’s attic by Julia Parry, a secondary school English teacher, of the forgotten correspondence between her grandfather, the literary critic Humphry House, and the famous 20th-century Anglo-Irish novelist and short-story writer Elizabeth Bowen. Parry is an engaging writer, deliciously alert to the echoes and parallels that sometimes feel like ancestral instructions on how to approach the material.’ Lucy Atkins, The Sunday Times ‘Parry is an intrepid narrator, with a beguiling style…

she marshals her facts and impressions with energy and assiduity.’ Patricia Craig, TLS ‘Bowen devotees will find fascinating insights. Anyone who has yet to discover her sublime fiction, meanwhile, has so much to look forward to.’ Saga

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