3 December 1897|
Limerick City, Ireland
|Died||13 August 1974
Kate O'Brien (3 December 1897 – 13 August 1974) was an Irish novelist and playwright.
Kathleen "Kate" Mary Louie O'Brien was born in Limerick City at the end of the nineteenth century. Following the death of her mother when she was five, she became a boarder at Laurel Hill convent. She graduated in English and French from the newly established University College, Dublin, and she then moved to London, where she worked as a teacher for a year. In 1922-23, she worked as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she began to write fiction. Upon her return to England, Kate O'Brien worked at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she took to full-time writing and was awarded the 1931 James Tait Black Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak. Kate O'Brien is best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.
Many of her books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that were new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel Mary Lavelle was banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices was banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she wrote plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues. Throughout her life, O'Brien felt a particular affinity with Spain -- while her experiences in the Basque Country inspired her novel Mary Lavelle, she also wrote a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, and she used the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady. O'Brien was committed to progressive politics; she wrote a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it has been argued that she was close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promoted gender equality and were mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. Kate O'Brien's determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity — several of her books include positive gay/lesbiancharacters —, make her a pioneer in queer literary representation. She was very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helped bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 40s in the country. Like many other Irish writers and artists, she lived much of her life in England. She died in Faversham, near Canterbury, in 1974.
The Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick holds an important collection of O'Brien's writings. In August 2005, Penguin reissued her final novel, As Music and Splendour (1958), which had been out of print for decades. The Kate O'Brien Weekend, named in her honour, takes place in Limerick every year, attracting academic and non-academic audiences (the event includes one or two lectures on O'Brien).
In the classic film Brief Encounter (1945), the co-protagonist Celia Johnson says she has reserved "the latest Kate O'Brien" at her local library, which prepares the audience for the moral dilemmas that the character is about to face. This offers a good example of how popular Kate O'Brien was in the 1940s, before falling into obscurity for decades, only to be 'rediscovered' as a key writer in the 1980s.
In the 1930s one of the notorious members of Ferguson's Gang adopted the pseudonym 'Kate O'Brien the Nark' in tribute to Kate.
- Without My Cloak (1931) - (Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize))
- The Ante-Room (1934)
- Mary Lavelle (1936) (adapted as the 1998 film Talk of Angels)
- Pray for the Wanderer (1938)
- The Land of Spices (1941)
- The Last of Summer (1943)
- That Lady (1946) (later a 1949 Broadway show and a 1955 movie)
- The Flower of May (1953)
- As Music and Splendour (1958)
- Distinguished Villa: A Play in Three Acts (1926)
- Mary Magdalen (film script, nda, one version at the archive of the National Library of Ireland)
- A Broken Song (film script, nda, Kate O'Brien Papers at University of Limerick)
- Gloria Gish (play, nda, archive of the National Library of Ireland)
- Farewell Spain (political travelogue, 1937)
- English Diaries and Journals (literary criticism, 1943)
- That Lady: A Romantic Drama (adaptation of her novel, 1949)
- Teresa of Avila (biography, 1951)
- Dublin and Cork (photographic book with text by O'Brien, 1961)
- Kate O'Brien: Self-Portrait (documentary for RTE television, broadcast 28 March 1962)
- My Ireland (travelogue, 1962)
- Presentation Parlour (biography, 1963)* Long Distance (column for The Irish Times newspaper, 1967-71)
- Constancy (some chapters of an unfinished novel, 1972)
Critical Studies of O'Brien
- John Jordan (editor): Special issue on Kate O'Brien, Stony Thursday Book, vol. 7, 1981
- Lorna Reynolds: Kate O'Brien: A Literary Portrait (1987)
- John Logan (editor): With Warmest Love: Lectures for Kate O'Brien 1984-93. (1994)
- Adele M. Dalsimer: Kate O'Brien: A Critical Study (1990)
- Éibhear Walshe (editor): Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O'Brien (1993)
- Éibhear Walshe: Kate O'Brien: A Writing Life (2006)
- Mary Coll (editor): Faithful Companions: Collected Essays Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Kate O'Brien Weekend. (2009)
- Aintzane L. Mentxaka: Kate O'Brien and the Fiction of Identity (2011)
Critical Essays on O'Brien
- Joan Ryan: "Class and Creed in the Novels of Kate O'Brien" in M. Harmon (editor): The Irish Writer and the City (1984)
- Lorna Reynolds: "The Image of Spain in the Novels of Kate O'Brien" in W. Zack and H Kosok (editors): National Images and Stereotypes (1988)
- Emma Donoghue. "'Out of Order': Kate O'Brien's Lesbian Fictions". in Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O'Brien. Eibhear Walshe ed. Cork: Cork University Press, 1993, pp. 36-59.
