Clare Boylan (1948-2006)


Life
1948- [née Clare Selby;] b. 21 April 1948, Dublin; ed. Dublin; journalist and fiction writer; m. Alan Wilkes, 1970; worked for Irish Press to 1982; Journalist of the Year, 1970; early stories in Best Irish Short Stories and Macmillan’s Winter Tales; A Nail in the Head (1983), short-story collection; Holy Pictures (1983), comic novel of family life; Last Resorts (1984); Black Baby (1988), based on imaginary outcome of Irish missionary activity; Concerning Virgins (1989), a story-collection;
 
Home Rule (1992), tracing family life of the ill-matched Devlin grandparents of Nan Cantwell from the 1890s, serialised in the Sunday Independent, April 1993; issued That Bad Woman (1995); ed., The Literary Companion to Cats (1996); issued Room for a Single Lady (1997), partly based on experience in her own childhood when lodgings were let to a succession of ladies providing great instruction of the daughters of the house; Beloved Stranger (1999), a novel recounting events when manic depression strikes the husband in an elderly married couple with a daughter;
 
account of frequent reviewer in The Independent (UK) and other papers incl. an ailing teen-age magazine; edited Image; issued Emma Brown (2003), a completion of the 20-page, 2-chap. draft by Charlotte Brontë; purchased small house in Brittany on strength of 8-figure deal with American publisher; d. 16 May 2006. DIW OCIL

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Works

Short Fiction
  • Nail on the Head (1983);
  • That Bad Woman (NY: Little, Brown 1995; pbk., Abacus 1996), 205pp.
Novels
  • Holy Pictures (1983);
  • Last Resorts (1984);
  • Black Baby (1988);
  • Concerning Virgins (1990);
  • Home Rule (London: Hamish Hamilton 1992), 224pp.;
  • Room for a Single Lady (London: Abacus; NY: Little, Brown 1997), 316pp.;
  • Beloved Stranger (London: Abacus; NY: Little, Brown 1999), 317pp.;
  • Emma Brown (NY/London: Little, Brown 2003), 448pp.
Miscellaneous (highly selective)
  • ‘Clare Boylan’, autobiographical piece in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, ed. John Quinn (1986; 1990), pp.17-32;
  • ed., The Agony and the Ego: The Art and Strategy of Diction-writing Explored (London: Penguin 1993), 272pp. [collection of essays by and interviews with Penguin writers about their method accompanying current series of first novels];
  • Foreword to Maeve Brennan, The Visitor (Dublin: New Island Books 2001). pp.[i-vii].
Anthologies
  • contrib. to Evelyn Conlon & Hans-Christian Oeser, eds., Cutting the Night in Two: Short Stories by Irish Women Writers (Dublin: New Island 2001);
  • “Ordinary Love” in Moments, ed. Ciara Considine [Tsunami relief collection] (Clé 2005).

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Criticism
  • Jean-Louis Gionvannangeli, ‘Joyce and Boylan’s Black Baby: “Swiftly and Silently”’, in The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers, ed. Theresa O’Connor (Florida UP 1996), pp.171-82;
  • ‘The Prospect of (Scandalous) Old Age’ [interview article], in Books Ireland (Sept. 1999), pp.2009-10;
  • Máirín Martin, review of That Bad Woman, in Books Ireland (Nov. 1995), p.291;
  • Sean MacMahon, review of Concerning Virgins, in Linen Hall Review (Summer 1990), p.33;
  • ‘You follow the bubble wherever it takes you’, in Books Ireland (Sept. 2003), p.183-84 [infra];
  • [...]
  • Giovanna Tallone, ‘“Once Upon a Time”: Fabulists and Storytellers in Clare Boylan’s Fiction’, in Irish Women Writers: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Elke d’Hoker, et al. [Reimagining Ireland, No. 40] ([Intern.] Peter Lang 2011), q.pp..

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Commentary
Maurice Harmon, ‘First Impressions: 1968-78’, in Terence Brown & Patrick Rafroidi, eds., The Irish Short Story (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979): ‘One of the best shaped stories, with a strong sensual emphasis, is Clare Boylan’s “Not a Recommended Hobby for a Housewife”, a witty account of the annual get-together of a few a old girls who pity Maria because she seems to have gone to seed. At the end, however, her lover enters and sweeps her off in a radiant expression of fulfilled sexuality.’ (p.72.)

