Mary Manning

1906-1999 [later Mary Howe, and later again Adams]; b. 30 June in Dublin; related to the Bartons and Childers; ed. Morehampton House Sch., and Alexandra College, Dublin; studied at Abbey Acting School; played small parts with Irish Players in England, and at Abbey Theatre; went to England to train in theatre, aetat. 16; contrib. film criticism for the Irish Statesman; joined Gate Theatre as publicity manager, and formed the marginal group known as “the Anomalies”; wrote Youth’s the Season ...? (Longford Co. [Gate Th.] 1931; Westminster Th., London, 1937), a play about the narrowness of nationalist values and the failure of the new state to exploit youthful energy - incls. a character called Ego Smith, created by Samuel Beckett (or based on him), whom she knew from childhood; other characters are Toots (fem.) and Terence and Desmond, homosexuals;
brief affair and longer correspondence with Beckett, whom she introduced to the Gate Theatre, sparking an interest in drama; edited Motley, a Gate Theatre miscellany, contributors incl. Frank O’Connor, Seán Ó Faoláin Austin Clarke, Padraic Colum, Francis Stuart, Niall Montgomery, Niall Sheridan, and the Gate directors MacLiammóir and Edwards; her third play Happy Family (Gate 1934), directed by Denis Johnston; served as Irish Times columnist; issued The Voice of Shem (1955), her play based on Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, was produced by Mary O’Malley at the Poet’s Theatre, Cambridge, with advice from Denis Johnston; emigrated to Boston, where she studied art, 1935; m. Mark De Wolfe Howe, then a lawyer and later a professor at Harvard Law School;
she wrote the Mount Venus (1938) and Lovely People (1953) in Boston and worked as drama director at Radcliffe College during World War II; co-fnd. Cambridge Poets’ Theatre [Harvard], which gave the first production of her adaptation of Finnegans Wake, in April 1955; became doyen of Cambridge cultural life with hospitable apartment overlooking the Charles River; returned to Ireland on her husband’s death, 1967, and settled at Waltham Tce., Blackrock, Co. Dublin; adapted Frank O’Connor’s The Saint and Mary Kate (Abbey 1968); wrote play-reviews for Hibernia during the 1970s; issued The Last Chronicles of Ballyfungus (1978), a satirical romp; returned to America and married Faneuil Adams, of Boston, Mass., 1980; d. 25 June 1999, Boston; obituary in The Irish Times, et al.;
her account of MacLiammóir’s death-bed conversation in 1978 was recorded by Gabriel Fallon (asked by MacLiammóir if she would remove the question-mark from the title of her 1931 play, she said, ‘No, Micheal, no’); her elder dg. Fanny, author of a O’Clock (1995) and a Pulitzer winner and a study of her mother; a second dg., Susan Howe who, with her mother, are identified with the harpies in Dream of Middling to Fair Women [1992], won the 2011 Yale University Bollingen Prize in American Poetry; a younger dg. Helen m. Christopher Braider [ed. TCD, assoc. prof. at Havard, and later Dir. of Journalism and mass Communication at Univ. of Colorado, Boulder]; Mary Manning she sold her Beckett letters to University of Texas, Austin; later sold others to Trinity College, Dublin, Library. DIW DIL/2 ATT

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Drama, Youth’s the Season ...?, in Curtis Canfield, ed., Plays of Changing Ireland (NY: Macmillan 1936), pp.322-404; Storm over Wicklow and Happy Family (1934); Passages from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce: A Free Adaptation for the Theater / by Mary Manning (Cambridge: Harvard UP 1957) [adapted from James Joyce’s Tales of Shem and Shaun; also pub. as The Voice of Shem. 1955]; Frank O’Connor’s The Saint and Mary Kate (Newark: Proscenium 1970); also, Ah Well It Won’t Be Long Now (1972).

Here correspondence with Samuel Beckett included in The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940 by Cambridge University Press (2009).

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Novels, Mount Venus (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin 1938); Lovely People (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin 1953). Short fiction, The Last Chronicles of Ballyfungus (London: Routledge; Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1978) [connected stories].

Miscellaneous, Passages from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (Cambridge Mass: Harvard UP 1957); ‘I Remember It Well’, in Journal of Irish Literature, 15 (Sept. 1986), pp.17-41.

Mary Manning reads ALP in Finnegans Wake
‘Soft morning, city! Lsp! I am leafy speafing. Lpf! Folty and folty all the nights have falled on to long my hair. Not a sound, falling. Lispn! No wind no word. Only a leaf, just a leaf and then leaves. The woods are fond always. As were we their babes in. And robins in crews so. It is for me goolden wending. Unless? Away! Rise up, man of the hooths, you have slept so long! Or is it only so mesleems? On your pondered palm. Reclined from cape to pede. With pipe on bowl. ...
 ... I sink I’d die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There’s where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the ’[628]

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  • Mary Rose Callaghan, ‘Let’s Be Dublin’, in Journal of Irish Literature, 15 (Sept. 1986), pp.3-17 [interview];
  • Obituary, The Irish Times (8 July 1999);
  • Cathy Leeney, ‘Mary Manning: Unseasonable Youth’, in Irish Women Playwrights - 1900-1939 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2010), pp.127-60 [author had access to papers in Manning's home in 1994];
  • Christopher Murray, ‘Taking a position: Beckett, Mary Manning, and Eleutheria (1947)’, in Hiroko Mikami, et al., eds., Ireland on Stage: Beckett and After (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2007), q.pp.

