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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.

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Birth of Irish Writer Frank O’Connor

Frank O’Connor, Irish writer of over 150 works and best known for his short stories and memoirs, is born Michael Francis O’Donovan in Cork, County Cork, on September 17, 1903. The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is named in his honour.

Raised in Cork, the only child of Minnie (née O’Connor) and Michael O’Donovan, O’Connor attends Saint Patrick’s School on Gardiner’s Hill and North Monastery CBS. His early life is marked by his father’s alcoholism, debt, and ill-treatment of his mother. His childhood is shaped in part by his mother, who supplies much of the family’s income by cleaning houses, because his father is unable to keep steady employment due to his drunkenness. He adores his mother and is bitterly resentful of his father. In his memoirs, he recalls his childhood as “those terrible years,” and admits that he has never been able to forgive his father for his abuse of himself and his mother. When his mother is seventy, O’Connor is horrified to learn from his own doctor that she has suffered for years from chronic appendicitis, which she has endured with great stoicism, as she has never had the time nor the money to see a doctor.

In 1918 O’Connor joins the First Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and serves in combat during the Irish War of Independence. He opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and joins the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War, working in a small propaganda unit in Cork City. He is one of twelve thousand Anti-Treaty combatants who are interned by the government of the new Irish Free State. Between 1922 and 1923 he is imprisoned in Cork City Gaol and in Gormanston, County Meath.

Following his release, O’Connor takes various positions including that of teacher of Irish, theatre director, and librarian. He begins to move in literary circles and is befriended by George William Russell (Æ), through whom he comes to know most of the well-known Irish writers of the day, including William Butler Yeats, Lennox Robinson, F. R. Higgins and Lady Gregory. In his memoirs, he pays tribute to both Yeats and Russell for the help and encouragement they gave him.

In 1935, O’Connor becomes a member of the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, founded by Yeats and other members of the Irish National Theatre Society. In 1937, he becomes managing director of the Abbey. Following Yeats’s death in 1939, O’Connor’s long-standing conflict with other board members comes to a head and he leaves the Abbey later that year. In 1950, he accepts invitations to teach in the United States, where many of his short stories have been published in The New Yorker and have won great acclaim. He spends much of the 1950s in the United States, although it is always his intention to return eventually to Ireland.

From the 1930s to the 1960s O’Connor is a prolific writer of short stories, poems, plays, and novellas. His work as an Irish teacher complements his plethora of translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman‘s Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). Many of O’Connor’s writings are based on his own life experiences – notably his well-known The Man of the House in which he reveals childhood details concerning his early life in County Cork. The Sullivan family in this short story, like his own boyhood family, is lacking a proper father figure.

O’Connor’s early years are recounted in An Only Child, a memoir published in 1961 which has the immediacy of a precocious diary. He continues his autobiography through his time with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in his book My Father’s Son, which is published posthumously in 1968. It contains valuable character sketches of many of the leading Irish literary figures of the 1930s, in particular Yeats and Æ.

Frank O’Connor has a stroke while teaching at Stanford University in 1961, and he later dies from a heart attack in Dublin on March 10, 1966. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery two days later.