Maeve Brennan


Life
1917-1993 [pseud. “The Long-Winded Lady”]; b. 6 Jan. Dublin, dg. of Robert Brennan, a participant in the 1916 Easter Rising and later Propaganda chief of the IRA [Sinn Féin] under Michael Collins, who was appt. first Irish ambassador to America 1934; at first educate in Dublin, Maeve remained in New York on return of family to Ireland, working as a copywriter on Harper’s Bazaar before joining New Yorker staff to write on women’s fashion at invitation of William Shawn, 1949; she published “The Holy Terror”, her first story, in 1950;
 
contrib. to “Talk of the Town” column under pseud., “The Long-Winded Lady”, 1953-1968; issued In and Out of Never-Never Land (1969), 22 stories; also Christmas Eve (1974), 13 stories, and The Long-Winded Lady (1969), 47 short pieces from “Talk of the Town”, 1953-1968; m. St Clair McKelway, living at Sneden’s Landing (Hudson), and divorced, becoming migratory after; suffered nervous breakdown; settled in cubby-hole at rear of ladies’ lavatory at office of the New Yorker; d. Nov. 1993, after a decade spent as inmate of several mental hospitals;
 
posthumous collection issued as The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin (1997), being 21 stories of family love and its failures in Dublin, introduced by William Maxwell, former-editor of New Yorker and friend; followed by The Rose Garden (1999), 20 stories from The New Yorker; also The Visitor (2000), a haunting narrative of a young girl whose parents are dead, and who returns from Paris to live with her emotionally cold grandmother, recently discovered in US university archive and published in Washington; there is a biography by Angela Bourke (2004); her life became the subject of The Talk of the Town, a commissioned play by Emma Donoghue (dir. Annabelle Comyn, with Catherine Walker as Brennan, Project Arts, Oct. 2012); Brennan is republished by Counterpoint in New York; there is a Brennan folder in the Howard Moss Papers of the Perg Collection in the New York Public Library [NYPL].

Maeve Brennan
by Karl Bissinger

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Works
  • Christmas Eve (NY: Charles Scribner & Sons 1974);
  • The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker [1st Edn.] (New York: William Morrow & Co. 1969), 237pp. [see contents], and Do. [another edn.] (NY: Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Boston 1997 [1998]);
  • In and Out of Never-Never Land: Twenty-two Stories (NY Charles Scribner’s Sons 1969) 274pp. [ded. ‘For the Bolgers of Coolnaboy, Oylegate: Anastasia James John Elizabeth Ellen Walter’; see contents];
  • The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin [1st edn.] (NY: Houghton Mifflin 1997; 1998), [vi]viii, 358pp.; Do. (London: Flamingo 1999), 346pp., port.; The Rose Garden (Washington: Counterpoint 2000), 312pp. [hb.; ded. ‘To W.S.’; see contents];
  • Do. (London: HarperCollins 1999), and Do. (Washington: Counterpoint 2000, 2001) [pb.]; another edn. (Perseus Books Group, Washington, USA 2001), 320pp.; The Visitor (Washington, DC: Counterpoint Prehjss 2000), 86pp. [& see editions.].
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Bibliographical details
The Visitor (Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press 2000), 86pp. [incl. Ed. Note by Christopher Carduff, pp.[82]-86; Do. [another edn.] (Washington: Perseus Books q.d.); Do. [another edn.], foreword by Clare Boylan (Dublin New Island Books 2001, 2006), [i-vii], [3]-86pp.; Ed. Note, ppp.[82-86] Do. (Atlantic Books UK 2000), hb. [in assoc. with New Island Press].

Miscellaneous, With Frank O’Connor, John Updike, Roald Dahl, Dorothy Parker, Elizaberth Taylor, Nancy Hale et. al., Stories From the New Yorker 1950-1960 (NY: Simon & Schuster 1960), 780pp., hb.

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In and Out of Never-Never Land (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1969), Contents, BLUEBELL: The Door on West Tenth Street [3]; A Large Bee [14]; The Children Are Very Quiet When They Are Away In and Out of Never-Never Land [22]; The Children Are There, Trying Not to Laugh [41]; I See You, Bianca [47]. 48, CHERRYFIELD AVENUE: The Morning After the Big Fire [59]; The Old Man of the Sea [64]; The Barrel of Rumors [73]; The Day We Got Our Own Back [80]; The Clever One [85]; The Lie go The Devil in Us [95]. MRS. BAGOT: The Twelfth Wedding Anniversary [107]; The Carpet with the Big Pink Roses on It [123]; The Sofa [131]; The Shadow of Kindness [140]; The Eldest Child [155]; Stories of Africa [164]. TWO PEOPLE: A Young Girl Can Spoil Her Chances [193]; The Drowned Man [228]; A Free Choice [246]. (See Quotations, infra.)

