Liam O’Flaherty, Kate O’Brien, Elizabeth Bowen, Sean O’Faolain, and Frank O’Connor—theirs were among the most distinctive voices in Irish fiction in the twentieth century. Born within a few years of each other near the turn of the century, they represented the first literary generation to come of age in the shadow of Ireland’s twin monuments, Joyce’s Ulysses and the poetry of William Butler Yeats, and their work has too long remained in that shadow.
Raised in different parts of Ireland and in widely differing milieux, all five lived through the turmoil of the revolution and civil war that gave birth to the Irish Republic and on into the disappointments of the thirties and forties. As their talents matured, each developed a unique vision of Ireland, comic or homely, angry or despairing. Despite its diversity, their fiction shares a sense of disillusionment, loneliness, and radical detachment from both culture and self.
John Hildebidle offers the first serious critical assessment of these writers. He examines the common themes and concerns that run through their work, among them family, war, the Troubles, myth, death, and exile. As he demonstrates, all five authors saw in the Ireland that grew out of the events of 1916-1923 a nation that stifled the creative energies and bright hopes of its youth, and their fiction can be seen as responding in diverse ways to that reality. Hildebidle’s perceptive analysis of their works should do much to win these authors a place in the canon of modern fiction in English.
The extensive annotated bibliography includes writings by and about not only these five authors but also the Irish fiction writers who succeeded them.