Edna O'Brien
Edna O'Brien is an Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 novelist and short story writer whose works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men and to society as a whole.

Life and career

Edna O'Brien was born in Tuamgraney
Tuamgraney is a village in eastern County Clare in the west of Ireland. Situated on the River Graney which flows into Lough Derg, it is an ancient settlement, noted for St Cronin's church, said to be the oldest church in constant use in Ireland....

, County Clare
County Clare
-History:There was a Neolithic civilisation in the Clare area — the name of the peoples is unknown, but the Prehistoric peoples left evidence behind in the form of ancient dolmen; single-chamber megalithic tombs, usually consisting of three or more upright stones...

, Ireland, in 1930, a place she would later describe as "fervid" and "enclosed." According to O'Brien, her mother was a strong, controlling woman who had emigrated temporarily to America, and worked for some time as a maid in Brooklyn, New York, for a well-off Irish-American family before returning to Ireland to raise a family. O'Brien was the only child of 'a strict, religious family.' In the years 1941-46 she was educated by the Sisters of Mercy
Sisters of Mercy
The Religious Order of the Sisters of Mercy is an order of Catholic women founded by Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland, in 1831. , the order has about 10,000 members worldwide, organized into a number of independent congregations....

 - a circumstance which contributed 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.""Edna O'Brien: A writer's imaginative life commences in childhood", interview The Observer, 6 February 2011

In 1950, she was awarded a licence as pharmacist. She married, against her parents' wishes, in the summer of 1954, the Czech/Irish writer Ernest Gébler
Ernest Gébler
Ernest Gébler was an Irish born writer. Gébler was a member of Aosdána. He was married to writer Edna O'Brien, from whom he was later divorced....

 and the couple moved to London - "We lived in SW 20. Sub-urb-ia." They raised two sons, Carlos and Sasha, but the marriage was dissolved in 1964. Gébler died in 1998. In Ireland she read such writers as Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

, Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray was an English novelist of the 19th century. He was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society.-Biography:...

, and F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost...

. In London, O'Brien bought Introducing James Joyce by T.S. Eliot and has said that, when she learnt Joyce's
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical novel by James Joyce, first serialised in the magazine The Egoist from 1914 to 1915, and published first in book format in 1916 by B. W. Huebsch, New York. The first English edition was published by the Egoist Press in February 1917...

was autobiographical, it made her realise, 'where she might turn, should she want to write herself: "Unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories."' In London she started work as a reader for Hutchinson
Hutchinson (publisher)
Hutchinson & Co. was an English book publisher, founded in 1887. The company merged with Century Publishing in 1985 to form Century Hutchinson, and was folded into the British Random House Group in 1989, where it remains as an imprint in the Cornerstone Publishing division...

 where, on the basis of her reports, she was commissioned, for £25, to write a novel.

She published her first book, The Country Girls
The Country Girls
The Country Girls was the first novel written by Irish author Edna O'Brien. It was released in 1960, and later made into a movie.-Plot synopsis:Kate and Baba are two young Irish country girl who have spent their childhood together...

, in 1960. This was the first part of a trilogy of novels (later collected as The Country Girls Trilogy) which also included The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books were banned and, in some cases burnt, in Ireland, because of their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. In the 1960s, she was a patient of R D Laing: "I thought he might be able to help me. He couldn't do that - he was too mad himself - but he opened doors," she said later.

Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) was about her childhood in a repressive Irish town. Indeed, her parents were vehemently against all things related to literature; her mother strongly disapproved of Edna's career as an author, which greatly troubled Edna. In 1981, she wrote a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century....

 and was staged originally in Canada and subsequently in the West End of London
West End of London
The West End of London is an area of central London, containing many of the city's major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings, and entertainment . Use of the term began in the early 19th century to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross...

 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith
Dame Margaret Natalie Smith, DBE , better known as Maggie Smith, is an English film, stage, and television actress who made her stage debut in 1952 and is still performing after 59 years...

 and directed by Robin Phillips
Robin Phillips
Robin Phillips is an English actor and director.Phillips was born in Haslemere, Surrey, the son of EllenAnne and James William Phillips. He trained at the Bristol Old Vic and worked as an actor and director for many years in the United Kingdom, finishing as Artistic Director at the Greenwich...

. It was subsequently staged at The Public Theater in New York in the spring of 1985. Other notable biographical works included 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, (part of her research involved visiting Dominic McGlinchey
Dominic McGlinchey
Dominic McGlinchey from Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland was an Irish republican paramilitary with the Irish National Liberation Army .-Background:...

, whom she called 'a grave and reflective man'), marked a new phase in her writing career, "when she turned away from women, and from love, and began writing state-of-the-nation novels." Down by the River (1996) concerned an under-age rape victim who sought an abortion in England, the "Miss X case", and In the Forest (2002) the case of Brendan O'Donnell, a disturbed young man who abducted and murdered a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest.

She has received numerous awards for her works, including a Kingsley Amis
Kingsley Amis
Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than 20 novels, six volumes of poetry, a memoir, various short stories, radio and television scripts, along with works of social and literary criticism...

 Award in 1962
1962 in literature
The year 1962 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*January 7 - In an article in the New York Times Book Review, Gore Vidal calls Evelyn Waugh "our time's first satirist."...

