Edna O’Brien


Life
1930- [Josephine Edna; poetry pseud. “Dina Bryan”]; b. 15 Dec., Tuamgraney, Co. Clare; ed. Scarriff Nat. School, and Loughrea Convent of Mercy; entered Dublin Pharmaceutical College and worked thereafter briefly as a pharmacist in Dublin; auditioned for travelling theatre in Scarriff, and later went for acting audition to home of Michael MacLiammoir at Harcourt Tce.; met Ernest Gébler, a divorced man; Gebler beaten up by her father and a priest who travelled to find him on the Isle of Man; m. Gebler, in Blachardstown Church, 12 July 1954; settled with Gebler in London [1954; vars., 1958, 1959]; divorced, 1964 [var. 1967]; two children, Carlo and Sasha; began writing realistic novels dealing with the story of Caithleen Brady, growing up among the puritanical and hypocritical pressures of rural Ireland in The Country Girls (1960), followed by The Lonely Girl (1962), which was banned in Ireland, and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1963) - all reprinted as a trilogy in 1986, with an epilogue [Afterword] by O’Brien; her marriage to Davies ended acrimoniously, with his frequent insistence that he had written her books;

 
issued August is a Wicked Month (1964), a study of a separated woman whose husband and son are killed while she is having a holiday affair in France; maintained a home in London from 1965; issued A Pagan Place (1970), the second-person story of Emma’s pregnancy and her abuse by family, church (Fr. Declan), and community, returning to the subject-matter of the trilogy; Night (1972) a woman’s reconstruction of her past, written in the second person and implicitly reworking Joyce’s “Penelope”; The High Road (1988), set on a Spanish island, where a waitress falls in love with the central character, a woman visitor, and is killed by her jealous husband; short story collections incl. The Love Object (1968), A Scandalous Woman (1974), Returning (1982), and Lantern Slides (1988); The Fanatic Heart (1982), a volume of selected stories; interviewed by Donncha O Dulaig for RTE radio while attending a seminar at UCC on “the State of the Nation”, Jan. 1968; published a miscellany of her writing, Mrs Reinhardt and Other Stories (1978); has written plays and screenplays incl. X, Y and Zee, filmed with Elizabeth Taylor (1972); A Pagan Place, a two-act play, was staged in London and new Haven, Conn. (1972, 1974) and issued by Faber (1973);
 
issued Mother Ireland (1976), a commentary on Ireland, with photographs by Fergus Bourke; Time and Tide (1992), semi-autobiographical novel in which Nell is forced to leave her cruel husband and wins a custody battle but faces crushing tragedy; befriended Gerry Adams; lent her name to the “Help Salman Rushdie” anti-fatwa campaign in NYReview, 1990; issued House of Splendid Isolation (1994) a novel about the relationship between an IRA-man (McGreevy) on the run and the woman (Josie) whose delapidated house he commandeers to hide in; received Prize of European Council, formerly awarded to Boulez and Menuhin, 1995; began to visit Arran Island cottage annually; Down by the River (1996), novel concerning concerns father-daughter sexual abuse involving the fictional Mary McNamara, a 14-year girl, and based on the Miss X case that gave rise to a constitutional crisis in 1992 connected with the anti-Abortion Amendment; a third novel in the trilogy about contemporary Ireland, entitled Wild Decembers (1999), deals with Joseph Brennan, a west of Ireland farmer, and his killing of a returning neighbour Bugler, a piece of land in a recrudescence of Land League passions; O’Brien was guest writer at Kerry International Summer School (KISS), 1996;
 
appt. writer in residence teaching at SUNY (State Univ. of New York), 1997-98, and became a frequent contributor to New Yorker; issued James Joyce (1999); read from her works, being introduced by Thomas Kilroy, TCD Arts Building (9 March 2000); received Literary Award of the Ireland Fund of America, at O’Reilly Hall, 2000; issued In The Forest (2002), a fictional version of the Brendan O’Donnell murders of 1994, set in Cluais Wood, and published in face of opposition from the family of Imelda Riney [here Eily] (victim of the tragedy with her son Liam); long-listed for Orange Award (£30,000); wrote Euripides’ Iphigenia, a commissioned play (Sheffield, Crucible Th., Feb. 2003; dir. Michael Grandage); sometime winner of PEN award for life-time achievement; issued The Light of Evening (2006), concerning a mother and daughter relationship; appeared on Desert Island Discs, 14 Jan. 2007;
 
issued Byron in Love (2009), a compact life; winner of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement in Literary Ireland Award, presented, with an encomium, by Seamus Heaney, 9 May 2009; she appeared as an extra in church scene of Wild Decembers, filmed in Co. Wicklow, 2009 (prod. Clare Alan); wrote Haunted (Manchester Royal Exchange Th., Gaiety Th., Dublin, Feb 2010), concerning a woman whose husband is fallen in love elsewhere; underwent hip replacement operation, 2010; Country Girls was read on RTÉ, Thurs. 26 March, 2010; her catalogued papers, incl. early journals and typescripts, and a large correspondence, c.1939-2000, were acquired by Emory Library in 2000; a memoir to be published by Faber; Saints and Sinners (2011), stories set in Dublin, London and New York dealing with mother-daughter relationships, family feuds, and the moral bankruptcy of a high-rolling developer in Celtic-tiger Ireland; Faber issued Selected Stories of Edna O’Brien, with an introduction by John Banville (2013); lives in London and frequently travels to US. DIW DIL OCEL FDA G20 OCIL
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Works
Novels
  • The Country Girls (London: Hutchinson 1960; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1963, &c.; Bloomsbury 1995), French trans. as La Jeune Irlandaise (Paris: Julliard 1960).
  • The Lonely Girl (London: Jonathan Cape; NY: Random Hse. 1962), Do., rep. as The Girl With Green Eyes, Penguin 1964), French trans. as Jeune filles seules (Paris: Presses de la Cité 1962).
  • Girls in their Married Bliss (London: Jonathan Cape; NY: Simon & Schuster 1964; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1967).
  • August is A Wicked Month (London: Jonathan Cape; NY: Simon & Schuster 1965; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1967), trans. in French as Le Joli Mois d’Août (Paris: Gallimard 1968).
  • Casualties of Peace (London: Jonathan Cape 1966; NY: Simon & Schuster 1967; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1968).
  • A Pagan Place (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; NY: Knopf 1970; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1971), French trans. as Les Païens d’Irlande (Paris: Gallimard 1973).
  • Night (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1972 [var.1971]; NY: Alfred A. Knopf 1973; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1974).
  • Johnny, I Hardly Knew You (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1977), Do., pub. in America as as I Hardly Knew You (NY: Doubleday 1978).
  • Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue (NY: Farrar Straus 1986; London: Jonathan Cape 1987).
  • The High Road (Weidenfeld & Nicolson; NY: Farrar Straus 1988), 180pp. [ded. ’To my grandson Jack Redmond Gébler].
  • House of Splendid Isolation (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1994; Orion 1995), 222pp.; Do. (NY: Plume 1995).
  • Down by the River (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1996), 265pp.
  • Wild Decembers (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1999), 253pp.; Do. (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1999) 259pp. [see extract - attached].
  • In the Forest (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2002), 218pp. [see note].
  • The Light of Evening (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2006), 224pp.
 

There is an audio-disc version of In the Forest (Chivers q.d.), read by Stephen Rea.

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Short stories
  • The Love Object and Other Stories (London: Jonathan Cape; NY: Knopf 1968).
  • A Scandalous Woman and Other Stories (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; NY: Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich 1974) [9 stories].
  • Mrs Reinhardt and Other Stories (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1978), Do., pub. in America as A Rose in the Heart (NY: Doubleday 1979) [incl. ‘Clara’; ‘A Woman at the Seaside’; ‘Mrs Reinhardt’; ‘The Connor Girls’; ‘Imelda’; et al.).
  • Returning: A Collection of Tales (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1982).
  • A Fanatic Heart: Selected Stories (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1984; London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1985) [incl. ‘A Scandalous Woman’, ‘Irish Revel’, ‘The Connor Girls’, ‘The Small-Town Lovers’, et al.].
  • Lantern Slides (NY: Farrar Straus; London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1990), 223pp..
  • Time and Tide (NY & London: Viking 1992), 325pp.
  • The Collected Edna O’Brien (London: Collins 1978) [miscellany].
  • Saints and Sinners (London: Faber & Faber 2011), 208pp.
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Commentary
  • Mother Ireland (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; NY: Harcourt Brace 1976), ill. by Fergus Bourke [photos].
  • Arabian Days (NY: Horizon Press; London: Quartet 1977) [var. 1978], with photos by Gerard Klijn.
  • James and Nora: A Portrait of Joyce’s Marriage (Northridge California: Lord John Ress 1981).
  • Vanishing Ireland, photographs by Richard Fitzgerald (NY: Potter-Crown 1987).
  • ‘Edna O’Brien’, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl (1986; Mandarin 1990), pp.131-41 [RTÉ copyright 1985].
  • James Joyce (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1999; rep. Phoenix 2000), 190pp. [infra].
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Stage plays
  • A Cheap Bunch of Nice Flowers [performed London 1962], in Plays of the Year 1962-63 (London: Elek; NY: Ungar 1963).
  • Zee & Co. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1971).
  • A Pagan Place [prod. London 1972, New Haven, Conn. 1974] (London: Faber & Faber 1973; Washington: Graywolf Press 1984)), adapted from 1970 novel.
  • The Gathering (prod. Dublin 1974; NY 1977).
  • The Ladies (London 1975).
  • Virginia [produced Stratford Ontario, 1980; London and NY, 1981] (London: Hogarth Press; NY: Harcourt Brace 1981).
  • Flesh and Blood (Bath 1985; NY 1986).
  • Madame Bovary [adaptation of Flaubert, 1987].
  • Iphigenia [of] Euripides (Sheffield, Crucible 2002; publ. London: Methuen 2003), vii, 44pp.
  • Byron in Love ( London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2009), 240pp., ill. [+8pp. pls.].
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Screenplays

