A sudden death in the family delivers Julia a box of love letters. Dusty with age, they reveal an illicit affair
between the celebrated twentieth-century Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen and Humphry House – Julia’s
So begins an intriguing quest to discover and understand this affair, one with profound repercussions for
Julia’s family, not least for her grandmother, Madeline. This is a book about how stories are told in real life, in
fiction and in families.
Inspired by Bowen’s own obsession with place and memory, Julia travels to all the locations in the letters –
from Kolkata to Cambridge and from Ireland to Texas. The reader is taken from the rarefied air of Oxford in
the 1930s, to the Anglo-Irish Big House, to the last days of Empire in India and on into the Second World War.
The fascinating unpublished correspondence, a wealth of family photographs, and a celebrated supporting
cast that includes Isaiah Berlin and Virginia Woolf add further richness to this unique work.
The Shadowy Third 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. Weaving present-day story telling with historical
narrative, this is a beautifully written debut of literary and familial investigation from an original and
captivating new voice.
Do you have a favourite author? Most people do. Julia Parry certainly does. She was a lover of the fiction of Elizabeth Bowen celebrated Irish author. Her writing seemed to be full of romantic intrigue, infidelity and and a strong sense of time and place. We all love a good story. But that is where it should stay, between the pages and not intrude on private life. After all it’s fiction isn’t it?
Or so Julia thought, until she inherits a box of dusty letters upon the death of her uncle. What would you do? Ignore them or being intrigued read them. After all they’re musty family letters and shouldn’t hold any surprises, or could they?
As Julia reads on she not only finds letters from her Grandmother Madeleine House and her Grandfather Humphrey House and their contemporaries such as Isaiah Berlin and Virginia Woolf ; but also another celebrated person of the times, Elizabeth Bowen, a beloved author. As Julia reads on she is surprised to find to find out that Humphrey had a mistress. Elizabeth Bowen. As letters between the pair are amongst letters between Madeleine and Humphrey was Madeleine aware of the affair? As Julia delves further she finds there are gaps in the correspondence. Were they destroyed by a jealous wife? These letters set Julia on a quest to the places that were important to all the parties concerned.
Apart from an insight into an affair, which is at times is both ardent and rocky. It also shows how important letters were to that age A lot of personal and social history is shared. It really is a lost art in these days of instant communication. This is a well researched and well written book. A book that Julia may have found hard to write. But I’m glad she has written it and I would recommend it to others.
Julia Parry was brought up in West Africa and educated at St Andrews and Oxford. She
teaches English literature and has worked as a writer and photographer for a variety of
publications and charities. She lives in London and Madrid. This is her first book
Praise for The Shadowy Third:
The Shadowy Third reveals the secret life of the author of The Death of the Heart, a title that applies to the man
and women whose sepia- covered correspondence led to this riveting memoir.’
MARLENE WAGMAN GELLER (Women of Means: Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls)