Dates: b. 1930
Literary Movement: Realism
Famous Works: Girl with Green Eyes, August Is a Wicked Month, The Country Girl
Profile: Edna O’Brien is a renowned Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet, and short story writer. She was born in 1930 at Tuamgraney, County Clare, Ireland. O’Brien has described her mother as a strong, controlling woman who emigrated temporarily to America. She worked for some time as a maid in Brooklyn, New York, then returned to Ireland to raise her family. That family was strict, and religious, and Edna O’Brien was the youngest child. She was educated from 1941 to 1946 by the Sisters of Mercy, later describing the experience as “suffocating.”
In 1950, O’Brien achieved her pharmacy license. While working, she read and became obsessed with writers such as Tolstoy, Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Four years later, she married the Irish writer Ernest Gebler, against her parents’ wishes, and moved to London. The couple had two sons, but the marriage was dissolved in 1964. While in London, O’Brien began to read James Joyce, providing herself with a direction if she were to begin writing herself. She began to work for Hutchinson, a local publisher, where she was commissioned to write a novel. This novel eventually became The Country Girls, which was published in 1960.
The Country Girls was the first part of a trilogy of novels; the second and third books were titled The Lonely Girl and Girls in Their Married Bliss. The books were banned and burned her Ireland due to their candid portrayals of sex. However, many Irish scholars and writers consider these books to mark a significant shift in the country’s literature. Andrew O’Hagan, a Scottish novelist, has said, “She changed the nature of Irish fiction; she brought the woman’s experience and sex and internal lives of those people onto the page, and she did it with style, and she made those concerns international.”
O’Brien has won several awards throughout her career, including the Kingsley Amis Award in 1962, the Yorkshire Post Book Award in 1970, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990. The late writer Philip Roth described her as the, “most gifted woman now writing in English.”