  • X, Y and Zee (1972) [filmed with Liz Taylor] adapted from Zee and Co (19--/-+71 [var.1972]).+
  • he Lonely Girl adaptation of The Girl with Green Eyes (1964).
  • Time Lost and Time Remembered, with Desmond Davis [alt. I Was Happy Here, 1965] (1966), from short story.
  • Andrea Newman’s novel Three Into Two Won’t Go (1968 [var. 1969]), for film.
  • The Tempter, with others (1975).
  • The Country Girls (1984).
Television
  • The Wedding Dress [TV 1963], publ. in Mademoiselle (NY Nov. 1963).
  • The Keys of the Café (1965).
  • Give My Love Some Pilchards (1965).
  • Which of These Two Ladies is He Married To? (1967).
  • Nothing’s Ever Over (1968).
  • Then and Now (1973).
  • Mrs. Reinhardt (1981), from the story.
Poetry
  • On the Bone [Greville Press Pamphs.] (Warwick: Greville Press 1989).
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For children
  • A Christmas Treat (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982).
  • The Rescue (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1983).
  • The Dazzle (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1981).
  • Tales for the Telling: Irish Folk and Fairy Stories (1987) [var. 1986], ill. Michael Foreman.
Miscellaneous
  • ‘Dear Mr Joyce’, in John Ryan, ed., A Bash in the Tunnel (Clifton Books 1970), [see extract under Joyce, Commentary, supra].
  • ‘A Reason of One’s Own’, Times Saturday Review (30 Sept 1972) [q.pp.].
  • ‘Mother Ireland’, in Sewanee Review, 84 (1976), pp.34-36 [see extract].
  • ‘Why Irish Heroines Don’t Have to Be Good Anymore’, New York Book Review (11 May 1986), p.13.
  • ‘Joyce’s Odyssey’, in New Yorker [“The Critics’ Series”] (7 June 1999), pp.82-91.
  • review of Brenda Maddox, Georgie’s Ghosts (1999), in New Yorker (27 Sept. 1999), pp.92-98.
  • ‘Forbidden’, in New Yorker [Fiction] (20 March 2000), pp.116-20 [see extract].
  • Contrib. to Danny Morrison, ed., Hunger Strike: Reflections on the 1981 Republican Hunger Strike (Dingle: Brandon Books 2006) [q.pp.].
  • contrib. to Caitriona Moloney & Helen Thompson, eds., Irish Women Writers Speak Out: Voices from the Field, with a foreword by Ann Owen Weekes (Syracuse UP 2003), q.pp.
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Criticism
Full-length studies
  • Lisa Colletta & Maureen O’Connor, Wild Colonial Girl: Essays on Edna O’Brien (Wisconsin UP 2006), 186pp. [contribs. Wanda Balzano, Kristine Byron, Danine Farquharson, Michael Patrick Gillespie, Sophia Hillan, Rebecca Pelan, Bernice Schrank, Helen Thompson & editors.]
  • Kathryn Laing, Sinead Mooney & Maureen O’Connor, eds., Edna O’Brien: New Critical Perspectives [UCG Conference of 2005] (Dublin: Carysfort Press 2006), 252pp. [9 contribs incl. Kristine Byron, Mary Burke, Patricia Coughlan, Michael Patrick Gillespie, Sineád Mooney, Rebecca Pelan, and Helen Thompson.]
  • Berenice Schrank, ed., “Edna O’Brien Special Issue”, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 22, 2 (Dec. 1996) [incls. Bibliography of published and produced work and critical material on same, pp.107-16].
Articles, interviews, reviews
  • Nell Dunn, ‘Edna’, in Talking to Women (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1965), pp.69-107.
  • Bruce Arnold, review of The Lonely Girls [with novels by Jack White], in The Dubliner (July-Aug. 1962) [see extract].
  • Bruce Arnold, ‘Censorship and Edna O’Brien’, in The Irish Times (21 Nov. 1966).
  • Sean McMahon, ‘A Sex by Themselves, An Interim Report on the Novels of Edna O’Brien’, Eire-Ireland 2 (1967), q.p.].
  • Edna O’Brien talks to David Heycock, Listener (7 May 1970), p.616.
  • ‘Dialogue with Edna O’Brien’, in Under Bow Bells: Dialogues with Joseph McCulloch (London: Sheldon Press 1974).
  • Grace Eckley, Edna O’Brien [Brief Monographs Ser.] (Lewisburg: Bucknell UP 1974), 88pp. [incl. Selected Bibliography, p.86].
  • William Trevor, “Edna O’Brien”, in: Contemporary Novelists [2nd edition] (London & New York: St James Press [Macmillan], 1976), p.1052.
  • Roy Foster, review of Mother Ireland, in Times Literary Supplement (4 June 1976), p. 673.
  • Richard Eder, review of Mother Ireland by Edna O’Brien, New York Times Book Review (19 Sept. 1976), p.6.
  • John Broderick, review of Mother Ireland, in The Critic, 35 (Winter 1976), pp.72-73.
  • Denis Donoghue, review of Mother Ireland, in New York Review of Books 23 (14 Oct. 1976), p. 12.
  • John Broderick, review of Mother Ireland in The Critic, 35 (Winter 1976), pp.72-73 [see extract].
  • Sean MacMahon, ‘A Sex by themselves: An intermim report on the novels of Edna O’Brien’, in Eire-Ireland (Spring 1967), pp.79-87.
  • Raymonde Popot, ‘Edna O’Brien’s Paradise Lost’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time [Cahiers Irlandaises, 4-5] (l’Université de Lille 1976), pp.255-85.
  • Lotus Snow, ‘“That Trenchant Childhood Route?” Quest in Edna O’Brien’s Novels’, in Eire-Ireland ,14, no. 1 (Spring 1979), pp.74-83.
  • Kevin P. Reilly, ‘Irish Literary Autobiography: The Goddesses That Poets Dream Of’, in Éire-Ireland, 16.3 (Fall 1981), pp.57-80.
  • Darcy O’Brien, ‘Edna O’Brien: A Kind of Irish Childhood’, in Thomas F. Staley, ed., Twentieth-century Women Novelists (NJ: Barnes & Noble 1982), pp.179-90.
  • Nuala O’Faolain, ‘Edna O’Brien’, in Ireland Today [Irish na Roinne Gnothai Eachtracha/Bulletin of the Dept. of Foreign Affairs], No. 1,0001 (Sept. 1983), pp.10-13 [see extract]
  • Shusha Guppy, ‘Interview with Edna O’Brien’, in Paris Review, 92 (Summer 1984), pp.22-50.
  • Donncha Ó Dulaing, ed., Voices of Ireland: Conversations with Famous Irish People from De Valera to Edna O’Brien (Dublin: O’Brien Press/RTÉ 1984) [q.pp.].
  • Philip Roth, ‘A Conversation with Edna O’Brien’, New York Times Book Review (18 Nov. 1984), pp.38-40 [see extract]
  • James Cahalan, Irish Novel (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988), pp.286-89 and passim.
  • ‘Edna O’Brien’, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, ed. John Quinn (1986), pp.131-44.
  • ‘Edna O’Brien’, in Contemporary Novelists, ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick (NY 1986).
  • George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work “The Paris Review” Interviews [7th ser.] (London: Secker & Warburg, 1986);
  • James M. Haule, ‘Tough Luck, The Unfortunate Birth of Edna O’Brien’, in Colby Library Quarterly, 23, 4 (Dec. 1987), pp.216-24.
  • Peggy [Margaret] O’Brien, ‘The Silly and the Serious: An Assessment of Edna O’Brien’, in Massachusetts Review, 28, 3 (Autumn 1987), pp.474-88.
  • Charles E. Claffey, ‘The Vision of Edna O’Brien’ [interview] Boston Globe (27 Nov. 1988), p.B1.
  • Mary Salmon, ‘Edna O’Brien’, in Contemporary Irish Novelists, ed. Rüdiger Imhof [Studies in English and Comparative Literature, ser. eds. Michael Kenneally & Wolfgang Zach] (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag 1990), pp.143-58 [see extract].
  • [q.a.] interview in Julia Carlson, ed., Banned in Ireland (Georgia UP; London: Routledge 1990), pp.71-79.
  • Patricia Craig, ‘Against Ample Adversities’, review of Time and Tide in Times Literary Supplement (18 Sept. 1992), p.23.
  • Ray Connolly, ‘School was madder than Jean Brodie: Edna O’Brien talks to Ray Connolly’, in The Times Saturday Review [‘A Childhood’, feature-column and interview-article introducing Lantern Slides (23 June 1990), p.62 [see extract].
  • Eileen Battersby, interview with Edna O’Brien, Irish Times ‘“Weekend”’ (12 Sept 1992) [see extract].
  • Rebecca Pelan, ‘Edna O’Brien’s “Stage-Irish” Persona: An “Act” of Resistance’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1 (July 1993), pp.67-85.
  • Werner Huber, ‘Myth and Motherland: Edna O’Brien’s Mother Ireland’, in Donald E. Morse, et al., eds,. A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1993), pp.175-82 [incl. bibliography].
  • Kiera O’Harra, ‘Love Objects: Love and Obsession in the Stories of Edna O’Brien’, in Studies in Short Fiction, 10 (1993), pp.317-25.
  • Werner Huber, ‘Myth and motherland: Edna O’Brien’s Mother Ireland’, in cited in Donald E. Morse, et al., eds,. A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993, pp.175-82.
  • James F. Clarity, ‘Casting a Cold Eye on Irish Life and Death’, [interview] in The New York Times (9 Jan. 1995), ‘Books’, B1 & B6 [see extract].
  • Amanda Graham, ‘The Lovely Substance of the Mother: Food, Gender and Nation in the work of Edna O’Brien’, Irish Studies Review, No. 15 (Summer 1996), pp.16-20.
  • Jeanette Roberts Shumaker, ‘Sacrificial Women in Short Stories by Mary Lavin and Edna O’Brien.’ Studies in Short Fiction 32, 2 (Spring 1995), pp.185-97.
  • Michael Patrick Gillespie, ‘She was too Scrupulous Always: Edna O’Brien and the Comic Tradition’, in The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers, ed. Theresa O’Connor (Florida UP 1996), pp.108-23.
  • Nicholas A. Basbanes, ‘O’Brien Writes of Homeland’, in The Gainesville Sun (15 June, 1997) [see extract].
  • James M. Cahlan, Double Vision: Women and Men in Modern and Contemporary Irish Fiction (Syracuse: Syracuse UP 1999), 234pp.
  • Rory Brennan, review of James Joyce (1999), in Books Ireland (Feb. 2000), pp. 17-18 [see extract].
  • Christine St. Peter, ‘Petrifying Time: Incest Narratives from Contemporary Ireland’, in Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes, Theories, ed. Liam Harte, & Michael Parker (London: Macmillan 2000) [see extract].
  • Veronica Lee, ‘O’Brien’: “The Anger of Heaven is Nothing to the Anger of Men” [interview-article on Iphigenia], in The Independent [UK] (9 Feb. 2003).
  • Declan Kiberd, ’Growing up Absurd: Edna O’Brien and The Country Girl’, in Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra, eds., Irish Studies in Brazil [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1] (Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.143-61 [see extract].
  • Thomas Kilroy, ‘Our great teller of the short story’, review of Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien, in The Irish Times (12 Feb. 2011), Weekend Review, p.11 [see extract].
  • Tony Murray, ‘Edna O’Brien and the Narrative of Diaspora’, in Irish Studies Review, 21, 1 (Feb. 2013), pp.85-98.
 
See also Aveen McManus, “Narratives of Childhood - A Comparative Study” (MA Diss., Univ. of Ulster 2005) [with Mary Costello, Frances Molloy, Jennifer Johnston, David Park, Glenn Patterson, Seamus Deane, Patrick MacCabe].
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RTÉ interviews
  • RTÉ1 interview Miriam O’Callaghan (Sunday, 7 Feb. 2010): interviews writer Edna O’Brien and actor Niall Buggy [see extract].
  • RTÉ1 interview with Donal O’Donoghue, during week of 13-19 Feb. 2010.
  • RTÉ1 interview with Gabriel Byrne, on “The Meaning of Life”, RTE (21 Feb. 2010) [see report by Lynne Kelleher, in RICORSO Library “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct].

Papers of Edna O’Brien: Holdings in Emory University Library
  • Series 1: Correspondence, 1939-2000 [listing]
  • Series 2: Journals, 1951-1999
  • Series 3: Writings by O’Brien, ca. 1953-1999
  • Series 4: Writings by others
  • Series 5: Subject files, 1944-1999
  • Series 6: Printed material, 1958-1999
  • Series 7: Audio-visual material
  • Series 8: Ephemera, 1944-1999
  • Series 9: Collected material, 1971-1979
See Catalogue, copy or online.
 

Commentary

Bruce Arnold
John Broderick
Nuala O’Faolain
Philip Roth
Mary Salmon
Raymonde Popot
Anatole Broyard
Ray Connolly
Eileen Battersby
James F. Clarity
Nicholas A. Basbanes
Rory Brennan
Maria Alvarez
Nick Hornby
David Hanley
M. P. Gillespie
Katie Donovan
Christine St. Peter
Patricia Craig
Fintan O’Toole
Eddie Holt
Mary Morrissey
Declan Kiberd
Elisabeth Mahoney
R. F. Foster
Miriam O’Callaghan

Bruce Arnold, review of The Lonely Girl [with novels by Jack White], in The Dubliner (July-Aug. 1962): ‘The Lonely Girl by Edna O’Brien is concerned with a form of terror. In her previous novel it drove the heroine from County Clare to Dublin in order to escape it; in this one it drives her to England. Her central character, and, to be strict, the only one that really comes to life, is the same girl, Caithleen, and she is pursued relentlessly by a prying, vicious, celibate stupidity. Her fear is amply justified by the country and the people which she depicts. To a person forcibly rooted in a rural existence among the narrow-minded and the drunk, the fields and rocks and clean blue skies become as and and sterile and lonely as the streets of London. People, in this case pathetic, embittered, and malevolent people, poison the world and drive out the sensitive. Her story is of the love affair in Dublin between Caithleen and a married man much older than herself. Her father in Clare hears of it and attempts-with a bishop, fists, boots, self pity, force-to bring her back to the Christian influences of her own squalid home and boozy relatives in the bleak countryside of Clare. It isn’t for Caithleen the bright lights or easy money which entice her away. She is driven. She wants a measure of liberty, the freedom to love whom she chooses, and by the end of the book she has got it. This is to take Edna O’Brien at a more serious level than she intends, and to underline the rather dark spring from which the novel flows. It is in fact a delightfully written book, light, moving and filled with a wistful sentiment which, with the caustic and malevolent Irish wit of Baba (so successful in The Country Girls; less so, here) never degenerates. / The Lonely Girl is already banned, like its predecessor. The reason, probably, is that Edna O’Brien has the effective knack of [68] combining the explicit with the general. When the heroine’s father and his cronies are beating up her lover, Caithleen is conscious of her own cowardice, of the dust in her nose, making her want to sneeze, and of the cow dung on the boots of the men. A similarly inconsequential but organic use of detail in describing the scenes of love-making is effective for the novel, but obviously too much for the censors. Jack White, at a more metaphysical level than Edna O’Brien, writes about adultery and fornication. Not exclusively, but these things figure fairly largely in the relationship of the man and women in his society.’ (pp.68-69.)

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John Broderick, review of Mother Ireland in The Critic, 35 (Winter 1976), pp72-73; ‘One would think that Miss Edna O’Brien would be content with telling her experience in childhood and youth over and over again in her novels. But no such luck. Here she comes again with her version of Ireland, and the effect it had on her development.’ (Quoted in Werner Huber, op. cit., 1993.) Note: Broderick is quoted as calling O’Brien a semi-literate sensationalist and ‘a basement bargain Molly Bloom’ (Patrick Maume, “John Broderick”, in RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography, RIA 2009.)

