Maeve Binchy


1940-2012 [Maeve Binchy Snell]; b. 28 May; brought up in Dalkey, Co. Dublin (‘big shabby happy house with very loving parents who sadly died young’) with siblings incl. Joan and William; ed. Holy Child Convent, Killiney; netball captain; grad. UCD, BA (History & French); taught in secondary school for eight years; taught French in Jewish school, and invited to Israel, working on a kibbutz; after her father sent her letters to a newspaper for publication [Irish Independent], establishing an audience, she became an Irish Times feature columnist, 1968; issued a collected journalism as My First Book (1969); issued a guide to evening classes, becoming a long-running best-seller; met journalist Gordon Snell, 1972, and married him in 1977;

appt. London Correspondent to The Irish Times, 1973; Maeve’s Diary (1974); wrote End of Term (1976) and Half Promised Land (1979), stage plays for the Abbey - the latter about identity and tolerance on a kibutz; also Deeply Regretted By ... (RTÉ 1978), dir. Louis Lentin, with Donall Farmer in the lead, becoming winner of the Jacob’s [Biscuits] Award, based on her story “Death in Kilburn”, contrib. to The Irish Times (1978), and dealing with the tragedy of bigamous emigrants to England; issued Ireland of the Welcomes (1980); also story-collections, Central Line (1978; direct in pb.) and Victoria Line (1980), based on her experience of London-life as a journalist, later combined as London Transports (1983);

issued Dublin 4 (1982), doing the same for Dublin; wrote The Lilac Bus (1984), the first of many novels, followed by Light a Penny Candle (1982), which received the highest sum for any first commissioned novel in British publishing history - Coronet paying 52,000 for paperback rights; issued Echoes (1985, rep. 1995 pb.), concerning seaside village love, ambition and betrayal, later televised; also Firefly Summer (1987), in which an American finds roots in Ireland; issued Silver Wedding (1988), dealing with the individuals at a 25th anniversary and their secrets; issued Circle of Friends (1990), a story of loyalty and love centred on a big, over-protected girl in University which became Irish fiction best-seller in 1991 and was successfully filmed for television in 1995; The Lilac Bus also filmed with Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell in leading roles;
issued The Copper Beech [q.d.] appeared in Reader’s Digest; issued Evening Class (1996); issued Tara Road (1998), sold 1,000,000, and was filmed in 1995 with Andie McDowell and Olivia Williams (Sept. 2005); appeared on the Winnie Oprah Show, 1999; issued Scarlet Fever (2000), announcing that it would be her last novel (‘I sort of retired in 2000 when I was sixty’); concerns the relationship of Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather; winner of W. H. Smith Book Award for Fiction, defeating Joanna Trollope and Margaret Atwood; lost six stone in a year in order to facilitate a hip-operation; suffered ill-health related to her heart and ultimately to weight-problems - experienced since childhood; issued Heart and Soul (2009), based on her hospital experience and observations;
after a brief retirement, she issued Quentin’s (2002), giving a fly-on-the-wall account of the colourful characters in the restaurant of the title; received PEN/AT Cross literary Award, Jan. 2007; issued End of Term (2007), a commissioned play for Abbey; she received the British Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1999, and life-time achievement award of Irish Book Awards, 2010;  lived with Snell in Dalkey, Co. Dublin; appeared in a cameo with Snell in Fair City (RTÉ) , dining at The Hungry Pig (14 Dec. 2011); her br. William, a lawyer, is active in the ‘Pro-life’ [anti-abortion] movement;
d. 30 July 2012, after short illness; working on A Week in Winter when she died - posthum. pub. and a fiction best-seller in December 2012; widely lamented as a ‘national treasure’ at her death (Enda Kenny); cremated and buried in Dalkey; her sister Joan has written for children; her cousin Dan and nephew Chris are also novelists; the Cumann Merriman established a €1,000 Merriman Short Story Competition in her memory, 2012; a garden at Dalkey Library dedicated to her, Sept. 2012; her mini-play Soulmates, written for Crow St. Theatre, appeared in The Irish Times (8 March 2013); Maeve’s Times, a collection of her journalism, was edited by Roisin Ingle and pub. 12 Sept., 2013. DIW ATT