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[q.auth.],‘The Prospect of (Scandalous) Old Age’ [interview article], in Books Ireland (Sept. 1999), pp.2009-10. Boylan relates that her father was manic depressive; speaks of researching the story and using ‘a lot of case studies to recreate the drama of Dick’s vilent behaviour’; regardings the writing of the book as both ‘painful and healing’.

[q.auth.], review of Home Rule (1992), in Irish Times (13 June 1992), [q.p.]; the story of an ill-matched pair - Mama and Papa Devlin - in the 1890s, who are to become the grandparents of Nan Cantwell, the central character in Boylan’s first novel, Holy Pictures.

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[q.auth.], review of Home Rule (1992) in Times Literary Supplement (12 June 1992), [q.p.]; relates that the lives of the young Devlin girls are dominated by their English Mama ... [who] succumbs to Pa Devlin but regrets it ever afterwards ... lives surrounded by relics of her refined past ... lavishes love on her three sons but has no time for her six daughters ... extracts them from school [at] thirteen ... to keep house for her. Daisy escapes to a convent, loses her faith, falls in love with her future husband Cecil Cantwell. / Plot moves at cracking pace, child abuse, death, attempted suicide, rape swirl past in single paragraphs ... delightful escapist romp ... the sequel has just been reissued by Penguin and there is scope for conquers.

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Brian Fallon, review of Home Rule, in Irish Times (1 May 1993), [q.p.]; almost a ‘family novel’ in the old sense, set in pre-independence Ireland and taking pains to reconstruct an authentic period feeling. Fiancés die in India, family cupboards usually have skeletons in them, respectability rules all and sundry. In the final pages the British leave Dublin Castle and one of the characters leaves for England, while another vanishes; the overall impression, however, is rather cosy, like a certain kind of genre painting, or old family photos turned nostalgically golden-yellow.’

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[Interview], ‘You follow the bubble wherever it takes you’, in Books Ireland (Sept. 2003), p.183-84. Claims to share birthdate as well as initials with Charlotte Brontë; ‘[...] when I discovered the fragment which Charlotte had simple titled Emma, I was mildly put out to find a narrator, a calm-sounding lady close to middle-years, standing between me and the young heroine; but Mrs. Chalmont became a vivid and sympathetic character almost as soon as I picked up my pen.’; novel concerns child delivered to failing girls’ school where it is assumed that her wealthy parents will improve its fortunes, but the girl turns out to be other than expected; raising questions of child-abduction and child-prostitution; recalls that Charlotte Brontë held the hand of a woman about to be hanged for the murder of her child in Newgate; novel set in year of Great Exhibition; Boylan toured London with her own personal guide during research; studied Brontë’ style in some deetail; has worked on a play about her marriage to Arthur Bell Nichols; ‘She was a very distinctive sytlist and a great setter of characters, and the only writer I know who can combine irony and melodrama. She and her sisters were said to have been greatly influenced by Byron, but to me the rhymthm of her writing is more reminiscent of Shakespeare. Also, there’s a nursery story-telling element [...] I tried to capture all of these [...]; rewrote the novel to accommodate influence of her reading of the earlier Brontë fragment, “The Story of Willie Ellin”; the resulting incorporating four pages of Brontë’s prose unadulterated; American publisher has paid $400,000 for Emma Brown; bought little house in Brittany.

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Notes
Holy Pictures, heroine Nan Cantwell; Nan’s father runs a Dublin clothing factory; her mother is scatty and absent-minded; she gains most of her information from a maid who tells her bawdy stories, while the nuns teach her shame and prejudice. A catalogue of surprising events unfold that Nan makes little sense of, viz. puberty, her father’s bigamy, bankruptcy, and suicide, and the maid’s descent into prostitution. Poignant and hilarious (blurp; ex review.)

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Write Now”: Contrib. ‘Declan’s Chair’, short story, to The Irish Times, 2nd Dec. 2000, Weekend, p.11; bio-data cites six novels between Holy Pictures (1982) and Room for a Single Lady (1997); and collections, A Nail in the Head (1983), Concerning Virgins (1989), That Bad Woman (1995); Collected Stories (Abacus 2000); also ed. The Agony and the Ego: Essays on the Art and Strategy of Fiction Writing, and The Literary Companion to Cats.

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Beloved Stranger (2000): When her husband turns into a manic-depressive and is committed to a mental hospital, a wife reinvents herself in a world where women are no longer submissive and discovers much about her 50-year traditional and loveless marriage; a daugher, in response to what she has seen, remains herself unmarried; a dark and powerful novel includes a frightening description of the husband’s descent into madness. (Adapted from review by Eoghan Corry, at IVenus.com [online])

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