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Nuala O’Faolain, ‘Edna O’Brien’, in Ireland Today [Irish na Roinne Gnothai Eachtracha/Bulletin of the Dept. of Foreign Affairs], No. 1,0001 (Sept. 1983), pp.10-13. ‘[...] This structure, where a soft girl is surrounded by stronger characters, and above all by men who victimise her, is amazingly tenacious in Edna O’Brien’s work. Over and over the heroine commits herself to single-minded dependence on a man, usually older and usually foreign. Over and over his betrayal of the woman is the plot of her life and of the book. Only the details vary. [...] One can take it that some personal event is at the heart of this recurring trauma. Edna O’Brien is not a writer within a conscious literature. She owes nothing to any predecessor or to any tradition. Her books are evidently the product of experience, an experience so tragic that each book inevitably works its way towards a reenactment. [...] These plots, detached from their contexts, may sound like grand guignol. It is the triumph of Edna O’Brien’s fiction that she makes them seem not only important, but profoundly faithful to a logic of the emotions between men and women. One takes her on trust. The centre of each heroine, ‘the pointless purgatory that was her wont ...’ is never argued. It is the given, the basis of the fiction: never an arrived-at conclusion. The absolute and unnerving dependence of an O’Brien woman on a certain kind of love seems occasionally to have its roots in the experience of seeing a beloved mother brutalised by her marriage. But the mother always has some dignity, some gaiety. The daughter-women, alone and ostensibly desirable, have none and want none. [...] Just as she came out of no tradition, she has had no followers or imitators. She is entirely unique; a lone and obsessed chronicler of the wilder shores of love.’ [End; for full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews” via index, or direct.)

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Philip Roth, ‘A Conversation with Edna O’Brien’, New York Times Book Review (18 Nov. 1984), pp.38-40: Roth quotes Frank Tuohy’s remark that Joyce was the first Irish Catholic to make his experiences and surroundings recognisable, the world of Nora Barnacle had to wait for the fiction of Enda O’Brien. (See Paddy Bullard, review of David Marcus, ed., The Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories, in Times Literary Supplement, 13 May 2005, p.22.)

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Mary Salmon, ‘Edna O’Brien’, in Rüdiger Imhof, ed., Contemporary Irish Novelists [Studies in English and Comparative Literature, ed. Michael Kenneally and Wolfgang Zach] (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag 1990), pp.143-58; notes recurrent contrast between ‘the postcolonial, mainly rural, Roman Catholicised society that is often perceived as shapeless, and frequently out of control, and the metropolis or anonymous cosmopolitan suntrap where people may be free-thinking, and life appears well-order’ (p.143). Further: ‘The impossibility of woman living as her authentic self in worlds ruled by men is the theme of Edna O’Brien’s fiction’ (p.143). Salmon quotes William Trevor: ‘the violence, the toughness, the separation of man from woman, the Establishments that breed hypocrisy, the falsehoods that pass for honesty, the stones that remain unturned; all this is grist in a mill that grinds out, with its despair, reality and truth’ (‘Edna O’Brien, in Contemporary Novelists, 1976, p.1052); Bibl. [additional to above] incls. Ellen Moers, Literary Women (London: W. H. Allen, 1977); George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work “The Paris Review” Interviews, 7th series (London: Secker & Warburg, 1986); Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 (London: Virago, 1987). Also, Book Review Digest 1978 (New York: Wilson), p.982; Contemporary Novelists, 2nd edition (London & New York: St James Press, 1976); ‘ReviewInterviews [7th ser.] (London: Secker & Warburg, 1986), cp.254.

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Raymonde Popot, ‘Edna O’Brien’s Paradise Lost’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time [Cahiers Irlandaises, 4-5] (l’Université de Lille 1975-76), pp.255-85, quotes, quotes at length in ftn. her profession that when in Derry she ‘had a strong wish to be shot by the British Army [...] to bring attention of the world [...] that the British Army had been shooting and are continuing to shoot on Irish soil’; she also admits a second reason for her ‘momentary death wish’ was the desire to say to her ‘own people, that is to say the Catholics’ that ‘I feel for you. I am with you. I don’t know how else to express it.’ (Popot, p.285.)

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Anatole Broyard, ‘The Rotten Luck of Kate and Baba’, review of The Country Girls Trilogy, and Epilogue, in New York Times (11 March 1986): ‘[...] In an epilogue written for this volume, Baba stands in for Miss O’Brien, looking back after 20 years on Kate’s life and her own. The style here is full of forced energy - slang, verbal jitters and epithets - in what seems a retrospective attempt to modernize the trilogy. When Kate comes to a sorry end, Baba represents her as a defeated romantic, a victim of “bastards” and “brigands.’’ She shifts the responsibility for Kate’s fall onto the men she met, but it’s hard to see the justice of this, for there can be no defeat without a trial, an effort, an aspiring after something. For all the talk about romanticism, Kate never seriously risks herself. She fails by default. / Like Kate, Miss O’Brien too sees the world through “;wronged eyes,” and the success of her career suggests that, in literature at least, two wrongs make a right. While feminists have not been fond of her work because of her heroines’ chasing after men, The Country Girls Trilogy is a powerful argument for feminism. To watch Kate and Baba and their various partners making war, not love, reminds us of ignorant armies that clash by night. / A question nags at us about the body of Miss O’Brien’s work: why is her women’s luck so bad? After all the ironies and sexual politics have been acknowledged, the fact remains that other women manage to get along - or at least to amuse themselves - with men without murdering them, as the heroine does in ‘’I Hardly Knew You’’ (1977). The women in the later books are attractive, intelligent, witty - surely they could do better if the author let them. [...; &c.; for full text, see RICORSO, Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.]

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Ray Connolly, ‘School was madder than Jean Brodie: Edna O’Brien talks to Ray Connolly’, in The Times Saturday Review [‘A Childhood’, feature-column and interview-article introducing Lantern Slides (23 June 1990), p.62: ‘To the people of Tuam Graney […] The Country Girls was an act of treachery’; ‘her mother’s disappointment made her unhappy, but her disapproval made her feel like a criminal’; youngest, with a brother and two sisters; both parents lived in New York before she was born; her father an archetypal Irishman who lived like a gentleman, a state of affairs that became increasingly difficult as […] his wealth decreased; her mother a handsome, powerhouse of a mountain woman, to whom she believed she was over-attached and who wrote to her almost daily when Edna moved away to England; house built on site of another burned by Black and Tans; O’Brien remarks, ‘It was a sad and troubled house. Heart-breaking. There was great turmoil. I cannot remember any jokes, or us all sitting down to have supper.’ O’Brien gives an account of school-days as Gaeilge with a neurotic teacher; of growing up in a house without books and the arrival of a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, handed round the village page by page; of religious excesses in the chapel; ‘Every day of my life I would go there to pray and bob up and down in from of the stations of the cross like a lunatic. I was obsessed with sanctity and becoming a saint and would mortify myself by not eating and drinking salt water. It went on for years. / Perhaps it was because I wanted us to be happy […] The men would be on one side and the women on the other. And if you didn’t receive Holy Communion, as my sister didn’t one day, then it was noted because everyone watched everyone, so obviously my sister was in sin.’ Sent to convent at Lough Rea [sic], Co. Galway, ‘a dismal spit, grey stone with high gates and a grey lake; formed secret attachment to a nun: “I was so in love with her, as in love with her as I’ve ever been with any man, and I haven’t been in love many times in my life. All the getting up at six o’clock, doing exercises, going to Mass every day, none of it mattered because I was so in love. If she knew she didn’t let on, but sometimes she would shout at me, and that’s a form of love. And she gave me little presents, some holy pictures, things like that. / I always think of it as autumn because that was when I went there ... with the mist, and the smell of clay and the chrysanthemums in the flowerbeds and the nuns would be walking m one direction with their eyes averted while we girls would be straggling around in threes and fours in the other.” Captivated by the Shannon Players; brother decides to study medicine; Edna sent to Dublin to work in chemist’s shop at 16; “I did everything. Chekhov once said that the think about his childhood was that he had no childhood, and I had no childhood there, either. /Now I see girls and they have leisure, they have clothes, they go to the gym and to dinner and drink champagne and peach juice. God, I was like a slave. / I never had dates, not that I was much to look at anyway. I worked 11 hours a day, 9am to 8pm, and then I would get on my bicycle and cycle to lectures. And for this hard labour I earned the glorious sum of seven shillings and sixpence a week. Charles Dickens complained about getting a guinea in Victorian times, but this was in 1950.” Wrote short pieces as Fabiola [pseud.] for in-house magazine of transport company for which her sister worked; delivered pieces by hand to save stamps; numerous rejections; began to build a library with income (Eliot, Joyce); elopement with a divorced man, two sons and move to England; flat in London barren, inhuman no-man’s-land’; found work reading for publisher; came to attention of Hutchinson editor Iain Hamilton; received advance of £50 to write a novel; “I had never had any money in my life before. That was in 1958. I remembers I spent the money on housewifey things, like buying a sewing machine. Then I had to write the book, which I did very quickly. The book was The Country Girls.” [&c.]