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Novels & Stories
  • Deeply Regretted By ... (Dublin: Turoe 1979), 59pp.;
  • Central Line: Stories of Big City Life (London: Quartet 1978), 140pp., Do. ([Sevenoaks]: Coronet 1984);
  • Victoria Line (London: Quartet; Swords: Ward River 1980), 154pp., Do. ([Sevenoaks]: Coronet 1984);
  • Light A Penny Candle (London: Century 1982; rep. 1998), 540pp., Do. (NY: Signet 1983; rep. 2001);
  • Maeve Binchy’s Dublin 4 (Swords: Ward River 1982), 208pp., Do. (London: Century 1983), Do. (London: Arrow 1986);
  • London Transports (London: Century 1983), 250pp. [“Central Line”, “Victoria Line”];
  • The Lilac Bus (Swords: Ward River 1984), 200pp., Do. (London: Century 1986), Do. [large print edn] (Bath: Chivers 1987);
  • Echoes (London: Century 1985), 477pp., Do. ([Sevenoaks]: Coronet 1986);
  • Firefly Summer (London: Century 1987), 484pp.;
  • Silver Wedding (London: Century 1988), Do. (NY: Delacorte 1989);
  • The Glass Lake (London: Orion 1994), Do., NY: Delacorte 1995);
  • Dear Maeve (Dublin: Poolbeg 1995); Tara Road (London: Orion 1998), 448pp.;
  • Aches & Pains, ill. Wendy Shea (London: Orion 1999);
  • Circle of Friends (London: Arrow 2000), 560pp.;
  • Scarlet Fever ([London; Orion] 2000), 507pp.;
  • Quentin’s (London: Orion 2002), 345pp.;
  • Start Sullivan (London: Orion 2006), 128pp. [‘quick read’ for World Book Day];
  • Heart and Soul (London: Orion 2008), 432pp.;
  • Minding Frankie ([London: Orion] 2009).
  • A Week in Winter [London: Orion 2012) [posthum.]
Readers Digest
  • Of Love and Life: Three Novels Selected and Condensed by Reader’s Digest (London: Reader’s Digest 1999), 479pp. [Maeve Binchy, Tara Road; Madeleine Wickham, The Wedding Girl; Colin Shindler, High on a Cliff]
  • Deeply Regretted By ... (Dublin: Turoe Press / RTÉ 1979), 59pp., and Do. [rep. edn.], intro. by Louis Lentin (Dublin: Arlen House 2006; ), 80pp. [incls. text of her Irish Times article upon which the play is based; see under Notes, infra];
  • End of Term (Dublin: Arlen House 2007; distrib. Syracuse UP 2009), 64pp. [Abbey commission].
  • Half-Promised Land (Dublin: Arlen House; distrib. Syracuse UP 2009), 64pp.
  • Soulmates, a mini-play for Crow St. Theatre, in The Irish Times (8 March 2013) - online.
  • My First Book (Dublin: Irish Times [1976]);
  • Maeve’s Diary: From Maeve Binchy’s Column in ‘The Irish Times’ (Dublin: Irish Times [1979]), 118pp.;
  • Contrib. to John Quinn, ed., A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl [RTE copyright 1985] (London: Methuen 1986; Mandarin 1990). pp.1-16;
  • with Anne Henrick, Healing Hands: People Remember Nurses (Dublin: New Island 2004), 96pp.;
  • Introduction to The Writers & Artists Yearbook (2005);
  • Foreword to Seán MacMahon & Jo O’Donoghue, Brewer’s Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2005);
  • Contrib. a preface to Lifestory (Irish Hospice Foundation 2007), 272pp. [designed by Ed. Miliano; with Caroline Mullen on family histories; another preface by John Waters].
  • Maeve’s Times, intro. by Róisín Ingle (London: Orion 2013), 400pp.

Note: Binchy reviewed This Is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon, in The Irish Times (28 April 2012), Weekend, p.10 [‘There are no cardboard characters here; everyone is three-dimensional and presented with flaws well in evidence’.

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Interviews in Sunday Times (19 Oct. 1980), p.36. & The Sunday Times Magazine (1 Jan 1989), p.58; also Victoria Glendinning, review, Sunday Times (3 Oct. 1983), p.43; Simon Hattersone, ‘Where there’s a will ...’ [“The Monday Interview”], in Guardian Weekly, 21 Aug. 2000), p.4-5 [infra]. See extracts from reviews under Commentary - infra.

There is an interview at Orion [“Question & Answer” - online; 28.07.08].

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Patricia Scanlan, review of Maeve Binchy’s ‘long awaited new book’, The Copper Beech (Orion 1992), concerns eight children who carved their names on a tree in the small town of Shancarrig; now grown up to be Maddy Ross, the junior assistant school-mistress, passionately, self-deludingly, and unrequitedly in love; shy Eddie Barton, who begins a pen-friendship with dramatic results; Nessa Ryan, bright ambitious mother, who seeks passion with the smarmy two-timer from Dublin, Richard Hayes, and finds the true love she is seeking under her nose all the time; Leo Murphy, the girl whose upper-class parent don’t share a bedroom; Doctor Jims who can’t get on with his son, and Nora Kelly, the schoolmistress whose childlessness strains her marriage unbearably; all set in the fifties and sixties, and dealing with small-town loves and jealousies, as well as deceits and snobberies. Maeve Binchy is Barbara Bush’s favourite author. Reviewed for the Irish Times [q.d.] by Patricia Scanlan [herself the current Irish paperback fiction best-seller with Finishing Touches (Poolbeg 1992)].

