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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 Charlotte Brontë, Novelist & Poet

charlotte-brontëCharlotte Brontë, English novelist and poet, is born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England on April 21, 1816, the third daughter of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, an Irish Anglican clergyman, and his wife Maria. In 1820 her family moves a few miles to the village of Haworth, where her father has been appointed perpetual curate of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church.

In 1824 the four eldest Brontë daughters are enrolled as pupils at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. The following year Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest daughters, become ill, leave the school and ultimately die. Charlotte and sister Emily, understandably, are brought home. Charlotte ultimately uses the school as the basis for Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

In 1826 Patrick Brontë brings home a box of wooden soldiers for son Branwell. Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Ann, playing with the soldiers, conceive of and begin to write in great detail about an imaginary world which they call Angria.

In 1831 Charlotte becomes a pupil at the school at Roe Head in Mirfield, but she leaves school the following year to teach her sisters at home. She returns to Roe Head School in 1835 as a governess, leaving in 1838. The following year she accepts a position as governess in the Sidgewick family, but leaves after three months and returns to Haworth. In 1841 she becomes governess in the White family, but leaves, once again, after nine months.

Upon her return to Haworth the three sisters, led by Charlotte, decide to open their own school after the necessary preparations have been completed. In 1842 Charlotte and Emily go to Brussels to complete their studies. After a trip home to Haworth, Charlotte returns alone to Brussels, where she remains until 1844.

Upon her return home the sisters embark upon their project for founding a school, which proves to be an abject failure. Their advertisements do not elicit a single response from the public. The following year Charlotte discovers Emily’s poems and decides to publish a selection of the poems of all three sisters. The poems, written under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, are published in 1846. She also completes The Professor, which is rejected for publication. The following year, however, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Ann’s Agnes Grey are all published, still under the Bell pseudonyms.

In 1848 Charlotte and Ann visit their publishers in London, and reveal the true identities of the “Bells.” In the same year Branwell Brontë, by now an alcoholic and a drug addict, dies, and Emily dies shortly thereafter. Ann dies the following year.

In 1849 Charlotte, visiting London, begins to move in literary circles, making the acquaintance, for example, of William Makepeace Thackeray. In 1850 she edits her sister’s various works, and meets Elizabeth Gaskell. In 1851 she visits The Great Exhibition in London, and attends a series of lectures given by Thackeray.

The Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, curate of Haworth since 1845, proposes marriage to Charlotte in 1852. Her father objects violently, and Charlotte, who, though she may have pitied him, is not in love with him and refuses the proposal. Nicholls leaves Haworth in the following year, the same in which Charlotte’s Villette is published. By 1854, however, her father’s opposition to the proposed marriage has weakened, and Charlotte and Nicholls become engaged. Nicholls returns as curate at Haworth and they are married, though it seems clear that Charlotte, though she admires him, still does not love him.

Charlotte becomes pregnant soon after her wedding, but her health declines rapidly. She dies at the age of 38, with her unborn child, on March 31, 1855, three weeks before her 39th birthday, at Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as tuberculosis, but biographers including Claire Harman suggest that she died from dehydration and malnourishment due to vomiting caused by severe morning sickness.

The Professor is published postumously in 1857, having been written in 1845-1846. In that same year, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë is published.

(Pictured: An idealised posthumous portrait by Duyckinick, 1873, based on a drawing by George Richmond)


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Birth of Harry Furniss, Artist & Illustrator

harry-furnissHarry Furniss, artist and illustrator, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on March 26, 1854. His father is English and his mother Scottish, Furniss identifying himself as English. He is educated at Wesley College in Dublin.

Furniss’s first job as an illustrator is for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, and when it is purchased by the owner of The Illustrated London News he moves to that magazine. There he produces illustrations of social events such as the The Boat Race, Goodwood Racecourse and even the annual fancy dress ball at Brookwood Asylum, as well as acting as a special correspondent reporting on less pleasant aspects of life in contemporary England, such as the scandalous divorce trial of Lady Colin Campbell.

After some years Furniss moves to The Graphic, initially writing and illustrating a series of supplements titled “Life in Parliament,” and he comments that “from this time forward it would be difficult to name any illustrated paper with which I have not at sometime or other been connected.”

Furniss’s most famous humorous drawings are published in Punch, for which he starts working in 1880, and to which he contributes over 2,600 drawings. He leaves Punch in 1894 when its owners discover that he has sold one of his Punch drawings to Pears Soap for use in an advertising campaign.

He illustrates Lewis Carroll‘s novel Sylvie and Bruno in 1889 and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded in 1893. Carroll and Furniss sometimes produce both pictures and text simultaneously. Carroll exerts strong control over Furniss’s illustration, to such an extent that Furniss pretends to be out when Carroll calls at his home. After completing Sylvie and Bruno Concluded Furniss vows never to work for the author again. In 1890, he illustrates the Badminton Library‘s volume on Golf.

Upon leaving Punch, Furniss brings out his own humorous magazine, Lika Joko, but when this fails he moves to the United States where he works as a writer and actor in the fledgling film industry and where, in 1914, he pioneers the first animated cartoon film for Thomas Edison.

His two-volume autobiography, titled The Confessions of a Caricaturist is published in 1902, and a further volume of personal recollections and anecdotes, Harry Furniss At Home, is published in 1904.

Furniss writes and illustrates 29 books of his own, including Some Victorian Men and Some Victorian Women and illustrates 34 works by other authors, including the complete works of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. On some projects, like his illustrations for G. E. Farrow‘s Wallypug books, Furniss collaborates with his daughter, fellow artist Dorothy Furniss.

Harry Furniss dies on January 14, 1925 in London, England.