Reading Late Modern Wartime in the Anthropocene: Elizabeth Bowen’s The Little Girls
This paper takes as its starting point the critical injunction that we need new modes of reading and writing in the contemporary age of the Anthropocene. Although science fiction is often considered the typical genre of the Anthropocene, I find unexpected resonance in Elizabeth Bowen’s neglected, mid-century melodrama, The Little Girls (1963). Bowen’s late work is centrally concerned with “late modern wartime”—a period in the twentieth century when global conflicts seemed recursive, repetitious, or continuous. But this was also a wartime whose environmental impacts, by the 1960s, became enmeshed with deep geological timescales: a time when radionuclides were discovered to remain toxic far into the deep future, and when developments in nuclear testing threw into relief questions about extinction and post-humanism. Now widely considered to be a key “beginning” of the Anthropogenic age, the context of mid-century nuclear testing haunts Bowen’s late style, which is in turn haunted by our own moment of reading in the Anthropocene.