Patricia Craig, review of The Glass Lake, i.e., Lough Glass [green lake], in Times Literary Supplement (16 Sept..1994), [q.p.]; the plot concerns a suicide note, burnt, thought the woman who wrote it is not getting on well as a business woman in London; reviewer asks what gives such work their appeal - not style, or insights beyond the most superficial, but ‘nevertheless put their finger on smallest nuance of atmosphere and social usage ... they proceed by means of contrivance and truism’; called here an updated East Lynne, choc-a-bloc with observations like, ‘People are special. They have there own lives in their souls to live’ and ‘Anything or anyone who is meant to be free will go’, spoken by Sister Madeleine, the female hermit who represents unconventional Christianity.

Teresa Doran, review of The Glass Lake, in Books Ireland (Nov. 1996), p.321f., naming Kit McMahon as the protagonist, a child growing up, whose beautiful mother disappears and is dredged from the lake; also notices Evening Class (1996).

Simon Hattersone, ‘Where there’s a will ...’ [“The Monday Interview”], in Guardian Weekly, 21 Aug. 2000): , p.4. Binchy insists that she is retiring from fiction-writing: ‘She’s not doing a Sinatra, she insists, this is for real. As she quit journalism many years ago, and quit teaching many years before that, she is now saying ta-ta to the world of novels. Yes, of course the newspaper stories about her stomping off because the publishers wanted to lace her sagas with-the naughty stuff were rubbish. Yes, Scarlet Feather, will sell as many millions as Circle of Friends and Tara Road and - her dozen or so other novels. But the time has come to live a little, spend a little, see the world with a camera instead of a laptop’; ‘once described as an “Irish Jackie Collins” [...] couldn’t be further from the truth. Her novels don’t take us down love’s dark passage or crime’s murder alley. In fact, Binchy created her own niche - old-fashioned stories featuring modern women with modern problems. Women who may he looking for love, but also tackle abortion, alcoholism, careers, divorce’, on their own terms. Perception is a funny old game, she says.’ [...] ‘Binchy says the nicest thing anyone has ever said about her is that she’s a quiet feminist. “1 think it’s just the word quiet I like.” [... &c.] (p.4.) Quotes: ‘In my books, there is no ugly duckling turning into a beautiful swan syndrome because if you look at the Hansel and Gretel syndrome, it was a mistake. it wasn’t a duckling, it was a cygnet, and that’s why it turned into a swan. The duckling should with any luck turn into a nice clucking duck and get on with its life. Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!’ [End.] (pp.4-5.)

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Margaret Kelleher, ‘From abortion to infidelity: how Maeve Binchy chronicled Ireland’, The Irish Times (22 Sept. 2017): ‘[One of the hallmarks of Binchy’s narrative vision is compassion. This is richly evident, for example, in the conflict between father and son when Aisling’s brother Sean enlists in the British army, and how it is negotiated by Eileen, Sean’s mother: “She didn’t know whether Sean ever read his son’s letters. She often left her bag open so that he would see them; but he never made any mention of it and they never seemed to have been disturbed when she returned.” Another episode in Light a Penny Candle recounts Elizabeth’s having an abortion in London, accompanied by Aisling. / The chapter possesses much narrative power, but more perhaps because of the striking rarity in Irish fiction of such scenes. (Another of the few examples is also by Binchy, who in Shepherd’s Bush, the opening story in Central Line, recounts, step by step, the experience of an Irish woman coming to London for an abortion.) Within the novel this is narrated quite simply and directly, with a focus on the different perspectives of the matter-of-fact Elizabeth and the horrified Aisling. The “plain-speaking” woman who runs the “very cheerful” guesthouse where the two girls stay on their way to Mrs Norris’s house, remarks on Elizabeth’s luck in having a friend with her: ‘Lots of them come on their own.’ / From the early stories named after London tube stations to the later Lilac Bus, Binchy also keenly observes the crucial importance of mobility and movement, of travel and migration, in women’s lives. The scarce educational opportunities available at home is a central theme of Binchy’s 1985 novel, Echoes, set between 1950 and the early 1960s. / Here the importance of female friendship is expressed through dedicated and generous mentoring; the success of young Clare O’Brien in securing scholarships first to secondary school and then to university echoes the experience of her teacher Angela O’Hara. Early in the novel Angela muses on the likely fates of her students in a characteristic Binchy passage, mild in tone but with a final charge: “It wasn’t David Power’s fault that the system was the way it was. A system that made it natural that David Power should be a doctor like his father, and James Nolan a solicitor like his father, but made it very hard for Clare O’Brien to be anything at all.”’ (See full-version in RICORSO > Criticism > Reviews, via index or as attached.)