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Eileen Battersby, interview with Edna O’Brien, Irish Times (12 Sept. 1992), “Weekend” [q.p.]; O’Brien describes the way in which her books and her life create the impression on her audience of someone who is ‘buoyant and illiterate’, and speak finally of her present dedication to the fact of being a woman writer who lives alone in London, with ‘all the optimism of the girl who left Co. Clare plus her history - her marriage, her motherhood, her failures and successes, the love affairs, the problematic love affairs, and the constant daily dilemma of trying to write something good which will make her seem less illiterate and less buoyant.’

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James F. Clarity, ‘Casting a Cold Eye on Irish Life and Death’, [interview] The New York Times (9 Jan. 1995), ‘Books’ pp.B1 & B6; O’Brien talks about ‘why the Irish literary establishment seems, at long last, to be accepting her as a worthy if expatriate author.’

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Nicholas A. Basbanes, ‘O’Brien Writes of Homeland’, in The Gainesville Sun (15 June 1997),[q.p.]; quotes from an interview: ‘Distance always sharpens your perception’; ‘I write about Ireland because it is the place I know best’; rejects notion that she is an ‘cxpatriate’ writer in the tradition of James Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, O’Casey and Beckett; ‘I don’t like that term expatriate at all’; ‘I do like to move around a bit, because writing requires a great deal of privacy [...] You can have that anywhere, I suppose, just as much in a city as in the country, but what it mainly entails is that you can’t have much of a social life’; ‘[William] Faulkner and Joyce, they are my two masters, they are the ones I read every day of my life. They are both dark writers, and like them, I, too, prefer writing about dark things. Most of Shakespeare’s greatest plays are dark; the great Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, is dark’; thus she writes books that ‘depict the deepest recesses of human nature, the turmoils, the ambiguities, the fears - all the kinds of things that superficial writers typically avoid’; ‘The Dublin that James Joyce treated in Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and, above all, Ulysses, is not Dublin, it is Joyce’s Dublin, and it is more real to me than the city that I once lived in’; ‘That is what Joyce does, that is what Faulkner does. They create a fictional, mythical, totally convincing, archetypal world that happens also to bear some relation to a real world. But you have to have the two. Unless you have the archetypal reach or breadth, the books are short lived’ [as a writer]. (Supplied in Internet by Suzanna Hicks [email].)

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Rory Brennan, review of James Joyce (1999), in Books Ireland (Feb. 2000), pp. 17-18; finds that she ‘puns so much that one doesn’t know whether half the text is illiteracy or weary attempts at wit’; considers the narrative ‘as simple as any Mills & Boon editor could every yearn for’ and condemns the book as ‘Joycean’ in the worst sense. (p.17.)

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Maria Alvarez, review of Down by the River (1996), [q.source]; notes that the accused father tells his interrogator, “you have sex on the brain”; cites phrase, “rosaries and ovaries”; 14-year old Mary reminds us of earlier O’Brien adolescent heroines, intelligent, sensitive, and saddled with a violent, drunken, self-indulgent father [who[ abuses her sexually. The mother dies. Pregnancy, escape, a thwarted attempt to abort her baby, and the transformation of a private tragedy into a public scandal follow’; remarks on a Joycean image of a country covered with snow at the end, before we hear Mary sing; ‘It is one of the genuinely touching moments in a story which should be harrowing, but which is marred by problems of style and deficiencies of structure’; remarks juxtapositioning of rape and the copulation of horses, ‘both described with the same breathless exuberance’; also notes problem with the ‘celebratory lyricism’ of Mary even in the throes of sexual abuse: ‘Mush. We, different wets. His essence, hers. Their two essences one. O quenched and empty world.’ Also, on her father’s genitals: “with the saucer leaf of the water-lily and that on him will linger the sweet lotus of the flower”, here called ‘mawkishly - and worryingly - vague’. Alvarez concludes that crushing overwriting makes empathy impossible; suggests that the narrative should have been given to the protagonist.

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Nick Hornby, review of Time and Tide in Times Literary Supplement [q.d.] 1992), writes of the ‘usual tough victim’ as its heroine, and considers the prose ‘ramshackle’ to the point of incomprehensibility. He remarks the absence not only of ‘O’Brien’s customary emotional truth, but of any verisimilitude at all.’ Among the incidents of the novel, Nell is driven by sexual frustration to ask the proprietor of the local shop to service her; he and his girlfriend Olga move into her home, and Olga leaves the gas on, blowing Nell up. The writing when she deals with the drowning of Nell’s eldest boy Paddy is said to improve, ‘a much-loved writer suffering from a severe loss of form.’ Hornby is a novelist (Fever Pitch, Sept. 1992).

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David Hanley, interview with Edna O’Brien, ‘Writer in Profile’ RTE 1, 9.30pm, 20 May 1992. Speaking of her latest novel, Time and Tide, she mentions those inevitable losses - separation from one’s mother, the scattering of children - which comprise that ‘particular pain [...] which in my case produces good prose.’ She never seems to have escaped the ‘mega-disgrace’ of her first novel, which her mother, who was both ‘charming’ and ‘a charnel house of feeling’, never commented upon except to tell her that ‘people in Scariff thought that I should be kicked naked through the streets.’ After her mother’s death, O’Brien found the copy of The Country Girls which she had sent to her parents in a trunk. The page dedicating it to them had been torn out and some of the words expurgated with thick black ink. (Irish Times, Saturday, 23 May 1992.)

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M. P. Gillespie: ‘O’Brien draws inspiration from the model of Joyce’s fiction, and she plays upon ouor expectations created by memories of his to infuse more humor into her work by subtle contrasts with Joyce’s. To say that she draws upon the Irish comic tradition to feminise Joycean themes would in and of itself trivialise the work of both writers. On the other hand, t use that idea as a point of departure … acknowledges the interpretative multiplicity inherent in their respective stories. (Michael Patrick Gillespie, ‘She was too Scrupulous Always: Edna O’Brien and the Comic Tradition’, in Theresa O’Connor, ed., The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers, Florida UP 1996, p.122.)

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Katie Donovan, review of James Joyce (Phoenix), in The Irish Times ([21 Oct. 2000]), notes colourful distillation and remarks, ‘her insight makes one wonder why writers don’t write biographies of each other more often.’ Further quotes: ‘writers have to be monsters to create’, and: ‘no other writer so effulgently and so ravenously recreated a city .. for him as for Sophocles, greaet stories began in the family cauldron’.

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Christine St. Peter, ‘Petrifying Time: Incest Narratives from Contemporary Ireland’, in Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes, Theories, ed. Liam Harte& Michael Parker (London: Macmillan 2000): ‘Down by the River has the narrative shape and rhythm of a Gothic novel, with a brave and desperate girl determined to save herself from the monstrous forces that pursue her. Beginning with her haunted home, the whole country becomes her prison and even when Mary finally escapes from the actual jail that the anti-abortion campaigners create for her and is offered protection by her pro-choice defenders, she still finds no peace.’ (p.140; quoted in Aveen McManus, “Narratives of Childhood - A Comparative Study”, MA Diss., Univ. of Ulster 2005, p.70.)

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Patricia Craig notices Edna O’Brien, James Joyce (Phoenix), in Times Literary Supplement, “In Brief: Biography” (22 Dec. 2000), calling it ‘a pungent and high-spirited contribution to Joyce studies.’

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Fintan O’Toole, ‘A fiction text too far’, article [not review] on Edna O’Brien In the Forest; makes reference to Sebastian Barry’s Hinterland: ‘To an increasing extent, it seems, the stance of the writer has one foot in verifiable events, the other in imaginative reconstruction. All of the drams mentioned [e.g., Conspiracy and Hinterland], however, have one thing in common. They deal with events that are very clearly in the public domain … / now, however, comes a work that occupies the same border territory between the real and the imagined, but in a realm that is much less unambiguously public. Edna O’Brien’s forthcoming novel will deal with one of the most devastating events of the past 20 years in the Republic: the murder of Imelda Riney, her son Liam and Father Joe Walsh by Brendan O’Donnell in 1994. […/] They were a dreadful catastrophe visited on innocent people by a disturbed, deranged man. They did not and do not have a public meaning.’ O’Toole notes that The House of Splendid Isolation is based on the character of Dominic McGlinchey, ‘a notorious killer who has deliberately imposed himself upon public consciousness’ and argues that ‘it should have been clear, nevertheless, that the Brendan O’Donnell murders were different.’ Quotes Kenneth Tynan’s objections to Truman Capote’s ‘exploitation;’ of the killers in In Cold Blood and insists that ‘there is simply no artistic need for so close an intrusion into other people’s grief … The only reason to do otherwise is to be found in the realm, not of art but of commerce … The explicitness, indeed, is arguably an aesthetic as well as a moral mistake [… &c.]’ (The Irish Times, 2 March, 2002, “Weekend”, p.1.)

