"she makes a bid for her sanity, one sentence at a time"
January 23, 2021 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Maeve Brennan was a writer on staff at the New Yorker for three decades from 1949 onwards, but remained almost entirely unknown in her native Ireland, until years after her death in 1993. Her belated return home started with an article by Fintan O'Toole in 1998, reviewing the short story collection The Springs of Affection, then recently published in the US. Eighteen years later, that collection was republished in Ireland, with an introduction by Anne Enright. A biography, a novella, and a collection of her Talk of the Town pieces have been published in the last couple of decades, and now she's slowly entering the Irish canon.

For more about Brennan, there are a number of quality podcast episodes available:

Martin Doyle interviews her biographer, Angela Bourke in conversation with Patrick Freyne.
[Apple Podcasts link]

Bourke takes part in a discussion with Brennan's Irish publisher Declan Meade and critic Sinéad Gleeson (which also includes two of Brennan's short stories read by Caitríona Ní Mhurchú).
[Apple Podcasts link]

For a more academic perspective, you can listen to the recordings of an afternoon seminar on Brennan at University College Dublin, featuring Dr. Ellen McWilliams, Sinéad Gleeson, Dr. Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, and Prof. Patricia Coughlan talking about her New Yorker colleague Elizabeth Cullinan.
[Apple Podcasts Link: Part 1 and part 2]

Or you can start where I was first introduced to her writing, by listening to her close relative Roddy Doyle talk about her on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, and read her story "Christmas Eve".
[Apple Podcasts link]

The first three linked articles are written, in order, by Jane Hu, Scéal Milis and Una Mullally,
posted by Kattullus (6 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for this. I will read her work.

I have to confess that I thought she wrote wholesome romances, and I was surprised she had come to such a sad end. I was thinking of Maeve Binchy.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:05 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I blinked when I saw this post, because I've recently discovered Brennan. I read The Visitor, and then the Bourke biography, and I'm currently reading The Rose Garden, with plans to read The Springs of Affection and The Long-Winded Lady next.

She was definitely an artist of the short story, and her work reminds me a lot of Alice Munro's, who is a big admirer of Brennan's work.

I'm iffy on the Bourke bio, though. I didn't get the sense that Bourke had been able to get, or convey, a good understanding of who Brennan was. Reading it made me feel like I was looking at Brennan from the wrong end of telescope. But then I suppose that's understandable, as Maeve Brennan was essentially a very private, enigmatic person.
posted by orange swan at 5:17 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Have only heard...seen her name and 'The Springs of Affection' have never read, born in Bloom country....
I suppose if she was friends with Diana Vreeland, as it takes brash brass to admit:

"I adore artifice. I always have"

This is just verve on 60s wheel:

"Elizabeth Bowen once described a room that was crowded although there were no people in it as looking as if somebody was holding a party for furniture. The scene on Forty-fourth Street today looked as if somebody was holding a protest meeting for cars."
frikken brevity.
as always, Mastercraft, Laurate post.
posted by clavdivs at 8:39 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Countess Elena: I was thinking of Maeve Binchy.

This frequently happens to me too.

Also, I discovered while listening to one of the podcasts about Brennan that I have the same problem with Franks O’Connor and McCourt.

Which I suspect would amuse Brennan.


orange swan: She was definitely an artist of the short story, and her work reminds me a lot of Alice Munro's, who is a big admirer of Brennan's work.

In the second part of the UCD seminar I linked to, there’s a wonderful talk by writer and folklorist Eilís Ní Dhuibhne tracing the influence of Brennan on Munro, focusing on a pair of stories by the two.
posted by Kattullus at 8:59 PM on January 23


I also have to confess never having read her work, and only becoming aware of her in the last decade or so, despite growing up in Dublin. Ireland does tend to take a while to add people to the “canon”. I think some of my classmates doing the Leaving Cert. (end of school exams) in the late 90s had inherited their book of prescribed poetry from their parents, for example, and there were only 4 Irish poets in it - Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke, and Thomas Kinsella.

I’ve also just realised that my grandmother mostly grew up a few streets away from Maeve Brennan, and was only about 5 years older than her, so that their early life would have had a lot in common. My grandparents may even have been briefly her neighbours, as they married in 1933, and at some point soon after went to live at the other end of her road, where they stayed until the 1990s. I now feel extra obliged to read her work, particularly for any insights into growing up in that part of Dublin, at that time.

(Also to continue the minor Maeve Binchy derail, her story about veal casserole incident while she was working for the Irish Times is well worth a listen.)
posted by scorbet at 8:12 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


scorbet: My grandparents may even have been briefly her neighbours, as they married in 1933, and at some point soon after went to live at the other end of her road, where they stayed until the 1990s.

My impression from the podcasts is that, at some point or another, half the Irish population lived on that street, and a quarter of those in the actual house she grew up in.

Which, as an Icelander, I find very relatable.
posted by Kattullus at 8:38 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


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