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The Long-winded Lady (NY: William Morrow 1969), Contents: Author’s Note [9]; They were both about forty [15]; A mysterious parade of men [19]; The solitude of their expression [2]; On the A train [26]; Balzac’s favorite food [29]; The dark elevator [32]; Broccoli [37]; A shoe story [40]; In the Grosvenor bar [44]; A Chinese fortune [47]; From the Earle Hotel [51];The farmhouse that moved downtown [57]; A lost lady [62]; The flower children [67]; Wild money [75]; Lovers in Washington Square [78]; I wish for a little street music [82]; Jobs [86]; Little birds in torture [93]; A young lady with a lap [95]; The morning after [99]; The two protesters [104]; Lost overtures [108]; The man who combed his hair [112]; The good Adano [117]; A busload of scolds [122]; Movie stars at large [126]; Faraway places near here [132]; The traveller [137]; Sixth Avenue shows its true self [143]; I look down from the windows of this old Broadway hotel [147]; Mr. Sam Bidner and his saxophone [154]; The ailanthus, our back-yard tree [160]; A little boy crying [167]; A young man with a menu [170]; Painful choice [178]; The new girls on West Forty-ninth Street [180]; The view Chez Paul [187]; The sorry joker [193]; Giving money in the street [198]; Bad Tiny [201]; An irritating stranger [206];; The cheating of Philippe [212]; West Eighth Street has changed and changed and changed again [217]; Ludvík Vaculík [223]; The name of Minnie Smith [230]; Howard’s apartment [233]. (See Quotations, infra.)

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The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1997), Contents: Introduction by William Maxwell [1]; The Morning after the Big Fire [15]; The Old Man of the Sea [21]; The Barrel of Rumors [30]; The Day We Got Our Own Back [37]; The Lie [42]; The Devil in Us [47]; The Clever One [56]; A Young Girl Can Spoil Her Chances [63]; A Free Choice [99]; The Poor Men and Women [128] An Attack of Hunger [148]; Family Walls [171 The Drowned Man [193 The Twelfth Wedding Anniversary [215]; The Carpet with the Big Pink Roses on It [232]; The Shadow of Kindness [240]; The Sofa [255]; The Eldest Child [264]; Stories of Africa [273]; Christmas Eve [299]; The Springs of Affection [308]. Note [357]. Dustjacket [end, flap] shows photo of Brennan by Jill Krementz, 28 May 1984.

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The Rose Garden (Washington: Counterpoint 2000), Contents: Preface [vii]; The View from the Kitchen [3]; The Anachronism [16]; The Gentleman in the Pink-and-White Striped Shirt [39]; The Joker [52]; The Stone Hot-Water Bottle [70]; The Divine Fireplace [94]; The Servants’ Dance [111]; The Bride [153]; The Holy Terror [159]; The Bohemians [172]; The Rose Garden [184]; The Beginning of a Long Story [204]; The Daughters [225]; A Snowy Night on West Forty-ninth Street [232]; I See You, Bianca [250]; The Door on West Tenth Street [263]; A Large Bee [275]; The Children Are Very Quiet When They Are Away [279]; In and Out of Never-Never Land [283]; The Children Are There, Trying Not to Laugh [302]; Note [309].

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Criticism
  • Angela Bourke, Maeve Brennan: Homesick at the “New Yorker” (London: Jonathan Cape [NY: Counterpoint] 2004), 192pp.;
  • Catriona Crowe, ‘On a tightrope’, in The Dublin Review, 16 (Autumn 2004), pp.69-92 [review-article on Bourke, op. cit.];
  • Ellen McWilliams, ‘Avenging “Bridget”: Irish Domestic Servants and Middle-class America in the Short Stories of Maeve Brennan’, in Irish Studies Review, 21, 1 (Feb. 2013), pp.99-113;
  • Ellen McWilliams, ‘“No Place Is Home-It is as It Should Be”: Exile in the Writing of Maeve Brennan’, in Éire-Ireland, 49, 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 2014), pp.95-111;
  • Abigail L. Palko, ‘Out of Home in the Kitchen: Maeve Brennan’s Herbert’s Retreat Stories’, in New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua, 11, 4 (Winter 2007), pp.73-91.