Q.auth.: Her novels persistently suggest that the outcome in life is determined by fate and that contentment has little to do with status, along with the idea that once one gets what one wants one no longer wants it; no truly evil characters in her novels; clergy treated sentimentally as having often harsh exteriors but kindly motives; stories mostly set in Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s.

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Helena Sheehan, Irish Television Drama (RTE 1987), lists Deeply Regretted By ... (1978), written by Maeve Binchy and directed by Louis Lentin; also Ireland of the Welcomes (1980), Binchy/Deirdre Friel.

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Light a Penny Candle (1982) deals with a friendship between an Irish and an English girl, Aisling O’Connor and Elizabeth White - the latter a wartime evacuee from London to small-town Ireland (Kilgarret). In an unshakeable friendship of twenty years, involving change and chaos, joy and sorrow, dreams and betrayals, Aisling accompanies Elizabeth when the latter has abortion in London. A brother of Aisling, Sean Jr., joins the British Army to his father’s shame and is later killed in a bombing. Aisling's husband is Tony Murray, whose alcoholism ruins their marriage and Harry Stone is the handsome but self-indulgent young man whom Elizabeth and Aisling fall in love with by turns. The novel's cast includes an elderly Polish antique shop owner, Stefan Worksy, who gives Elizabeth her first job and becomes a mentor.

End of Term: Binchy’s first stage play centers on three teachers in an Irish convent school as their lives are exposed by a devious schoolgirl. Originally produced by the famous Abbey Theatre, this is the world debut of Binchy’s classic text. (See Syracuse Univ. Press Catalogue online; accessed 23.03.2010.)

Deeply Regretted By ...: Maeve Binchy’s classic television play, is a moving and powerful account of a tragedy affecting a woman in London who discovers, on the death of her “husband”, that their married life was a lie. The play reflects the sociopolitical realities of Irish men marrying and starting families both at home and abroad, principally after they were forced to emigrate for work. Presenting a brave and revealing account of a hidden layer of Irish society, Maeve Binchy first brought the subject to the surface in her Irish Times story, “Death of Kilburn”, also included in this volume. (See Syracuse Univ. Press Catalogue online; accessed 23.03.2010.)

Half-promised Land (Abbey 1979; Arlen 2009): Best known for her endearing novels [recte plays], Maeve Binchy is also an award-winning playwright. Published for the first time, Half-Promised Land deals with two young Irish women who visit a kibbutz in 1960s Israel. Binchy explores their actions and emotions as they are confronted with issues of tolerance, belonging and forgiveness, abortion, mental illnesses, and racism. Fans of Binchy’s resilient, sharp-witted female characters will cherish this long-forgotten drama.

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Heart and Soul (2009): ‘Clara Casey has more than enough on her plate. Her daughters are a handful and Clara, a senior cardiac specialist, has a new job to cope with...For Ania, meeting Clara Casey is a miracle: she had never intended to leave her beloved Poland, but after the love of her life has turned sour, her world seems rather empty. Perhaps a new job in a new country will mend her broken heart? Declan is looking forward to joining the clinic - but what should have been a straightforward six-month posting brings him far more than he expected. Then there’s Father Brian Flynn, whose life is turned upside down when his reputation is threatened; and the beautiful, cheerful nurse, Fiona, who can’t leave her troubled past behind ...’ (See Waterstones page.)

Just William: Maeve Binchy gives an account of her relationship with her brother William Binchy, the anti-abortion and anti-divorce campaigner and Regius Law professor at TCD: ‘I love Billy madly but I don’t agree with a word he says. I thought it was a liberal family we grew up in. We were encouraged to think what way we liked. It was the kind of family where all the geese were swans. ... he married young and went away out of the country. I am not trying to take him off the back of the family but maybe it was the people he met on his travels.’ (Profile of William Binchy, in The Irish Times, 17 Oct.1992.)

Love & Marriage?: in an address to the Merriman School where she read ‘It’s Only a Day’, Binchy said: ‘[it is] about how everything changed in the 1960s and how people began to believe that love and marriage didn’t necessarily go together, that you could have true love without being married.’ (Irish Times report, 24 Aug. 1995.)

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