 (for The Country Girls), the Yorkhire Post Book Award in 1970 (for A Pagan Place), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990 for Lantern Slides. In 2006, Edna O' Brien was appointed adjunct professor of English Literature in University College, Dublin. In 2009, Edna O’Brien was honoured with a special lifetime achievement award - the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award - at a special ceremony for the year’s Irish Book Awards in Dublin. According to the novelist Andrew O'Hagan
Andrew O'Hagan
Andrew O'Hagan, FRSL is a Scottish novelist and non-fiction author. He is also an Editor at Large of Esquire and is currently a creative writing fellow at King's College London. He was selected by for inclusion in their 2003 list of the top 20 young British novelists. His novels appear...

, her place in Irish letters is assured. " She changed the nature of Irish fiction; she brought the woman's experience and sex and internal lives of those people on to the page, and she did it with style, and she made those concerns international." And in the words of the novelist Colum McCann
Colum McCann
Colum McCann is an Irish writer of literary fiction. He is a Professor of Contemporary Literature at European Graduate School and Professor of Fiction at CUNY Hunter College's Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing with fellow novelists Peter Carey, twice winner of the Man Booker Prize,...

 she has been "the advance scout for the Irish imagination" for over fifty years.

She is one of two surviving panel members of the first edition of the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 programme Question Time
Question Time (TV series)
Question Time is a topical debate BBC television programme in the United Kingdom, based on Any Questions?. The show typically features politicians from at least the three major political parties as well as other public figures who answer questions put to them by the audience...

, the other being Teddy Taylor
Teddy Taylor
Sir Edward MacMillan Taylor, usually known as Teddy Taylor , is a British Conservative Party politician who was a Member of Parliament from 1964 to 1979 for Glasgow Cathcart and from 1980 to 2005 for Rochford and Southend East.He was a leading member and sometime Vice-President of the Conservative...


She won the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award
Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award
The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award is a literary award for short story collections. At 35,000 euro for the best book of short stories it claims to be the world's largest prize for a short story collection. Each year, roughly sixty books are longlisted, with either four or six books...

 with her collection Saints and Sinners, with judge Thomas McCarthy
Thomas McCarthy
Thomas McCarthy may refer to:*Thomas McCarthy , Irish poet*Thomas McCarthy , Quebec businessman and political figure*Thomas McCarthy , American actor, director and screenwriter...

 referring to her as "the Solzhenitsyn of Irish life".

Selected bibliography

  • The Country Girls Trilogy (1987), collected with new epilogue, ISBN 0-14-010984-6
    • The Country Girls
      The Country Girls
      The Country Girls was the first novel written by Irish author Edna O'Brien. It was released in 1960, and later made into a movie.-Plot synopsis:Kate and Baba are two young Irish country girl who have spent their childhood together...

      (1960), ISBN 0-14-001851-4
    • Girl with Green Eyes
      Girl with Green Eyes
      Girl with Green Eyes is a 1964 British drama film, which Edna O'Brien adapted from her novel The Lonely Girl. It was directed by Desmond Davis, and stars Peter Finch, Rita Tushingham, Lynn Redgrave and Julian Glover.- Plot :...

      (1962), first published as The Lonely Girl, ISBN 0-14-002108-6
    • Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964), ISBN 0-14-002649-5
  • August Is a Wicked Month (1965), ISBN 0-14-002720-3
  • Casualties of Peace (1966), ISBN 0-14-002875-7
  • The Love Object (1968), ISBN 0-14-003104-9
  • A Pagan Place (1970), ISBN 0-297-00027-6
  • Zee & Co. (1971), ISBN 0-297-00336-4
  • Night (1972), ISBN 0-297-99541-3
  • A Scandalous Woman and Other Stories (1974), ISBN 0-297-76735-6
  • Mother Ireland (1976), ISBN 0-297-77110-8
  • Johnny I Hardly Knew You (1977), ISBN 0-297-77284-8
  • Mrs Reinhardt and Other Stories (1978), ISBN 0-297-77476-X
  • Some Irish Loving (1979), an anthology which includes some translations, ISBN 0-297-77581-2
  • Returning (1982), short stories, ISBN 0-297-78052-2
  • A Fanatic Heart (1985), short stories, ISBN 0-297-78607-5
  • The High Road (1988), ISBN 0-297-79493-0
  • On the Bone (1989), poetry, ISBN 0-906887-38-0
  • Lantern Slides (1990), short stories ISBN 0-297-84019-3
  • Time and Tide (1992), ISBN 0-670-84552-3
  • House of Splendid Isolation (1994), ISBN 0-297-81460-5
  • Down by the River (1996), ISBN 0-297-81806-6
  • James Joyce (1999), biography, ISBN 0-297-84243-9
  • Wild Decembers
    Wild Decembers
    Wild Decembers is an Irish feature-length television drama series which broadcasted on RTÉ One on 29th December 2010. It stars the London-based Galway star of the popular RTÉ drama Single-Handed, Owen McDonnell, Matt Ryan and Lara Belmont...

    (1999), ISBN 0-297-64576-5
  • In the Forest (2002), ISBN 0-297-60732-4
  • The Light of Evening (2006), ISBN 0-618-71867-2
  • Haunted (2009), play
  • Byron in Love (2009), biography, ISBN 978-0393070118
  • Saints and Sinners (2011), short stories

External links

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