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Commentary

“An Irishman’s Diary” - by Quidnunc (?28 Dec. 1957)
[...]
 I hear that the Ireland-America Society has appointed as its new president a man who did a great unofficial job for this country in the United States, Councillor Robert Briscoe, T.D. Mr. Briscoe follows a succession of presidents starting with Mr. Robert Brennan, formerly our Minister in Washington; Surgeon P. J. Smyth, and Judge Kenneth Deale.

 Mr. Brennan, who dabbles in journalism himself, retains close connections with American journalism. His daughter, Maeve, is one of the talented team that works on the best weekly in the world, the New Yorker.

 Concurrently with the appoint ment of Mr. Brisco as president, the socierty has appointed the American Ambassador, Mr. Scott McLeod, as patron.
[...]

Note: “Quidnunc” [pseud.] was Seumas O'Sullivan [q.v.]. The cutting, found among the papers of Albert le Brocquy, Hon. Secretary of The League of Nations Society of Ireland / Cumann Gaodhalach Cómdhála na Naisiún, is in possession of the Ricorso editor. It is undated other than by the date subscribed to a letter from John J. Horgan on political partition in Ireland - as infra.

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Clare Boylan, review of Maeve Brennan, The Visitor (Counterpoint [2001]), in The Irish Times (24 Feb. 2001) relates that the short novel deals with Anastasia, returning to Dublin after the death of her mother in Paris; her father being dead also, she stays in the family home where her grandmother, Mrs King, sees the chance to revenge herself upon the woman who took her son away and then left him and the child who took her part. Boylan considers that Brennan has created one of the great monsters of modern Irish fiction in Mrs King, a ‘patient predator who feeds daintily on the fears of the vulnerable’; cites Mary Lavin’s description of the short story as ‘an arrow in flight’ and calls it an ‘exquisite novella’. [Note that that phrase ‘an arrow in flight’ pertains to Mary Lavin’s definition of the short story form.]

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Clare Boylan, Foreword to The Visitor (New Island Edn. 2001), writes: ‘The word  “lonely” tolls like a solitary bell through the pages of The Visitor. Brennan does’t just write about loneliness. She inhabits it. She exhibits it. She elvates it to an art form. The shy, the dispossessed, the dominated, are seen not in the world but teetering on some perilous rim of it, from where they cannot possibly keep their balance but have a unique view. The painful self-consciousness of her cnaracters is reflected in a constant feeling of watchfulness. [...] The sense of understated foreboding that runs through The Visitor reminds one of [...] The Turning of the Screw by Henry James. The suburban house in Ranelagh, with its memories and resentments, is permeated by a sense of danger and unease, heightened by Anastasia’s lack of awareness and her monumental lack of judgement. The late Penelope Fitzgerald wrote that Brennan’s writing “carries an electric charge of resentment and quiet satisfaction in revenge that chills you right through.”’ (Foreword, The Visitor, pp.[4-5].)

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Compass Rose Books (Kensington, CA, U.S.A) notes of Brennan’s contributions as The Long-Winded Lady: ‘This delightful eccentric practice, later abandoned during the disastrous tenure of Tina Brown’s editorship of that magazine, enabled a host of talented writers - young and old - to essay the abreviated essay under cover of the editorial “we”, which put the emphasis on writing as writing, as opposed to celebrity. The Long-Winded Lady was one of several correspondents who flourished during this period.’ [See Abebooks online.]

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Catriona Crowe, ‘The View From Street Level’, Dublin Review [q. iss.] article on urban planning and mis-planning, opens with a quotation from “A Snowy Night on West Forty-Ninth Street” by Brennan (The New Yorker, 1967): ‘It is a street of restaurants, bars, cheap hotels, rooming houses, garages, all-night coffee shops, quick-lunch counters, delicatessens, short-lived travel agencies and sight-seeing buses, and there are quick dry-cleaning place, a liquor store, a Chinese laundry, a record shop, a dubious movie house, a young imperturbable gypsy who shifts her fortunetelling parlour from one doorway to another up and down the street, and the souvenir shop.’ Crowe remarks: ‘This is a description of the kind of city street that would have met with the approval of Jane Jacobs, the visionary analyst of city life and planning who died in April of this year, aged eighty-nine. Diversity of use, she believed, was essential for vibrancy in urban neighbourhoods, and yet it was under attack by urban planners, architects and city officials. Her first and most influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, accused planners of destroying perfectly sound city districts with their well-meaning but ill-informed strategies.’