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Eddie Holt, [TV Review], The Irish Times (18 May 2002), ““Weekend””, offers a critique of True Lives: Murder in the Forest, which features Edna O’Brien at the grave of real-life victims, writing: ‘O’Brien seems to believe that she has a right to subsume Imelda Riney’s life into her own aesthetic because she, O’Brien, is Imelda Riney. O’Brien grew up a few miles from Craig Forest, where Riney was murdered and both were artists. [...] O’Brien seems to be putting words into their mouths as she entranced them. She takes similar artistic licence with the life of Brendan O’Donnell [...] Murder in the Forest is no more or less cheap thatn Real Crime: Blood on her Hands [...]’.

Mary Morrissey, review of Edna O’Brien, In the Forest (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson), in The Irish Times (23 March 2002), “Weekend” [q.p.], writes: ‘O’Brien is often criticised for being out of touch with the real Ireland - wherever that may be. But the landscape and the townlands, the people who populate her woods and villages in this book, seem piercingly familiar and entirely apt. This is not a landscape of bachelor farmers and devout spinster, but one of Germans, Swedes and Dutch, New-Agers, artists, hippies and respectable retirees.’ Speaks of the central characters O’Kane, Eily Ryan and her son as ‘more problematical’, remarking that the bruised institutional history of the murderer make of him a ‘stereotypical case history of male Irish youth these days’. Argues that ‘fiction and polemical generality do not bedfellows make’ and concludes, ‘[t]he trouble with In the Forest is there’s not half-enough fiction in it’; ‘the ghost of reality keeps on intruding’; ‘being “symbolised” like that denies both people - and characters in the novel - their authenticity and, ultimately, their humanity.’

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Declan Kiberd, ‘Growing Up Absurd: Edna O’Brien and The Country Girls’, in Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra, eds., Irish Studies in Brazil (Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005): ‘[...] Edna O’Brien has reserved particular praise for the quality of James Joyce’s letters to his partner Nora Barnacle, which deal with  “her own sexual prowess, no small thing for a convent girl from Galway and a radical thing in defiance of that male illusion whereby women were expected to maintain a mystique and conceal their deepest sexual impulses.” (James Joyce, p.74-5.) Once again what is notable in her commentary is not just her insistence that sexuality and maternity are not contradictory, but also a pained recognition (shared with Joyce) that sexual and personal fulfillment may be considered irreconcilable in a pornographic culture which sees a woman’s full involvement in sexual activity as conditional upon her erasure as an individual (and even, in some extreme cases, as conditional upon her death). What attracted Joyce to Nora Bernacle may have been what interested Caithleen in Mr. Gentleman: the sense of  “a hazy and sensual” disposition, which might be remoulded upon the lines best pleasing to the remoulder. Bringing such awesome expectations to the sexual relation, such persons were bound for disappointment, and for the search for some type of compensation in the more trivial pleasures of daily existence. / Like O’Brien, Joyce never fully escaped the net of Roman Catholicism. Childhood, says O’Brien, “occupies at most twelve years of our early life [...] and yet the bulk of the rest of our lives is shadowed or coloured by that time”. (Grace Eckley, Edna O’Brien, NJ: Bucknell UP 1974, p.75; here pp.158-59; see full text in Ricorso Library, “Criticism”, infra.)

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Elisabeth Mahoney, [review of radio], in The Guardian (25 Sept. 2007) [Tues]: ‘It’s always a pleasure to hear Edna O’Brien. She was interviewed on Woman’s Hour (BBC4) yesterday, talking about her first novel, The Country Girls. Like the five novels that followed it, the book was banned in her native Ireland, and all were burned by the priest in the village she was from. That wasn’t going to stop her, though. “I always wanted to write”, she said, slowly and carefully in her slightly grand voice, “and I still always want to write. It’s a fervour.” / There was passion and sensuality in everything she said. While writing The Country Girls, in the weeks after leaving Ireland, she never stopped crying, she explained. “I missed the country and the locale I had wanted to leave”, she recalled. “Writing captures what is gone and seeks to capture what cannot exist.” There were reminiscences, too, of the library in the village where she grew up. It had only one book: Rebecca. “It was loaned by the page”, said O’Brien, with a cackle. “Unfortunately not consecutive.” Though she no longer lives there, Ireland, she said in a faraway, dreamy voice, “is what feeds me whether I’m in it or out of it”. But she will ultimately return, she conceded. “I have a wonderful grave there”, she said softly, “so I will be going back.” [07.10.2007.]

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R. F. Foster, Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000 (London: Allen Lane: 2007), relates that Archbishop John Charles McQuaid had called Charles Haughey ‘to his palace in order to show him a copy of Edna O’Brien’s scandalous novel The Country Girls and approvingly noted the rising politician’s disgust: “Like so many decent Catholic men with growing families, McQuaid recorded, “he was just beaten by the outlook and descriptions.”’ (Foster, op. cit., p.43, quoting John Cooney, John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland, Dublin: O’Brien Press 1999, p.348.)

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Miriam O’Callaghan, ‘Miriam Meets … Edna O’Brien and Niall Buggy’: ‘[...] Edna talked about her famous Saturday night parties. “I gave away all I had and all I earned in prodigal parties”. Everyone from the Rolling Stones to Princess Margaret came to her home. Her mother used to supply poitin for these parties “But Princess Margaret never had any, she drank whiskey.” / “Judy Garland came one night….looked at the room with the saddest, baffled expression and left … I have met many people, but the most magnetic person I ever met was Marlon Brando. He was lean and brilliant, he had that animal quality, yet very intelligent.” When Miriam asked her did she find him attractive, Edna replied, “I did, but I have always fallen in love with bastards and he didn’t seem to be a bastard. Anyone would find him attractive – a man or a woman.” / From an early age Edna had a desire to be an actress. After failing to secure an audition with the travelling theatre that came to Scarriff, she managed to get an audition at the Harcourt Terrace home of Miceal Mc Liammoir. “He was a wonderful man in his generosity of spirit. He was very nice to me when he swept out of the room after my audition. But he knew that there was no go, no future for my acting.” / Edna also talked about writing about love: “I have written about love because if you think about it … Love has been very central to our lives… When we think about it, the people who we have loved and who we have hated are central cast in our thoughts. So it is natural.” / Edna has just had a hip replacement and is approaching 80 years old. Miriam asked her about the experience of ageing: “My own mother, as she got older, she got deeper and less judgemental and that is something I would wish for anyone, including myself. But there is the sense as well that you will not be in love again, or if you are, it is like the Portuguese poet “from afar I shall love you, from that calm distance from which love is longing and passion perseverance”.’ (See RTE Radio 1, online; accessed 23.03.2010.)

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Thomas Kilroy, ‘Our great teller of the short story’, review of Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien, in The Irish Times (12 Feb. 2011), Weekend Review, p.11: ‘[...] Like the American South, Ireland has its rich tradition of oral storytelling, and Edna O’Brien is the great contemporary heir to this in the short story. Walter Benjamin once wrote about how orality was subsumed into literary art in another such culture, the Russian, when analysing the art of Nikolai Leskov. It’s a question of preserving the oral energy on the printed page and making the oral engage with literary technique. We just don’t simply read such stories; we also listen to them. [...] There is, however, something else here this time around in addition to young girls and their dreams. We pride ourselves in this country on an absence of class. But, of course, we are as class-driven as anywhere else. Green Georgette is a study of the seeds and growth of snobbery in an Irish village with all the pretence and stratification that you might find in a metropolis. [...] A volume of short stories depends on variety, and there is that here. “Manhattan Medley”, for instance, stands apart from the other stories in content and in the way in which its voice is used. This is like overhearing the musings of a very contemporary, mature urban sophisticate addressing an absent lover. Like so many of the other stories this is about loneliness, but it is never maudlin. Instead it is driven by its obsession. The power of this is palpable and reminds one that O’Brien has written in greater detail of sexual obsession before this and with a command that few can match.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or attached.)

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John Banville, Introduction to The Love Object: Selected Stories of Edna O’Brien (2013): ‘The most striking aspect of Edna O’Brien’s short stories, aside from the consistent mastery with which they are executed, is their diversity. This writer knows many worlds, and delineates them for us with deep insight, uncanny accuracy, wry fondness and, always, compassion. Although she left it early, she is never far from the world into which she was born and where she was brought up. She is one of the most sophisticated writers now at work, yet her sensibility is suffused with the light of the far west of Ireland, and again and again in these tales she returns to the lovely fields and melancholy towns of her youth. [...] Edna O’Brien began her career as a writer and began it early in a golden age of the Irish short story. She and near contemporaries such as John McGahern and William Trevor had as exemplars the likes of Sean O’Faolain, Frank O’Connor, Mary Lavin and Benedict Kiely and, of course, the James Joyce of Dubliners yet on the evidence of the work gathered in this volume her true teacher was Chekhov, for she displays a positively Chekhovian empathy with the characters and milieus that she portrays. [...] Younger writers today, particularly younger women writers, acknowledge the revolution that O’Brien wrought in Irish writing. No one before her, not even Kate O’Brien or Mary Lavin, had managed to portray in fiction an utterly convincing female sensibility.[...] She is, simply, one of the finest writers of our time.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or attached.)

