Constantine Fitzgibbon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Robert Louis Constantine Lee-Dillon Fitzgibbon (Massachusetts 8 June 1919 - Dublin 25 March 1983) was a historian, translator and novelist.[1]

Birth, family and marriage[edit]

Constantine FitzGibbon was born in the United States in 1919, the youngest of four children. He was half-brother of Louis FitzGibbon, author of a number of works about the Katyn massacre of Polish officers in 1940, by Soviet troops. His father, Commander Francis Lee-Dillon FitzGibbon, RN, was Irish, and his mother, Georgette Folsom, an American from Lenox, Massachusetts, USA.[2] He was related to, but not descended from, John 'Black Jack' FitzGibbon, the 1st Earl of Clare, who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland and effected the Act of Union between Ireland and England in 1800, but in the following century the family faded into obscurity and the title died out. FitzGibbon was proud of his Irish ancestry, while ambivalent about his famous kinsman.

He was brought up in the USA and France before moving to England with his mother, his having parents divorced when he was very young. His first brief marriage was to a Burmese woman, Margaret Aye-Moung, but during World War II he met Theodora FitzGibbon, to whom he was married until 1960. They lived at Sacombs Ash in Hertfordshire, north of London, from 1951 to 1959, but had no children. His good friend, the journalist Michael Wharton (Peter Simple) wrote of their turbulent marriage in his books The Missing Will and A Dubious Codicil. Theodora also wrote of their time together in her (partly fictional) memoirs With Love (1982), and Love Lies a Loss (1985). Their lives were Bohemian. One of his greatest friends was the poet Dylan Thomas whose biography he wrote (The Life of Dylan Thomas,1965), followed by an edition of Thomas's Selected Letters (1966). Henry Moore was another close friend, and a neighbour in Hertfordshire.

The marriage to Theodora ended in divorce, and he then married Marion (née Gutmann) in 1960, with whom he had a son, Francis, born in 1961. Their marriage ended in 1965, and he moved to Ireland and married Marjorie (née Steele) in 1967. They had a daughter, Oonagh, born in 1968, for whom he wrote Teddy in the Tree (1977). He also adopted Marjorie's son, Peter FitzGibbon, from a former marriage. After a short spell in west Cork, the family lived in Killiney in south County Dublin, and then in the city.


FitzGibbon was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire, a British public (i.e. private) school with military affiliations, which he detested.[1] He left aged 16 and travelled independently in Europe, where he studied at the University of Munich and University of Paris, becoming fluent in French and German and acquiring a sound knowledge of their literatures. As a young man he developed a cosmopolitan and internationalist view of the world, which he retained throughout his life. He won a scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford to read modern languages in 1937, but left in May 1940, after the fall of France, to join the army. He did not complete his degree before the war and chose not to return to Oxford afterwards. He was intellectually curious and described himself as an autodidact. One of his best novels, The Golden Age (1976), set in a post-apocalyptic future Oxford, is by turns wistful and sardonic about the University.


FitzGibbon served as an officer in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (the 'Ox & Bucks') regiment of the British Army, from 1940 to 1942. As a US citizen he transferred to the United States Army in 1942, when the USA entered the war, rising to the rank of Major by 1945. His work was in intelligence, and he served as a staff officer to General Omar H Bradley in the D-Day campaign and thereafter. He revered Bradley's generalship, and his wartime experiences were formative for the rest of his life.

On being discharged in 1946, FitzGibbon was offered, but refused, a job with the Office of Strategic Studies (OSS), the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Instead, he worked briefly as a schoolmaster at Saltus Grammar School in Bermuda from 1946–47,[3] before becoming a full-time independent writer. He lived in Italy for a time, where he tried and failed to write a biography of Norman Douglas, a distant kinsman. Between 1950 and 1965 he was resident in England.

FitzGibbon wrote over 30 books, including nine novels, and translated numerous works from German and French. One of his closest friends was the writer Manes Sperber, many of whose books he translated from French and whose views about the dangers of both left-wing and right-wing tyranny were highly influential on him.