- Anne C. Fogarty: "The Ear of the Other: Dissident Voices in Kate O'Brien's As Music and Splendor and Mary Dorcey's A Noise From the Woodshed" in Éibhear Walshe (editor): Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing (1997)
- Gerardine Meaney. “Territory and Transgression – History, Nationality and Sexuality in Kate O’Brien’s Fiction.” Irish Journal of Feminist Studies. Col. 2, issue 2 (December 1997): 77-92.
- Eamon Maher: "Love and the Loss of Faith in the Novels of Kate O'Brien" in Crosscurrents and Confluences (2000)
- Angela Ryan:"'A Franco-Irish Solution?' Francois Mauriac, Kate O' Brien and the Catholic Intellectual Novel". in France and Ireland: Anatomy of a Relationship. Ed E. Maher and G. Neville. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2004: 97-109.
- Sharon Tighe-Mooney. “Sexuality and Religion in Kate O’Brien’s Novels”. Essays in Irish Literary Criticism: Gender, Sexuality, and Corporeality. Deirdre Quinn and Sharon Tighe-Mooney eds. Lewinston, Queenston, and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 2008, pp. 125-140.
- Aintzane L. Mentxaka. "La Belle – Kate O’Brien and Female Beauty". in Women, Social and Cultural Change in Twentieth Century Ireland: Dissenting Voices?. Sarah O’Connor and Christopher C. Shepard eds. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars’ Press, 2008, pp. 183- 198.
- Aintzane L. Mentxaka. "A 'Catholic Agnostic' – Kate O’Brien”. in Breaking the Mould: Literary Representations of Irish Catholicism. Eamon Maher and Eugene O’Brien eds. Peter Lang, 2011. 87-104* Aintzane L. Mentxaka. "Politics and Feminism: The Basque Contexts of Kate O’Brien’s Mary Lavelle". in Irish University Review, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2009): 65-75.
- Emma Donoghue. "Embraces of Love". in Faithful Companions: Collected Essays Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of The Kate O'Brien Wekend. Mary Coll ed. Limerick: Mellick Press, 2009, pp. 16-31.
- Aintzane L. Mentxaka: “Film Into Novel: Kate O’Brien’s Modernist use of Film Techniques”. in Viewpoints: Theoretical Perspectives on Irish Visual Texts. Clare Bracken and Emma Radley eds. Cork: Cork University Press, 2013, pp. 124-36.
- That Lady (1955) starring Olivia de Havilland, Gilbert Roland, and Paul Scofield
- Last of Summer (TV, 1977)
- Talk of Angels (1998) starring Polly Walker, Vincent Perez, Franco Nero, Frances McDormand, Ruth McCabe and Penélope Cruz
- Irish literature
- Censorship in the Republic of Ireland
- Feminist history in the United Kingdom
- List of people on stamps of Ireland
- Irish Writers on Writing featuring Kate O'Brien. Edited by Eavan Boland (Trinity University Press, 2007).
- E. Walshe, Kate O'Brien: A Writing Life (Cork UP, 2006)
- A.L. Mentxaka, Kate O'Brien and the Fiction of Identity (McFarland, 2011)
- E. Walshe. Kate O'Brien: A Writing Life (Cork UP, 2006)
- Legge, Charles (25 August 2008). Answers To Correspondents (London). The Daily Mail.
- A.L. Mentxaka, Kate O'Brien and the Fiction of Identity (McFarland, 2011)
- E. Donoghue. "'Out of Order': Kate O'Brien's Lesbian Fictions". in Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O'Brien. Eibhear Walshe ed. Cork: Cork University Press, 1993, pp. 36-59.
- Fischerova, Jana. “The Writer and the Censor: Czechoslovakia and Ireland; the case of Kate O’Brien and Frank O’Connor.” Unpublished paper. CAIS conference, Maynooth, 24 June 2005.
- Hutton-North, Anna (2013). Ferguson's Gang - The Maidens behind the Masks. Lulu Inc. ISBN 978-1-291-48453-3.
- Kate O'Brien Weekend
- Portraits of Kate O'Brien in the National Portrait Gallery (London).
- Kate O'Brien file at Limerick City Library, Ireland
- Kate O'Brien online archive