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Conversations with Edna O'Brien

Conversations with Edna O'Brien

Edited by Alice Hughes Kersnowski
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Conversations with Edna O'Brien
    Book Description:

    "Who's Afraid of Edna O'Brien?" asks an early interviewer in Conversations with Edna O'Brien. With over fifty years of published novels, biographies, plays, telecasts, short stories, and more, it is hard not to be intimidated by her. An acclaimed and controversial Irish writer, O'Brien (b. 1932) saw her early works, starting in 1960 with The Country Girls, banned and burned in Ireland, but often read in secret. Her contemporary work continues to spark debates on the rigors and challenges of Catholic conservatism and the struggle for women to make a place for themselves in the world without anxiety and guilt. The raw nerve of emotion at the heart of her lyrical prose provokes readers, challenges politicians, and proves difficult for critics to place her.

    In these interviews, O'Brien finds her own critical voice and moves interviewers away from a focus on her life as the "once infamous Edna" toward a focus on her works. Parallels between Edna O'Brien and her literary muse and mentor, James Joyce, are often cited in interviews such as Phillip Roth's description of The Country Girls as "rural Dubliners." While Joyce is the centerpiece of O'Brien's literary pantheon, allusions to writers such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett, and Woolf become a medium for her critical voice. Conversations with contemporary writers Phillip Roth and Glenn Patterson reveal Edna O'Brien's sense of herself as a contemporary writer. The final interview included here, with BBC personality William Crawley at Queen's University, Belfast, is a synthesis of her acceptance and fame as an Irish writer and an Irish woman and an affirmation of her literary authority.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-971-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    “Who’s Afraid of Edna O’Brien?” asks an early interviewer in Conversations with Edna O’Brien. When the question was posed in 1967, O’Brien had written six novels. With over fifty years of published novels, biographies, plays, telecasts, short stories, and more, it is hard not to be awed by her accomplishments. An acclaimed and controversial Irish writer, O’Brien saw her early works, beginning with The Country Girls in 1960, banned and burned in Ireland, but often read in secret. Before she was famous, she was infamous. Her contemporary work continues to spark debates on the rigors and challenges of Catholic conservatism...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. Who’s Afraid of Edna O’Brien
    (pp. 3-7)
    Mary Maher and Edna O’Brien

    “. . . and she looked perfectly lovely in the paper this morning, you know.” The voice at the other end of the phone belonged to a local resident and conveyed approval. Hair done, perhaps, and a fresh little pair of gloves: the girl who writes about guilt, sex, perversion, scandal, and disheveled lives arrives trimly groomed in Cork.

    She was certainly there. Everyone connected with the U.C.C. “teach-in” had seen her, or sat just behind her, or walked past her in the Aula Maxima, overheard her chatting, watched her eating. Through the entire tumultuous weekend, while excited students tossed...

  6. Edna O’Brien Talks to David Heycock about Her New Novel, A Pagan Place
    (pp. 8-12)
    David Heycock and Edna O’Brien

    Edna O’Brien: I wanted this time, in A Pagan Place, to get into the kingdom of childhood. I wanted to get the minute-to-minute essence of what it is when you’re very young, when you’re both meticulously aware of everything that’s going on around you and totally uncritical. I wrote it in the second person singular because I felt that in every person there are two selves: I suppose they would be called the ego and the alter ego. And then there’s almost a kind of negative state where things happen to you and you’re not really realizing that they’re happening...

  7. Our Edna—A Song of S.W.3.
    (pp. 13-17)
    Elgy Gillespie

    Two memories came into my head when I went to see Edna O’Brien. One was of reading The Country Girls when I was fifteen and liking Catherine because she was fat and went to dances in frilly blouses, like me. The other was of August Is a Wicked Month, which I thought was a souring thing to read, a disemboweling of all female woes too painful to be printed. You feel overpowered by its femininity: all-suffering, all-creating. And so I walked in the leafy square off the King’s Road murdering a fast ciggie until she must have wondered what I...

  8. Miss O’Brien Recalls Hostile Reception Experienced by Chekhov and O’Casey
    (pp. 18-20)
    Peadar Macgiolla Cearr

    A feeling that this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival had been successful for the organizers but not for the writer Miss Edna O’Brien prevailed yesterday morning in the Constitution Room of the Shelbourne Hotel filled for the final press conference of the festival. However, half an hour later, as Miss O’Brien excused herself to take her son to the airport one felt that she would survive the savaging in the reviews of her play at the Abbey.

    Miss O’Brien’s play, The Gathering, was the featured event at yesterday’s press conference together with a general review of the two weeks of the...

  9. Edna O’Brien, The Art of Fiction No. 82
    (pp. 21-39)
    Shusha Guppy and EDNA O’BRIEN

    Edna O’Brien resembles one of her own heroines: beautiful in a subtle, wistful way, with reddish-blond hair, green eyes, and a savage sense of humor. She lives alone in an airy, spacious apartment in Little Venice, London, near the Canal. From her balcony, wrought-iron steps lead down to a vast tree-filled park, where O’Brien often can be found strolling during breaks from her work. The following interview took place in her writing room—a large, comfortable study cluttered with books, notebooks, records, and periodicals. The day I was there, the room was warmed by a log fire burning in the...

  10. A Conversation with Edna O’Brien
    (pp. 40-48)
    Philip Roth and Edna O’Brien

    The Irish writer Edna O’Brien, who has lived in London now for many years, moved recently to a wide boulevard of imposing nineteenth-century facades, a street that in the 1870s, when it was built, was renowned, she tells me, for its mistresses and kept women. The real estate agents have taken to calling this corner of the Maida Vale district “the Belgravia of tomorrow”; at the moment it looks a little like a builder’s yard because of all the renovation going on.