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Quotations
The O’Connor Girls’ [story]: ‘[A]t that moment I realised that by choosing his world I had said goodbye to my own and to those in it. By such choices we gradually become exiles, until at last we are quite alone.’ (Returning: A Collection of Tales, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1982, p.20.)

Mother Ireland: ‘I had thought of how it had warped me, and those around me, and their parents before them, all stooped by a variety of fears - fear of the Church, fear of gombeenism, fear of phantoms, fear of ridicule, fear of hunger, fear of annihilation, and fear of their own deeply ingrained aggression that can only strike a blow at one another, not having the innate authority to strike at those who are higher. Pity arose too, pity for a land so often denuded, pity for a people reluctant to admit that there is anything wrong. That is why we leave. Because we beg to differ. Because we dread the psychological choke.’ ‘Mother Ireland’, in Sewanee Review, 84 (1976), p.34; quoted in Stories by Contemporary Irish Women, ed. Daniel J. Casey & Linda M. Casey, Syracuse UP 1990, Introduction, p.4.)

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The High Road (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1988), 180pp. [ded. ‘To my grandson Jack Redmond Gébler]. ‘I would grow to forget him, the him that I believed had broken my heart, but in my saner moments I recognised as being probably the last to partake with me at that fount of sensuality, and vertigo and earthly love. As with many a thing, we had embarked on it lightly, but it caught fire, escalated, went too far, to the marrow, rekindled hopes, hungers and fresh fears. Its end dribbled on, an end that consumed my middle years like a terrible wasting sickness so that I often wished to be quite old, thinking by then it would have faded completely, without a trace. At other moments, I wished that it had never happened because the incision was too much. Then again I wished for vengeance, retribution, which I gave vent to only in dreams. At that moment, standing in that world of lambent light I would have given anything to have my youth back again, for a year, a month, a week, an instant. His letters I had returned. They were in dove-grey flitters, like the pieces of a shredded jigsaw, on his desk maybe, or maybe dumped by a prudent secretary into his wastepaper basket. I would forget him a little each day and of course in forgetting him, kill that part of myself that for all its pain is the most sacred.’ (p.9.)

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Down By the River (1996): Mary MacCarthy, aged 14, is raped by her widowed father, while they are fishing by the river. ‘[...] his figure falling through the air, an apotheosis descending down into a secrecy where there was only them, him and her. Darkness then, a weight of darkness except for one splotch of sunlight on his shoulder and all the differing motions, of water, of earth, of body, moving as one, on a windless day. Not a sound of a bird. An empty place, a place cut off from every place else and her body too, the knowing part of her body getting separated from what was happening down there. / It does not hurt if you say it does not hurt. It does not hurt if you are not you. Criss-cross waxen sheath, uncrissing, uncrossing. Mush. Wet, different wets. His essence, hers, their two essences one. O quenched and empty world. An eternity of time, then a shout, a chink of light, the ground easing back up, gorse prickles on her scalp and nothing ever the same again and a feeling as of having half-died. / Her pink canvas shoe had fallen into the water and she lifted it funnel-wise to free it of ooze. He looked at her, a probing look, looked through her as if she were parchment and then half-laughed. / “What would your mother say ... Dirty little thing.” / He crosses to the lake, wading through the thick lattice of bulrushes and she thinks he is washing now in the brackenish water, swabbing himself with the saucer leaf of the water-lily and that on him will linger the sweet lotus of that flower seemed to be uncut but when she brought her face up close to it, every piece had been severed, every severed piece, side by side, a wicked decoy. / Climbing the roped rickety gate that led from the bog road to the outer road she wobbles, grips a tassel of flowering dock and the coral seeds crushed to shreds she puts in her pocket. Only they will know. No one else will ever know. / Except that they will.’ (pp.5-6.) [The father later tries and fails to effect an abortion with a broom handle; p.106.]

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The “X Case” [abortion law in Ireland]: ‘I couldn’t believe it. I was in Ireland at the time when the debates were going on, and I saw a lot of those television debates and went to some meetings. I thought it was a step far back. No woman is overjoyed to have an abortion but if she must have it, she should not be made to feel like a criminal. It’s a serious and traumatic thing for a woman, and she needs support, not cudgels.’ On the law against provision of information on abortion: ‘also a potential form of murder […] murder to the lives of women who are already born and trying to live their lives.’ Further: ‘I don’t think much for Pope John Paul II’s opinions. He may be a charming man but he’s a dogmatist. Woman’s lot is hard anywhere, but an Irishwoman’s lot is ten times harder.’ (Interview with Julia Carson, in Banned in Ireland: Censorship and the Irish Writer, ed. Carlson (Georgia UP 1990, p.77; quoted in Maireadh McGettigan, UU MA Diss. 2010.)

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Mother Ireland (NY 1976): ‘Countries are either fathers or mothers, and engender the emotional bristle secretly reserved for either sire. [...] Ireland has always been Godridden.’ (Cited [with variants] in Amanda Graham, ‘The Lovely Substance of the Mother: Food, Gender and Nation in the work of Edna O’Brien’, Irish Studies Review, 15, Summer 1996, pp.16-20.) Further, ‘Irish? In truth I would not want to be anything else. It is a state of mind as well as an actual country. It is being at odds with other nationalities, having quite different philosophy about pleasure, about punishment, about life, and about death. At least it does not leave one pusillanimous.’ (cited by John Hildebilde; Irish Studies E-List, Virginia, April 1998.) Further, speaks of ‘the psychological choke’ of Dublin culture; Mother Ireland, NY 1976, p.143.) Note that the epigraph is taken from Samuel Beckett’s novel Malone Dies [as infra].

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Vanishing Ireland (1987) : ‘It would need more than a fleet of mobile libraries to change Ireland. It would need a hundred Sigmund Freuds to unravel the Gordian knots of guilt and anger darkness and torturous sex.’ (p.21; quoted in Werner Huber, op. cit., 1993.)

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A Scandalous Affair”: I thought that ours indeed was a land of shame, a land of murder, and a land of strange, throttled, sacrificial women’ in A Fanatic Heart: Selected Stories, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987, p. 265; quoted in Huber, op. cit., 1993.)

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Born in Ireland: ‘Up to a short time ago I’d have said I was a writer who was just born in Ireland. But I know now, the way I write, the way I see things, my interest in story is very much the result of the race I come from’ (‘Committed to Mythology’, interview with Bolivar Le Franc, Books and Bookmen, Sept. 1968, p.72; quoted in Raymonde Popot, ‘Edna O’Brien’s Paradise Lost’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time [Cahiers Irlandaises, 4-5] l’Université de Lille 1975-76, pp.255-85.)

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Forbidden’, in New Yorker [Fiction] (20 March 2000), gives an account of a mother-daughter relationship recognisably like that of the author and her mother in outline though speaking of forgiveness as well as prohibition and dismissal. ‘She was the hub of the house. Her fingers and her fails smelled of food […] whereas her body smelled of drifting things, depending on whether she was happy or unhappy.’; ‘We lived for a time in such symbiosis that there might never have been a husband or other children, except there were.’ Speaks of ‘frugal’ life and the mother’s clothes, including silk from her days in Brooklyn; ‘[y]et at heart she was a countrywoman, and as she got older the fields, the bog, her dogs, and her fowl became more important to, were her companions once I had left.’ The narrative is chiefly concerned with a rift and the subsequent attempts of the mother to repair it: ‘I cannot remember when, exactly, the first moment of the breach came’; it was about writing and about the ethos of ‘illusion’ that come with it (a quotation from Voltaire on that subject sparking the quarrel). ‘Flings, youthful love affairs, were out of the question. I eloped with a man I had known for only six weeks. She hated him after merely seeing a photography, but she insisted on my marrying to give the seal of respectability to things, and there followed a bleak ceremony that she did not attend. With uncanny clairvoyance, she predicted the year, the day, even the hour of the marriage’s demise.’ Ten years later the mother resumes contact with an ‘ultimatum’ adjuring her not to have anything to do with men again after the failure of the marriage, which she had ‘predicted’ with ‘uncanny clairvoyance’: ‘She lamented by being young and therefore still in the way of temptation. She had reclaimed me.’ In the ensuing years the writer accumulates hundreds, perhaps a thousand, letters, mostly unread. ‘The one day, deluding myself that for my work I needed to revisit rooms and haunts that had passed into other hand, I lifted the little brass latch. I was like being plunged into the moiling seas of memory. Her letters were deeper, sadder than I had remembered, but what struck me most was their hunger. Here was a woman desperately trying to explain herself and tire the cord that had been summarily cut.’ The narrative ends in recounting the death of the mother and a final letter, broken off unfinished, in which she expressed herself shaken, having ‘quarrel with her son over her land’. The ending turns on a memory of a confession at a funeral on the part of her mother that she had once loved and been ultimately been offended by a ‘gentleman’, ‘dark, handsome and with a beautiful reserve’, in Brooklyn which serves as a counterpoint to the life and passions of the narrator-daughter. (pp.116-20.)