See also Mícheál Mac Liammóir, Enter Certain Players (Dublin: Dolmen 1978); Gabriel Fallon, The Abbey and the Actor (Dublin 1969); and Bernard Adams, Denis Johnston: A Life (2002) [an account of the film Guests of the Nation which she scripted after Frank O’Connor’s story (pp.131-32) -and other details of her plays and activities with the Gate.]

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Mary Manning Howe was an Irish born actress and playwright. She participated in productions at Dublin’s Abbey and Gate Theatres. At the Abbey theatre she worked with Yeats, and at the Gate with the famed Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards, who founded the Gate in 1928.

Her childhood friend Samuel Beckett contributed a character named Ego Smith to her 1931 play Youth’s the Season, which some say helped spark Beckett’s interest in writing drama. Her correspondence with Beckett can be found in the The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940 by Cambridge University Press (2009).

Mary and her mother Susan Manning were subjected to caricature in Beckett’s Dreams of Fair to Middling Women as “the Fricas” (i.e. “harpies”), but her lifelong friendship with Beckett survived the rough depiction. For a discussion of the Mannings as the Fricas see Chris Ackerly’s LASSATASED: Samuel Beckett’s Portraits of his Fair to Middling Women.


After moving to Boston, she headed the Idler Theatre at Radcliffe and founded the famed Poets’ Theatre in Cambridge. The list of early Poets’ Theatre participants is striking - Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Edward Gorey, W.S. Merwin, V. R. Lang, Gregory Corso, Samuel Beckett, comprise just a partial list of the poets and artists involved with Poets’ Theatre readings and productions. Richard Wilbur on Molière, Richard Eberhart, readings by Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas - an almost unending list of major poetical figures of the Twentieth Century. Alfonso Ossorio designed sets and costumes for performances of Greek Drama and for T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Published memoirs of the early Poets’ Theatre can be found in V. R. Lang: Poems & Plays with A Memoir by Alison Lurie (Random House, 1975), Nora Sayre’s Previous Convictions: A Journey Through the 1950s (Rutgers, 1995), and Peter Davison’s The Fading Smile: Poets in Boston, from Robert Frost to Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath (Knopf 1994).

Flashpoint also lists internet resources on Mary Manning including the Irish Film & TV Research Online, Trinity College, Dublin [TCD], [link], and excerpts from works by her daughters, Susan Howe and Fanny Howe. See also The Poets’ Theatre page edited by Andreas Teuber.

Flashpoint - online; accessed 10.12.2011.

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Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project
Born in Ireland, Mary Manning went to London to study theater when she was 16 years old. After returning to Ireland, she worked as an actress and playwright in the 1920s and 1930s at the renowned Abbey Theater and the Gate Theater in Dublin and wrote film criticism for the Irish Statesman. Two of her plays were produced at the Abbey Theater and she worked collaboratively on several projects with the playwright, Samuel Beckett who had been her childhood friend. In 1935, she emigrated to Boston and married Mark De Wolfe Howe, a lawyer who became a professor at Harvard Law School. Her three daughters were raised in Cambridge. While in Cambridge, Mary Manning Howe wrote the novel, Mount Venus (1938), and was the drama director at Radcliffe College during World War II. She helped found the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge, which produced some of Yeats’ early plays and produced work by new playwrights in the 1950s. After the death of her husband in 1967, she returned to Dublin as theater critic for The Irish Times. In 1980, she returned to Cambridge [Mass.] and married her lawyer, Faneuil Adams.

Her writings include the novel The Last Chronicles of Ballyfungus (1978), a humorous view of the Anglo-Irish gentry, and the play, Go Lovely Rose, based on the life of Rose Kennedy, produced as a one woman show at the Fourth International Women Playwright’s Conference held in Galway shortly before her death at the age of 93. One daughter, Susan Howe (born in 1937), went on to become a well-known poet and professor at State University of New York, Buffalo and another daughter Fanny Howe, became a novelist and poet, teaching creative writing at MIT and Tufts and at University of California, San Diego, publishing novels that depicted the Cambridge and Boston area in the 1970s. Mary Manning Howe Adams was 93 when she died. Her correspondence with Samuel Beckett is held in the Samuel Beckett collection at the University of Texas, Austin and her correspondence with her daughters is held at the University of California, San Diego.

References: Boston Globe 6-27-99; New York Times 6-27-1999; Samuel Beckett Collection, University of Texas, Austin; Susan Howe collection, Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego.

— Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project - online.


Samuel Beckett wrote to Mary Manning: ‘I can’t read, write, drink, think, feel, or move’, and she nicknamed him Oblomov in return. (See Hugh McFadden, review of Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 1, 1929-1940, in Books Ireland, Summer 2009, p.141-42.)

Motley: The title of her Gate Theatre magazine Motley is taken from Hamlet, viz., ‘Alas, ’tis true, I have gone here and there and made myself a motley to the view’, but possibly also with an eye on Yeats’s line, ‘here where motley is worn’ in the poem “Easter 1916”.

Pull-itzer: Susan Howe, Mary Manning’s daughter, the Pulitzer Prize winner and author of O’Clock (1995) believed herself, and privately claimed, to be the dg. of Mary Manning by Samuel Beckett but willingly submitted to DNA testing which showed that she was not.

Corrig: Rory Johnston advises that a citation of Denis Johnston, Nine Rivers from Jordan (London: Derek Verschoyle 1953), pp.49-52, formerly given under Criticism [supra] is without grounds and should be disregarded.

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