    Miss O’Brien works in a quiet study that looks out to the green lawn of an immense private...

  11. Edna O’Brien Takes the High Road
    (pp. 49-52)
    Ken Adachi

    “Books are always difficult to write,” Edna O’Brien, the curator of wild Irish passions, says. “But this last novel was probably more arduous to complete than any other. My nerves were more fractured than normal. It was like carrying a load of bricks on my shoulders.”

    The High Road is O’Brien’s ninth novel but the first in eleven years. She wrote it in fits and starts, in between publishing four collections of short stories, carrying the manuscript from place to place, worrying that the flow of words had dried up, revising constantly.

    “I was like Penelope and her tapestry,” says...

  12. Dame Edna
    (pp. 53-57)
    Eileen Battersby

    Although most literary critics would nominate Hemingway as the writer who changed the shape of American prose, there are commentators who would just as easily select him as the writer who demonstrated how the life could become bigger than the work.

    After Hemingway, enter Norman Mailer, who is by now more famous for his life than for the work he has produced. The same could be said of the Irish writer Edna O’Brien, who is painfully aware of the way in which her life has often upstaged her fiction.

    Since the publication in 1961 of her first novel, The Country...

  13. The Books Interview: A Schooling for Scandal
    (pp. 58-61)
    Peter Guttridge

    There have already been mutterings in Irish literary circles that Edna O’Brien has had the temerity to write a biography of the Big Man, James Joyce. But even her bitterest critics must admit, however grudgingly, that in just 50,000 words she has caught him, man and writer. O’Brien has been immersed in Joyce for over forty years. She loves language and “the stringing of language,” and Joyce’s has intoxicated her since, aged nineteen and working in a chemist’s shop, she first picked up a copy of T. S. Eliot’s introduction to the writer outside Geo Webb’s bookshop on the quays...

  14. Deep Down in the Woods
    (pp. 62-65)
    Robert McCrum and Edna O’Brien

    Observer: What is In the Forest about?

    Edna O’Brien: Ostensibly it’s about a triple murder in a forest, but I believe that the novelist is the psychic and moral historian of his or her society. So it’s about that part of Ireland I happen to know very well. It’s about that part of Ireland, and the darkness that still prevails.

    Obs: Was there a specific moment of inspiration, like a news story?

    O’Brien: News stories are anathema to fiction. I was researching a previous book and I was brought to the forest, to the spot where this murder happened, where...

  15. Iphigenia
    (pp. 66-68)
    Francine Stock and Edna O’Brien

    We begin with Greek tragedies, specifically the fate of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. In the play by Euripides, the king is persuaded to sacrifice his daughter so that the goddess Artemis might look favorable upon his forces in the forthcoming assault on the city of Troy. The soldiers are waiting for wind to sail to Troy to reclaim Helen, wife of Menelaus. Iphigenia’s death will trigger a further cycle of murder and revenge in the house of Atreus. That’s the shadow that hangs over the future in the end of the play, most of Iphigenia is concerned...

  16. Conversation with Edna O’Brien
    (pp. 69-71)
    Glenn Patterson and Edna O’Brien

    Glenn Patterson: The way you talk about your writing and the relationship with language calls to mind the writer you have referred to as not just your hero, but your master: Joyce. In fact, you’ve just written a biography of Joyce for Penguin Lives.

    O’Brien: Yeah, a brief life. Even though it was brief, that wasn’t easy either. I remember once, I was in New York teaching a term at NYU, and I had many books on Joyce. There are a lot of books, as you know, on Joyce. Some are completely unfathomable. They’re like written in Finnegans Wake language....

  17. Edna O’Brien
    (pp. 72-76)
    Mark Lawson and Edna O’Brien

    Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Country Girls, the first part of Edna O’Brien’s trilogy about rural Ireland’s uncertain emergence into the modern world. This and other novels, including A Pagan Place, delighted literary critics but infuriated priests because of their sexual frankness. Catholic clergy of the time were discouraged from attending theaters so would not have known about O’Brien’s parallel career as a dramatist which continues this week with the premiere in Manchester of Haunted, in which a married couple and a young woman reflect on their lives, and perhaps beyond them.

    When we...

  18. The Troubles with Edna
    (pp. 77-80)
    Jane Hardy

    Her first book, The Country Girls, shocked many in Ireland and, as Jane Hardy finds out, Edna O’Brien, whose new play is on in Belfast this week, is still every bit as controversial.

    The voice on the phone has a west of Ireland accent, is low in a manner that suggests cigarettes or sensuality, and belongs to the most famous female Irish writer of the last fifty years. In other words, Edna O’Brien.

    Plato wrote that poets and storytellers should be banned from his Republic because of their tendency to disseminate dangerous information. In a way, Edna is proud to...

  19. Edna O’Brien
    (pp. 81-96)
    William Crawley and Edna O’Brien

    William Crawley: Welcome to my front room. I mean, this has now become such a homely space for me, I feel like it’s partly mine! Maybe Queen’s will mortgage it out to me someday. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to our conversation today and to involve you in the conversation as well, because Edna O’Brien is so many things in one life: a novelist, a short story writer, a playwright, a critic, a historian of language, a biographer, I think I can even throw the word journalist in if you won’t shy away from the word journalist...

  20. Key Resources
    (pp. 97-100)
  21. Index
    (pp. 101-104)