George O’Brien

Life

1945- ; b. 14 Feb., Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford; brought up by a paternal grandmother in Lismore, Co. Waterford after early death of his mother; ed. St. Augustine College, Dungarvan; moved to Dublin, living with his father and stepmother, 1962; ed. Kevin St., grad. in electronic engineering, 1962-64; apprentice photographer; worked in London as barman, clerk and encyclopaedia salesman, 1965; schol. to Ruskin College, Oxford, 1968; moved to Warwick Univ., 1970; grad. BA in English and American Lit, 1973; PHD ( ‘Life on the Land: Identity and Community in Three Nineteenth-Century Irish novelists’), 1980;
 
taught at Univ. of Birmingham, 1974, and Clare College, Cambridge, 1975; lect., Warwick, 1976-80; visiting asst. Prof., Vassar, 1980-84; assoc. Prof., Georgetown (Washington), 1984, and later Professor of English; admired memoirist recounting dawning awareness of a modern world beyond Lismore and student days in works such as Dancehall Days (1988), The Village of Longing (1993), and Out of Our Minds (1995); acts as Academic Director of the George Town U. Irish Studies Summer School at Trinity College. DIL2

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Works
Memoir, The Village of Longing: An Irish Boyhood in the Fifties (Dublin: Lilliput Press), 151pp., and Do. [rep. edn.] (Sixth Chamber Press 1987; Belfast: Blackstaff 1993); Dancehall Days, or Love in Dublin (Dublin: Lilliput 1988), and Do. [rep. edn.] (Belfast: Blackstaff 1994), 166pp.; Out of Our Minds (Belfast: Blackstaff 1995), 220pp.; Village of Longing [and] Dancehall Days (London: Viking 1989), 325pp., and Do. (Harmondsworth: Penguin; NY: Viking 1990). Also, ‘The Absurdist’, in Irish Review (Winter 1992/93), pp.87-92 [reminiscence of London youth].

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Journalism incls. ‘Culture Rock’, review of Edna Longley, The Living Stream, Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, in Irish Times (30 Dec. 1994), Weekend, p.8; review of Aidan Higgins, Donkey’s Years: Memories of a Life as Story Told, in The Irish Times (10 May 1995); ‘‘An Irish Minstrel in London’, review of Ireland’s Minstrel: A Life of Tom Moore - Poet, Patriot and Byron’s Friend, in The Irish Times (11. Nov. 2006) [see under Moore, infra], and ‘Getting to the point of surrender’, review of William Wall, No Paradiso, in The Irish Times (12 Aug. 2006), Weekend [infra].

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Miscellaneous, ed., Playing the Field: Irish Writers on Sport (Dublin: New Island Press 2000), 159pp. [qry]; contrib. ‘One thing we could do’, in The Dublin Review, 4 (Autumn 2001), pp.55-74 [on Irish ‘exile’ and his own migrant experience].

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Commentary
Denis Sampson, ‘Down and Out in London’, review of Out of Our Minds, quotes: ‘Pop gave me a pleasure that was as strong as knowledge. Thanks to it, I felt, I could dream of inventing a life of my own’; centrally concerned with the pain and challenge of exile (‘there is either home or nothing’), and with the ‘village of belonging’, it encompasses marriage to Pam with its promise of ‘improvised unorthodoxies’ heading on the ‘road to Hinksey, Swinden, Cumnor, Kingston Bagpuize’; called a post-modernist project without parallel since Ulysses in its exhuberant celebration of the textures of popular and literary culture [...] intimately personal and historically accurate examination of Irish male identity in the past half-century.’ (Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1995, p.25).

Aubrey Malone, omnibus review, Books Ireland (Summer 1995), calls Out of Our Minds, a writer’s writer rather than a reader’s one (p.167).

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Quotations
Autobiography”, in Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture, ed. W. J. McCormack (Oxford: Blackwell 1990), pp.45-47: ‘Modern Irish autobiographical writing dates, roughly speaking, from 1800, and its history may be divided into three main periods. These loosely correspond to the major phases in the articulation of modern Ireland’s political and cultural consciousness. Distinct though these periods are, their autobiographies share certain thematic, form and ideological interests. Among the most persistent of these are a preoccupation with the fashioning of social and cultural identity, an ethnographical approach to place and people, and an oppositional point of view. (p.45.) Further [of the Life of Tone, Mitchel‘s Jail Journal and William O’Brien’s autobiographies:] Print bears permanent witness to the values which action was unable to install, with the result that the personal dimension of autobiography is subsidiary to the form’s putative power as a manual of possibility and rhetoric of commitment.’ (p.46.) Dissident thought, shaped by the oppositional personality [e.g., from Ernie O’Malley’s On Another Man’s Wound], keynotes the moral landscape of Irish autobiography during the period of the separatist climacteric.’ [Cont.]

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Autobiography” (Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture, 1990) - cont.: ‘This shift in emphasis replaces self-aggrandisement with self-awareness, a change accompanied by innovative formal developments. Among these may be noted the imaginative deployment of commonplace autobiographical forms such as diaries, the compression of temporal and spatial conditions for dramatic effect, and a tendency towards a pictorial aesthetic. In terms of content, these works deal intimately with family matters, with a particular emphasis on childhood. Structures of inner life, dwelling on sexual identity and theoretical thought, are also to the fore. Mind is considered of more consequence than world. Criticism is implicitly claimed to be a higher form of politics, thereby becoming synonymous with a rhetoric of self-actualisation. The enactment of this synonymity, and the ethos of modernisation to which it subscribes, constitute the presence of these autobiographies’ most important innovation, the persona. (p.46.) The nativist works convey recollection as self-possession, and provide a repertoire of themes concerning affiliation, language, place, and rituals which inhere in them. The reactionary appeal of these is unwittingly identified in Patrick Kavanagh’s The Green Fool (1938), while the response to them of even writers with the nationalist credentials of Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain is ambivalent, as may be noted by comparing their autobiographical [46] works with Robert Harbinson’s tetralogy depicting Northern Irish realities or with Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy (1958). Despite its problematic populism, the nativist narrative of communal and cultural integrity still informs much of contemporary Irish autobiography, where it appears as self-deceiving nostalgia [...]’

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Autobiography” (Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture, 1990) - cont.: ‘The huge international success of Seamus Deane’s autobiographical novel Reading in the Dark and the much-acclaimed Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt both attest to a powerful new trend in Irish autobiographical writing which is now exploring darker and more disturbing aspects of growing up in Ireland. Without the insight of feminism, the testimony of emigrants, and other sources likely to develop the form, the third period of Irish autobiography is typified by a glut of works whose uncertainty and evasiveness perhaps reveal a larger cultural anomie but which seem to counteract modern Irish autobiography’s literary and historical significance.’ (“Autobiography”, in Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture, 1990, ed. W. J. McCormack, Oxford: Blackwell 1990, pp.45-47.)

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