Kate O’Brien, a Literary Portrait
21.6 x 13.8 cm
Although Kate O’Brien is coming to be classed among the most original novelists of this century, her reputation underwent the usual period of eclipse that follows the decease of most writers. Now, just twelve years after her death in 1974, her novels are coming back into favour on both sides of the Atlantic.
At first glance, a romantic realist whose field of operations was the rise of the middle-class from post-Famine Ireland to the second half of the present century, on closer inspection she will be seen to be a subtly feminist writer whose heroines are in search of both freedom and love, freedom as a pre-requisite of love – and education as the first necessity of either.
Highly responsive though she was to the lyrical beauty of the Irish landscape and appreciative of Irish wit and charm, she was, nevertheless, contemptuous of narrow nationalistic claims, and would set Ireland always among the nations of Europe. Long before Europe set up its present Economic Community, of which Ireland in due course became a member state, she saw her country as linked by old associations of religion, history and culture to a continental civilisation.
Readers of a generation new to Kate O’Brien see her as depicting an Ireland they scarcely knew existed, an educated, aspiring, sometimes wealthy middle-class Ireland. On one side of her, just before her beginnings as an artist, lies the wild Ireland of the dispossessed, and on the other the Ireland of what she called the ‘Top People’, whose sole criterion is success in making money, and whom she despised.
This is the first study of Kate O’Brien’s novels as a whole, in which her development as a writer is traced and the underlying themes of her work revealed.