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Quotations
Howard’s Apartment’ (The Long-winded Lady, 1969): ‘The rain is falling fast and as black as ever. The windows of the front apartment where the party is must be streaming with rain-frothing, almost-and Tenth Street must be streaming, too, and frothing black. But a cocktail party has to expand, if it can, and now the people in front have opened their door and left it open. What a lot of noise they are making with glasses and bottles and music and voices! They must have hundreds of people in there. Once in a while, over the low roar of conversation, there is a loud laugh, and once in a while a little shriek. Outside, all the noise in the world is being hammered into the earth by the rain, and, inside, all the noise there is is effervescing at the cocktail party. Only in this room there is stillness, and the stillness has gone tense. The room is waiting for something to happen. I could light the fire, but my friend forgot to leave me any logs. I could turn on a lamp, but there is no animal feeling in electricity. I stand up again and walk over to the phonograph and switch it on without changing the record that I played this morning. The music strengthens, and moves about, catching the pictures, the books, and the discolored white marble mantelpiece as firelight might have done. Now the place is no longer a cave but a room with walls that listen in peace. I hear the music and I watch the voice. I can see it. It is a voice to follow with your mind’s eye. “La Brave, c-est elle.” There is no other. Billie Holiday is singing.’ (p.237; End.)

The Long-Winded Lady (Introd.): ‘I think of New York as the capsized city. Half-capsized, anyway, with the inhabitants hanging on, most of them still able to laugh as they cling to the island that is their life’s predicament.’ (Quoted in Irishtheatremagazine - online; October 2012.)

The Visitor: ‘Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty, it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and times gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness. Then what resentful wonder, and what half-aimless seeking. It is a silly state of affairs. It is a silly creature that tries to get a smile from even the most familiar and loving shadow. Comical and hopeless, the long gaze back is always turned inward.’ (Quoted in Irishtheatremagazine - online; October 2012.)

They Were Both about Forty” (The New Yorker, 28 Sept. 1968): ‘When the hauteur slipped from her face, what would I see? Despair, I imagine. Not the passive, withdrawn despair that keeps itself in silence but the raging kind that incinerates all before it.’ (Quoted in Susan Conley, feature interview with Emma Donoghue and Annabelle Comyn, in Irishtheatremagazine - online; current issue, October 2012.)

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The Twelfth Wedding Anniversary’ (In and Out of Never-Never Land, 1969): ‘Martin Bagot knew perfectly well it was his wedding anniversary, and the thought of it embarrassed and irritated him. Things were going along well enough, and he wanted no sentimental reminders. He wanted no reminders of any kind. He wanted to be left alone. When Delia hesitated after putting down the breakfast tray, he thought he knew what she was going to say, and he felt panic-stricken. Then when she left the room without speaking he was glad-ashamed of himself but glad anyway. / Lately he had the feeling of putting things off. He only had that feeling when he was at home, or when he was on his way home, and he would have liked to put off coming home indefinitely. He would have liked to have a rest from himself. When he was in the house he was hateful to himself. The feeling of being hateful to himself grew worse every day. He knew it grew worse, because at times he was able to remember his feelings of six months ago, and the feelings that had seemed so painful then were nothing compared with what he felt today. / He wanted time to think. He wanted a chance to separate the hateful picture he had of himself from his real self, so that he could stand back and decide what to do. [...].’

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New York, New York: Brennan called her pieces in The New Yorker a series of snapshots ‘taken during a long, slow journey not through but in the most cumbersome, most reckless, most ambitious, most confused, most comical, the saddest and coldest and most human of cities.’ (Quoted in ‘About the Author’, end-note to The Rose Garden, Counterpoint, 2000, p.307.)

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Christmas Eve”: ‘[...] Those practice, habits and ordinary customs that ar the only true relities mos of us everknow, and that in some of us form a memory strong enough to give us something to hold on to to the end of our days. It is a matter love, an whether the love finds daily, hourly expression in warm embraces and in the nstinctive kind of attentiveness animals give to their young or whether it is largely unexpressed, as it was among the Bagots, does not really matter very much in the long run. It is the solid existence of love that gives life and strength to memory, and if, in some cases, childhood memories lack the soft and tender colours given by demonstrativeness, the child grown old and in the dark knows only that what is under is hand is a rock that will never give way.’ (Quoted in Catriona Crowe, ‘On a tightrope’, in The Dublin Review, Autumn 2004, pp.87-88, and called ther ‘Brennan’s famous passage’.)