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Self-exiled?: ‘I suppose most writers are exiled in their minds always - whether from family, parish or country - because writing by its very nature is an extremely isolating and reflective job. Even thought you are embroiled in the human stories, the work is done along in the crucible of the imagination.’ (Lee, Independent.

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Unlucky in love - O’Brien at eighty, interview with Gay Byrne (“The Meaning of Life”, RTE, 21 Feb. 2010): ‘I have not been lucky, certainly in the case of Ernest Gebler. I chose a judgmental or punishing figure; not obviously religious, in fact irreligious, but with the same strictures. / Some people call it masochism, I object to the word. I think religion had been so instilled into me that I did not think or feel that earthly love should be anything but in some form punishing. [...] I didn’t feel marriage should be a romp. Now I am 78 years of age and I haven’t met the man with whom my whole being, heart, soul and body would be miraculously entwined. I didn’t. My prayer has not been answered in that, nor is it likely to be.’ (For full report, see Lynne Kelleher, ‘Edna O’Brien laments her “punishing” marriage’, in The Sunday Times, 21 Feb. 2010 [online], or copy in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Reference
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects “Number 10”, from Mrs Reinhardt and Other Stories [1043-46]; BIOG, 1134, [FDA COMM as supra]

Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own (1984), , Bio-note: 1936- in b. Co. Clare; trained at Pharmaceutical College, Dublin; m. Ernest Gebler in 1962, divorced; two children; first novel, The Country Girls (1960).

A. N. Jeffares & Anthony Kamm, eds., An Irish Childhood, An Anthology (Collins 1987), contains excerpt;

Shena Mackay, Such Devoted Sisters: An Anthology of Stories (Virago 1994), selects ‘Irish Revel’. See also Patricia Craig, ed., The Oxford Book of Modern Women’s Stories (1995), 538pp.

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Kevin Rockett, et al., eds, Cinema & Ireland (1988), lists The Country Girls (1983), being a film of Edna O’Brien’s The Lonely Girl), also discusses financing of same, p.125, n59; Anthony Slide, The Cinema and Ireland (1988), discusses The Lonely Girl (1962), filmed 1964, with Rita Tushingham, Peter Finch, and Lynn Redgrave, as the directorial debut of Desmond Davies (p.66); also I Was Happy Here (1965), based on Edna O’Brien story and dir. Davies (p.112).

Helena Sheehan, Irish Television Drama: A Society and Its Stories (RTE 1987), lists TV film, A Cheap Bunch of Nice Flowers, dir Shelah Richards (1975); also Irish Revel, dir Deirdre Friel (1975).

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Notes
Beckettian: Mother Ireland (1976) takes its epigraph from Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies: ‘Let me say before I go any further that I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life and then the fires and ice of hell and in the execrable generations to come an honoured name.’

Photo-portrait of O’Brien in London in 1971 is to be found in John Minihan, An Unweaving of Rainbows: Images of Irish Writers (London: Souvenir Press 1998), 128pp.

Peter Connolly: Interview with Julia Carlson, ed., Banned in Ireland (Georgia UP; London: Routledge 1990), pp.71-79, cites Sean McMahon, ‘A Sex by Themselves, An Interim Report on the Novels of Edna O’Brien’, Eire-Ireland, 2 (1967), which includes an account of Peter Connolly’s defence of Edna O’Brien at a public meeting in Limerick 1966.

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Intertextualities: ‘[T]the ground easing back up, gorse prickles on her scalp and nothing ever the same again and a feeling as of having half-died.’ (Down by the River, p.5-6; as in Quotations, supra.) There is a definite precedent for the phrase ‘nothing ever the same again’ in Frank O’Connor’s “Guest of the Nation” - which itself is reputedly an echo of Gogol. Note also the echo of Joyce’s snow scene at the end of “The Dead”, noted by Maria Alvarez [supra].

Controversy: The Forest (2002), a novel concerning Brendan O’Donnell’s the murder of Imelda and Liam Riney and Fr Joe Walsh in Co. Clare in 1994, met with the opposition of the family of Ms. Riney’s family.

Mr. Gentleman: Seán MacBride is rumoured to be the model for this character in the early Edna O’Brien novels. (See Rory Brennan, review of That Day’s Struggle, in Books Ireland, Summer 2006, p.144.)

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Non-isolationist: Edna O’Brien described Gerry Adams in one American paper as ‘thoughtful and reserved, a lithe, handsome man [...] Given a different incarnation in a different century, one could imagine him as one of those monks transcribing the gospel into Gaelic.’ (See James Adams, ‘Kneecapped!: How Gerry Adams’ US visit crippled the special relationship’, Sunday Times, 6 Feb. 1994, pp.10-11.) See also Edna O’Brien, report on Gerry Adams, in Irish Independent (Sat., 5 Feb. 1993) and Books of the Year [notices], Irish Times “Weekend” (30 Nov. 2002), portrait-caption: ‘her novel, In the Forest, is “well-written and riveting”, says Gerry Adams’.

In the Forest (1): David Godwin, Edna O’Brien’s literary agent, wrote in response to Fintan O’Toole’s remarks, affirming: ‘[i]n all my dealings with Edna O’Brien over the many years I have represented her, I have never doubted for a minute that the sole imperative behind her books is the urge to write; and I find Fintan O’Toole’s insinuation that it might be anything other than that offensive. For the record, In the Forest was written by Edna O’Brien and then sold. It was not commissioned. In my opinion, of all Edna O’Brien’s novels to date, it is this one that will prove to possess the greatest delicacy and integrity’ [David Godwin Associates /London.] (Irish Times, 9 March 2002, “Letters”.) O’Toole had written that, in view of the novel’s relation to the death of Imelda Riley, her son Liam and Fr. Father Joe Walsh. O’Brien had ‘crossed the boundary into private grief’ (Irish Times, 2 March 2002). See also remarks in Rebecca Pelan, “Reflections on a Connemara Dietrich”, in Kathryn Laing, et al., eds., Edna O’Brien: New Critical Perspectives, Carysfort Press 2006).

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In the Forest (2) : ‘One of the victims of a paedophile priest unmasked by the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Willie Walsh, last weekend, was triple murderer Brendan O’Donnell, a new book is to reveal. [...] O’Donnell was convicted of the murders in 1996 and died one year later, at the Central Mental Hospital, following an overdose. He was 23.’ (Irish Times report, 25 July 2004.) The report names Fr. Tom McNamara as the abuser-priest and Ms Imelda Riney, her three-year old son Liam and Father Joe Walsh as O’Donnell’s victims.

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Haunted (2010): Directed by Braham Murray and brought to the stage by Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, with Brenda Blethyn as a woman with a dilemma whose her husband is secretly giving her clothes to a market stallholder who happens to be an attractive, younger woman. Hauntedis a three-hander, with Blethyn as the wife, Niall Buggy as the husband and Beth Cooke as the new object of his affections. Ran at the Gaiety until 13 February 2010. (See RTÉ, The View, online; 25.03.2010.)

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Desert Island Discs (BBC4, 14 Jan. 2007): Speaking with the interviewer Kirsty Young, O’Brien gavea frank account of her troubles with Gebler, her gaining custody of her children due to the fairness of the judge and in face of opposition from laity and clergy, and her life as a writer. She professed, inter alia, that she was good at writing not at living. By way of music she selected “Fairy Tale of New York” (Pogues) and Mozart’s Requiem. Her desert island disc was the “The Foggy, Foggy Dew” sung by Sinead O’Connor and her book, Ulysses.

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Wild Decembers (2009) - the movie: Wild Decembers was filmed in Roundwood, Co Wicklow, in 2008, being directed by Anthony Byrne, with Owen McDonell, Matt Ryan, and Lara Belmont; also Sean McGinley, Kristin Kapelli, Pauline Cadwell, Jane Brennan and Andrea Irvine in various parts. The producer is Clare Alan. Failure to secure funding from the Irish Film Board resulted in a cut-down version scheduled as a feature-drama for RTÉ in autumn 2009. O’Brien appears as an extra in a church scene. (See ‘Why we’ll all be taking dramatic licence in ’09’, in Irish Independent, 15 Dec. 2008; online - accessed 25.03.2010).

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Dates query: m. 1954 but moved to London, 1959 [var. 1958]; variously given as moved to London 1954 on Infoplease.com (Liverpool Univ.) [link].

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