William Trevor KBE, Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer, is born William Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork, on May 24, 1928. One of the elder statesmen of the Irish literary world, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of short stories in the English language.
Trevor is born to a middle-class, Anglo-Irish Protestant family. They move several times to other provincial towns, including Skibbereen, Tipperary, Youghal and Enniscorthy, as a result of his father’s work as a bank official. He is educated at St. Columba’s College, Dublin, and at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he receives a degree in history. He works as a sculptor under the name Trevor Cox after his graduation from Trinity College, supplementing his income by teaching. He marries Jane Ryan in 1952 and emigrates to Great Britain two years later, working as a copywriter for an advertising agency. It is during this time that he and his wife have their first son.
Trevor’s first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, is published in 1958 by Hutchinson of London, but has little critical success. He later disowns this work and, according to his obituary in The Irish Times, “refused to have it republished.” It was, in fact, republished in 1982 and in 1989.
In 1964, at the age of 36, Trevor wins the Hawthornden Prize for Literature for The Old Boys. The win encourages him to become a full-time writer. He and his family then move to Devon in South West England, where he resides until his death. In 2002, he makes honorary KBE for services to literature. Despite having spent most of his life in England, he considers himself to be “Irish in every vein.”
Trevor writes several collections of short stories that are well received. His short stories often follow a Chekhovian pattern. The characters in his work are typically marginalised members of society. The works of James Joyce influence his short-story writing, and “the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal” can be detected in his work, but the overall impression is not of gloominess since, particularly in his early work, his wry humour offers the reader a tragicomic version of the world. He adapts much of his work for stage, television and radio. In 1990, Fools of Fortune is made into a film directed by Pat O’Connor, along with a 1999 film adaptation of Felicia’s Journey, which is directed by Atom Egoyan.
Trevor’s stories are set in both England and Ireland. They range from black comedies to tales based on Irish history and politics. His early books are peopled by eccentrics who speak in a pedantically formal manner and engage in hilariously comic activities that are recounted by a detached narrative voice. Instead of one central figure, the novels feature several protagonists of equal importance, drawn together by an institutional setting, which acts as a convergence point for their individual stories. The later novels are thematically and technically more complex. The operation of grace in the world is explored, and several narrative voices are used to view the same events from different angles.
Trevor wins the Whitbread Prize three times and is nominated five times for the Booker Prize, the last for his novel Love and Summer (2009), which is also shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award in 2011. His name is also mentioned in relation to the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2014, he is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.
William Trevor dies peacefully in his sleep at the age of 88 on November 20, 2016 in Somerset, England.