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      The State of Exception and Exceptional States in Elizabeth Bowen’s Wartime Ghost Stories

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          Abstract

          In this article, I consider Elizabeth Bowen’s depiction of the impact on citizens of their changing political and legal relationship to the British state during World War II, using Agamben and Freud’s writing about wartime behaviour of the state to illuminate Bowen’s short fiction, in particular ‘The Demon Lover’ and ‘Green Holly.’ Although from different points on the political spectrum, Agamben, like Bowen, is opposed to the expansion of the state into the lives of citizens. As a legal philosopher, he has written extensively on the early to mid-twentieth century, and the article takes his theory, expressed in The State of Exception, as its starting point. The article goes on to compare the evocation of the state’s presence and treatment of its citizens in ‘The Demon Lover’ and ‘Green Holly,’ incorporating Freud’s essay ‘Thoughts for the Times on War and Death.’ I then focus on Bowen’s portrayal of the socio-legal predicament that women were placed in through consideration of the literary antecedents to ‘The Demon Lover,’ the history of state surveillance of war widows, and Bowen’s short radio play, ‘A Year I Remember – 1918.’ The article culminates with the most exceptional state in the stories, and in Freud: the ghosts. I discuss the extent to which they represent the unmourned wartime dead or the existential anxiety experienced not only because of the threat of death during war, but also, the threat to individuality, rights and legal status created by the state of exception.

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          Most cited references 6

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          Legalizing Lawlessness: On Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception

           S. HUMPHREYS (2006)
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            ‘World War 2: New laws that affect every citizen.’

             R. STANNARD (1939)
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              LOVE AND COURTSHIP IN MID-TWENTIETH-CENTURY ENGLAND

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                2056-6700
                Open Library of Humanities
                Open Library of Humanities
                2056-6700
                29 November 2019
                2019
                : 5
                : 1
                Affiliations
                [1 ]King’s College London, GB
                Article
                10.16995/olh.477
                Copyright: © 2019 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

                Categories
                Literature, law and psychoanalysis

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