Honor Tracy


1913-1989 [Honor Lilbush Wingfield Tracy]; b. 19 October, in Suffolk; dg. of a surgeon and an artist-mother; educ. Grove School, London, and later at Madchenscochschule in Dresden and the Sorbonne, Paris - where she studied civilisation; commenced work as an publisher’s assistant and afterwards in Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer’s London office; joined Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1939 and rose to sergeant, working in the intelligence dept.; and joined in the British Ministry of Information, as Japanese specialist, 1941-45;

moved to Ireland for two post-war years; worked with Sean O’Faolain on the Irish Digest and became his lover; travelled with him to France and went on to visit Eastern Europe, 1947; spent eight months in Japan, 1948; appt. Observer columnist and settled again in Dublin, later changing to the Sunday Times; issued Kakemono (1950), an account of her Japanese experience; featured in “An Irishman’s Diary” of The Irish Times (14 Oct. 1950); acted as asst. ed. of The Bell, inviting Sean O’Casey to contribute [O'Casey Papers]; The Sunday Times sued for libel by Canon Maurice O’Connell (Doneraile Co. Cork) regarding her article on his fund-raising for a new parochial house [presbytery]; Tracy won £3,000 damages from the Sunday Times for impugning her journalistic integrity in conceding a libel case - with a payment to charity of £750 - notwithstanding her true reportage; also contrib. features to the BBC and wrote a column for The Daily Telegraph;

her Irish books incl. Mind You, I’ve Said Nothing (1953), with sketches of Behan, Smyllie, et al., comically scathing both the Irish and Anglo-Irish, and characterised as ‘brilliant and unjust book’ by Louis MacNeice; also The Straight and Narrow Path (1956), a rowdy Irish farce; she converted to Catholicism and settled in Achill Island, Co. Mayo; d. 13 June, 1989, in Oxford; a candid supplement to the enlarged edition of Sean O’Faoláin’s Vive Moi (1993) gives an account of his affair with her while working in The Bell office. DIL ATT OCIL.

[ top ]

  • The Deserters (London: Metheun 1954), 159pp.;
  • The Straight and Narrow Path (London: Methuen; NY: Random Hse 1956), 228pp., rep. (Penguin 1960) [Irish farce];
  • The Prospects are Pleasing (London: Methuen 1958), 228pp.
  • A Number of Things: A Novel (London: Methuen; NY, Random House 1960), 234pp.;
  • A Season of Mists (London: Methuen; NY: Random House 1961);
  • The First Day of Friday (London: Methuen; NY: Random House 1965), 159pp. [var. 1963];
  • Men at Work (London: Methuen; NY: Random House 1967), 206pp.;
  • The Beauty of the World (London: Methuen; NY: Random House 1967), 184pp.;
  • Settled in Chambers (London: Methuen; NY: Random House 1968);
  • Butterflies of the Province (London: Eyre Methuen; NY: Random House 1970);
  • The Quiet End of Evening (London: Eyre Methuen; NY: Random House; 1970);
  • In a Year of Grace (London: Eyre Methuen 1975), iii-viii, 211pp
  • The Man from Next Door (London: Hamilton 1977), [5], 186pp.
  • The Ballad of Castle Reef (London: Hamilton 1979), 156pp.

  • Kakemono: A Sketchbook of Postwar Japan (London: Methuen 1950).
  • Silk Hats and No Breakfast: Notes on a Spanish Journey [Penguin Books 1822] (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1962), 189pp.
  • Spanish Leaves (London: Methuen 1964), 189pp.
  • Winter in Castile (NY: Random House 1974), 181pp.
  • The Heart of England (London: Hamilton 1983), 181pp.
Irish interest
  • Mind You, I've Said Nothing!: Forays in the Irish Republic (London: Methuen 1959), 176pp.
  • trans., The Conquest of Violence, by Barthélemy de Ligt (London: G. Routledge & Sons 1937), xi, 306pp.

[ top ]

An Irishman’s Diary” (The Irish Times, q.d.; 1950) - calls her “... a nice person, full of intelligence and with a delicious sense of humour” and also described her as “a Roman catholic of Irish extraction”. (Quoted on TracyClann website - online; accessed 31.10.2014.)