Recurring subjects in his work include Nazi Germany and Irish history, both of which were subjects for fictional and non-fictional writing.

Politically, FitzGibbon identified himself as a strong anti-Communist, having been drawn to communism as a young man. His credo, however, was that no political group that resorted to locking its opponents up in camps was any good. He refused to travel to Spain while Franco was alive. During the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, he supported civil rights for Catholics but condemned the use of violence by all sides.

His 1960 novel When the Kissing Had to Stop caused controversy because of its explicit anti-CND theme; the book depicts the Soviet domination of Britain under a left-wing government which has removed its nuclear weapons. An ITV adaptation of When the Kissing Had to Stop caused even more controversy, and one writer called FitzGibbon a "fascist Hyena". This amused him greatly, and he responded by publishing a collection of essays called Random Thoughts of a Fascist Hyena (1963).

He wrote prolifically, in fiction, historical works, memoirs, poetry and biography. He made programmes for BBC radio, including documentaries about British fascism, the Blitz and the 1930s hunger marches. He was a regular contributor to newspapers in the UK and Ireland, and for many years wrote for Encounter (magazine). His one-stage venture, The Devil at Work (produced by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 1971) met with little success.[1]

FitzGibbon was a member of the Council of the Irish Academy of Letters and an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Guggenheim Fellow. He later became an Irish citizen and lived in County Dublin.[3]


  • The Arabian Bird (1949)
  • The Iron Hoop (1950)
  • Dear Emily (1952)
  • Miss Finnegan's Fault (1953)
  • Norman Douglas (1953)
  • The Holiday (1953)
  • The Little Tour (1954)
  • The Shirt of Nessus (1955)
  • In Love and War (1956)
  • The Blitz (1957)
  • Paradise Lost and More (1959)
  • Watcher in Florence (1959) The Vine Press
  • When the Kissing had to Stop (1960) new edition (posthumous), (1989)
  • Adultery Under Arms (1962)
  • Going to the River (1963)
  • Random Thoughts of a Fascist Hyena (1963)
  • The Life of Dylan Thomas (1965 ed.)
  • Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas (1966 ed.)
  • Through the Minefield (1967)
  • Denazification (1969)
  • High Heroic (a novel about the life of Michael Collins) (1969)
  • Out of the Lion's Paw (1969)
  • London's Burning (1970)
  • Red Hand: The Ulster Colony (1971)
  • The Devil at Work (1971) (play)
  • A Concise History of Germany (1972)
  • In the Bunker (1973)
  • The Life and Times of Eamon de Valera (1973)
  • The Golden Age (1976)
  • Secret Intelligence (1976)
  • Man in Aspic (1977)
  • Teddy in the Tree (1977)
  • Drink (1979)
  • The Rat Report (1980)
  • The Irish in Ireland (1982)
  • and translations from French, German and Italian. Translator of the Rudolf Höß "autobiography". Contributor to Encyclopædia Britannica, newspapers and periodicals in Britain, America and elsewhere

When the Kissing Had to Stop[edit]

The novel was adapted by Giles Cooper in two episodes as part of the ITV Play of the Week series, first broadcast on 16 & 19 October 1962. Directed by Bill Hitchcock, it starred Denholm Elliott, Peter Vaughan, and Douglas Wilmer. Only the first episode still exists.


  1. ^ a b c John Wakeman, World Authors 1950-1970 : a companion volume to Twentieth Century Authors. New York : H.W. Wilson Company, 1975. ISBN 0824204190. (pp. 477-9).
  2. ^ Elizabeth Devine, Annual Obituary 1983.St. James Press, 1984. ISBN 0-912289-07-4 (p.155-56).
  3. ^ a b Constantine Fitzgibbon, Red Hand: the Ulster Colony, Michael Joseph Ltd (1971) ISBN 0-7181-0881-7; flyleaf biography
  • Who's Who
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

External links[edit]