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Reference
Abebooks lists:
  • Christmas Eve, 13 Stories (NY: Charles Scribner & Sons 1974) [13 stories of which 6 set in Herbert’s Retreat, Hudson River, 1 in New York and 6 in Ireland];
  • The Long-Winded Lady [1st Edn.] (NY: William Morrow & Co. 1969), 237pp. [dustjacket by Lydia Rosier; 47 short pieces publ. anonymously in "Talk of the Town" section of The New Yorker during 1953-1968]; Do. [another edn.] (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Boston 1998);
  • The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin, intro. by William Maxwell [1st edn.] (Houghton Mifflin 1997; 1998), [vi]viii, 358pp. [21 Dublin stories];
  • Rose Garden (Washington: Counterpoint 1999, 2000), 312pp., hb.; Do. (Washington: Counterpoint 2000, 2001), pb., and Do. (London: HarperCollins 1999);
  • In and Out of Never-Never Land: Twenty-two Stories (NY Charles Scribner’s Sons 1969) 274pp. [var. 1st edn. 1964];
  • The Visitor (Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press, 2000), 96pp.; Do. [another edn.] (New Island 2001); Do. (Atlantic Books UK 2000), hb.; Do. [another edn.] (Perseus Books q.d.) [hb.];
  • with Frank O’Connor, John Updike, Roald Dahl, Dorothy Parker, Elizabeth Taylor, Nancy Hale, et al. [in] Stories From the New Yorker 1950-1960 (Simon & Schuster 1960) [hb.], 780pp.
 

See a copy of James Joyce, Collected Poems [4th imp.] (NY: Viking 1946) with the signature of Maeve Brennan, and copy of Gerald Murphy, Early Irish Lyrics Eighth to Twelfth Century (Clarendon Press [2nd. corr. imp. 1962), also signed by Brennan in 1965.

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Notes
The Springs of Affection (1997) traces patterns of love in three middle-class Dublin families - love between husband and wife beginning in courtship and laughter and later vanishing through loss of expression; love of sister for brother and mother for son, twisted into possessive rage, as well as the rituals that sustain family love. Back cover blurbs by Edna O’Brien, Alice Munro and Mavis Gallantback, among which O’Brien: ‘Wonderful vignettes of a bygone Dublin, with a truth and freshness that makes them timeless.’ Introduction: ‘Set in the Dublin of a bygone era, 21 stories (1952-1973) by the former New Yorker writer trace patterns of love within three middle-class Dublin families, patterns as intricate as Irish lace.’ Another edn. Flamingo 1999. Quotes [?Introduction]: ‘Maeve Brennan contributed to The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” department under the pen name “the long-winded lady”. Her unforgettable sketches - prose snapshots of life in the streets, diners, and cheap hotels just off Times Square - are a timeless, bittersweet tribute to what she calls the “most ambitious, most comical, saddest and coldest and most human of cities.”’

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In & Out of focus: In and Out of Never-Land: Twenty-Two Stories (q.d.): first edn. dates given as 1964 by Monroe Street Books, Middlebury, VT, USA but 1969 by sundry booksellers.]

Namesake: Maeve Brennan, author of a letters to and 1968 memoir of Philip Larkin at Brynmor Library, Hull, is not to be confused with Maeve Brennan of the New Yorker. (See Abebooks Online Cat., as supra, and rep. edition, 2002 [TLS reviews, &c.]

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Atlantic shuffle (1): The New Island Edn. of The Visitor (2001) is printed from the same plates as the Counterpoint/Persues Edn. (2000), with an unpaginated Foreword by Clare Boylan placed prior to p.[3], being the first page of the novella. The Editor’s Note by Christoper Carduff occupies pp.[82]-86 in both editions.

Atlantic shuffle (2): The Rose Garden was issued by HarperCollins in 1999 but the Counterpoint edn. bears the Library of Congress and copyright stamps 2000, with prior copyright stamps of 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967 & 1968 [presum. in resp. of indiv. stories]; there is an author’s preface (‘... there are a number of places I am homesick for ...’) dated 1976 in the US edn.

Atlantic Shuffle (3): End-note in Counterpoint Edn. of The Rose Garden begins: Maeve Brennan was born in Dublin, on January 6, 1916 [sic] but that she died aged 76 in Nov. 1993.

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Roddy Doyle: Maeve Brennan spent several months writing reviews for The New Yorker in the Doyles’ backgarden - that is, the parents of Roddy Doyle being a first cousin of his mother - as his book Rory and Ita (2002) reveals. (See ‘The novelist who ghosts for his ma and da’, in Books Ireland, Dec. 2002, p.305.)

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