Harold H. Watts: ‘Her novels are designed to be read with a glass of sherry in the hand, preferably in the company of persons as basically sensible as the ideal reader of Miss Tracy’s work.’ (Contemporary Novelists, 1972; quoted in NY Times obituary by Peter B. Flint -as infra.)

Joan FitzPatrick Dean, ‘The other’s others’, in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 2009): ‘José Lanter’s new book The “Tinkers” in Irish Literature opens with an example From Honor Tracy’s The Quiet End of Evening (1972) that “reveals the gap that exists between the ‘wild poetic tinker’ as a construct in Irish literature, and the Traveller as a real person” [...] The particular importance of the subaltern people for a subaltern Irish people is sometimes exponentially complicated, as it is here, by creating layers of subalterity in child or women tinker characters.’ (Q.p.; accessed online, 14.05.2010.)

See also ...
  • ‘Honor Tracy’, in The Irish Times [“Portrait Gallery” (Aug 7, 1954).
  • ‘£3,000 Award for Miss Tracy’, in The Irish Times (9 April 1954).

Kevin Smyth, ‘Priests and People in Ireland’, in The Furrow, 9, 3 (March 1958), pp.135-52 [dealing with the Canon O’Connell law-suit].

[ top ]

Belfast Central Public Library (1956 Cat.) lists The Beauty of the World (1967); Butterflies of the Province (1970); First Day of Friday (1963); In the Year of Grace (1975); The Man from Next Door (1973); Men at Work (1966); A Number of Things (1960), and others.

New York Times - Obituary by Peter B. Flint (16 June 1989)

Honor Tracy, a travel writer, columnist and novelist who satirized Irish and English society, died Tuesday in a nursing home in Oxford, England. She was 75 years old.

The best novels by Miss Tracy, who was born and educated in England and lived much of her life in rural Ireland, were hailed by reviewers for wittily dissecting the nonsense in which people allow themselves to be immersed. With astringent mockery, she reveled in lampooning false pretensions, snobbery and intellectual muddles.

Reviewers and readers repeatedly praised Miss Tracy’s incisive travel accounts, particularly those from Japan, Spain and the West Indies, and her newspaper columns in The Sunday Times of London, The Daily Telegraph and other papers.

Her specialty in more than a dozen novels was mocking English-Irish antagonisms. [...]

See full-text - online; accessed 31.10.2014 [the article includes quotations from her work, interviews and remarks about her].

Cites works: Kakemono: A Sketchbook of Postwar Japan (London: Methuen 1950); Spanish Leaves (1964), Winter in Castile (1973) and The Heart of England (1983). Her novels included The Deserters (1954), The Straight and Narrow Path (1956), A Number of Things (1959), A Season of Mists (1961), The Quiet End of Evening (1972) and The Ballad of Castle Reef (1979).

[ top ]

Kilkenny rules: Tracy is treated disparagingly in Hubert Butler’s account of the Canon of Doneraile’s suit against the Observer (see Escape from the Anthill). See also commentary on Hubert Butler’s review of her 1953 book in Edna Longley, ‘Defending Ireland’s Soul: Protestant Writers and Irish nationalism after Independence’, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.143.)

[ top ]

Lawsuit: ‘In April 1954, she won considerable damages from The Sunday Times for impugning her journalistic integrity in conceding a libel case passed on her true reportage on the number of priests in Ireland. The newspaper had published her account of a Canon O’Connell’s attempt to raise funds for a parish house in Doneraile, Co. Cork. O’Connell took exception and the Sunday Times printed an apology, paying £750 to charity. Tracy in turn sued the Sunday Times for damaging her professional integrity by acting without her permission. She eventually won £3,000 and costs in the London high court. Justice Glyn-Jones instructed an English jury that: “Her views were that there were too many priests, and that they lived on a scale which was quite disproportionately high, having regard to the comparative poverty of the majority of their parishioners; and that, in fact, too much money was being taken from the pockets of the poor to pay for so many priests to live on the standard on which they did live.” (8 April 1954)’ (See ClannTracy - online; accessed 31.10.2014.)

[ top ]

Brian Inglis: in Downstart (London: Chatto & Windus 1990), Inglis cites en passant the case of Honor Tracy who won ‘swingeing damages’ from the Sunday Times [sic] for impugning her journalistic honesty (p.223).

[ top ]