Pamela Hinkson, novelist, is born on November 19, 1900, in Ealing, London, England, the only daughter among five children of Katharine Tynan Hinkson, novelist and poet, and Henry Albert Hinkson, a novelist, barrister, and classical scholar.
Married in 1893, Hinkson’s parents initially settle in England, where he studies law and is called to the Inner Temple in 1902. After suffering the loss of their first two sons in infancy, they have two more sons in addition to their daughter, Pamela. During this time her mother earns the main family income, and it is likely that she determines their return to Ireland in 1911. The Hinksons initially settle in Dalkey, County Dublin, before moving to a house called Clarebeg in Shankill. When Henry Hinkson is appointed resident magistrate for south Mayo (Castlebar) in October 1914, the family moves to Claremorris, County Mayo.
Hinkson is educated privately in England and on the Continent, and in Ireland attends a local convent day-school. She is exposed to her mother’s literary milieu which includes prominent writers of the Irish revival, including George William Russell, James Stephens, and Padraic Colum. Her mother’s memoir, The Years of the Shadow (1919), recalls Pamela’s developing talent for writing poetry and her predilection for war themes, as evidenced by The Blind Soldier, one of her first published poems. By the time she turns her hand to short stories, her earnings from writing enable her to buy the latest fashions.
Two key events that consumed Hinkson’s life and later spark her creativity are World War I and the Easter Rising. H. G. Wells describes in the foreword to his war novel Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916) a conversation he had with her when she was 12, recalling how she had boldly set him straight on the “Irish question.” Her parents send her away to boarding school in County Wicklow in the hope that she will be distracted from her gloomy preoccupations, which are accentuated by the absence of her brothers, serving in the British Army. After the war she is deeply concerned by the redundancy experienced by demobilised and often maimed soldiers and contributes to the welfare work of the Irish servicemen’s Shamrock Club in London. These issues inform two early novels, The Victors (1925) and Harvest (1926), both written in the guise of an ex-serviceman under the pseudonym “Peter Deane.” By masking her identity, she avoids the possibility of her works being discredited because of her gender and lack of first-hand experience of war. Subsequently she writes under her own name for thirty years.
In contrast to her close relationship with her mother, Hinkson deeply dislikes her father. With the exception of her beloved brother Giles A. Hinckson, a correspondent for The Times in Buenos Aires and Santiago, she never meets a man who matches her high ideals. Though briefly engaged to be married, she is ultimately disillusioned by all men, dismissing them as she had her father. After his death early in 1919, she and her mother are left in financial difficulties, and have to resort to friends and boarding houses for accommodation. Without the financial means to embark on a university degree, she remains at her mother’s side. Though she continues to write, she leads a somewhat stifled life. From 1922 onwards they spend several years on the Continent.
Hinkson’s first novel, The End of All Dreams (1923), addresses the decline of the “big house” amid the revolutionary upheavals of recent Irish history, a theme to which she returns in later works, such as The Deeply Rooted (1935) and her last book, The Lonely Bride (1951). During the 1920s she writes much girls’ school fiction, while her novel Wind from the West (1930) is informed by a period spent in France, where she works as a governess. Her transcription of the memoirs of Lady Fingall (Elizabeth Burke-Plunkett), published under the title Seventy Years Young (1937), illustrates the decline of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. Informed by war and the Irish troubles, her novels characteristically are solemn, and reflect her ambivalent relationship with Ireland. Inspired by the Irish landscape, but never an ardent supporter of Irish independence, she maintains an abiding attachment to England.
The death of Hinkson’s mother in 1931 is a devastating blow that triggers her most forceful and first truly successful novel, The Ladies’ Road (1932). Documenting the lives of the Irish and English ascendancies before, during, and after World War I, this novel, without being explicitly autobiographical, contains many motifs that resonate with her own life story. When published in the United States in 1946 it proves a massive success, selling 100,000 copies in the Penguin Books edition, a rare feat for a World War I novel appearing immediately after World War II. Other notable works are The Light on Ireland (1935) and her sketches of Irish life, Irish Gold (1939), written while she lodges with friends near Lough Derg, County Tipperary.
Hinkson’s visit to India in the late 1930s as a guest of the viceroy, which she recounts in Indian Harvest (1941), results in her appointment to the Ministry of Information in London (1939–45). She lectures on India in the United States during World War II, and also lectures to British troops and local audiences in Germany (1946–47), broadcasts on radio, and contributes to The Observer, The Spectator, New Statesman, The Manchester Guardian, and Time and Tide. Her novel Golden Rose (1944), written in London during The Blitz, romanticises the British colonial presence in India. Forthright in the expression of her numerous strongly held opinions, she argues ardently and controversially for women’s rights, animal welfare, and retention of Northern Ireland in the UK. Devout in her Catholicism, she is none the less critical of certain Catholic precepts.
Hinkson returns to Ireland in 1959 where she suffers poor health for twenty years until her death in Dublin on May 26, 1982.
(From: “Hinkson, Pamela” by Jessica March, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)