Maeve Brennan: Homesick at the New Yorker

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Witty, stylish, and beautiful, Maeve Brennan dazzled everyone who met her. Born in Dublin, she came to the U.S. with her father, Ireland's first Ambassador to America, and in her early thirties joined The New Yorker, where she was at the heart of the life of the magazine until she was nearly sixty. Under the pseudonym "The Long-Winded Lady," she wrote matchless urban postcards for the "Talk of the Town," and, under her own name, published fierce, intimate fiction.Today her forty-odd stories are anthology ...
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Overview

Witty, stylish, and beautiful, Maeve Brennan dazzled everyone who met her. Born in Dublin, she came to the U.S. with her father, Ireland's first Ambassador to America, and in her early thirties joined The New Yorker, where she was at the heart of the life of the magazine until she was nearly sixty. Under the pseudonym "The Long-Winded Lady," she wrote matchless urban postcards for the "Talk of the Town," and, under her own name, published fierce, intimate fiction.Today her forty-odd stories are anthology standards, prized by writers as different from one another as Alice Munro and Brennan's own nephew Roddy Doyle. But at the time of her death in 1993, she was obscure, indeed lost: She hadn't published a word since the 1970s, and she had slowly slipped into madness, ending as a bag lady in the streets of midtown Manhattan. It is Angela Bourke's achievement to trace this sad arc, and to bring her compelling personality to life. Thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and filled with a wealth of previously unpublished material, it will be welcomed by anyone interested in Ireland, The New Yorker, and a woman who remains one of the twentieth century's most distinctive prose stylists.

Author Biography: Angela Bourke is the author of The Burning of Bridget Cleary, winner of the Irish Times Nonfiction Prize. A native of Dublin, she once lived on Cherryfield Avenue, the street that Maeve Brennan made famous in her stories. She is Senior Lecturer in Modern Irish at University College, Dublin, and has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Boston College, and the University of Minnesota. She lives in Dublin.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Angela Bourke. Counterpoint, $25 (352p) ISBN 1-58243-229-5 Bourke (The Burning of Bridget Cleary) writes a sensitive biography of writer Brennan, who came to the U.S. from Ireland as a teenager (her father was the first Irish ambassador to the U.S.) and in 1949, in her early 30s, joined the New Yorker to write about women's fashion. Tiny, fiercely intelligent and impeccably groomed, Brennan was cherished by her colleagues. William Maxwell, a close friend, edited her stories mainly fictionalized accounts of her Irish childhood, which he greatly admired for the magazine. She also wrote a "Talk of the Town" column under the pseudonym "The Long-Winded Lady." Yet behind the archly sophisticated persona, Bourke writes, was a fragile, alienated woman who, following a failed marriage to fellow writer St. Clair McKelway, drifted into an eccentric middle age and serious mental breakdown before leaving the New Yorker. She died in an obscure nursing home in 1993. Bourke, who teaches at University College, Dublin, draws a portrait rich in New Yorker history and modern Irish feminist history alike, one likely to do much to foster a new readership for Brennan's work. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.) Forecast: Several volumes of Brennan's writings are in print in paperback editions, which would make a nice display with this fine biography. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Maeve Brennan, a.k.a. The Long-Winded Lady, was famous in her heyday as a short story writer, a contributor to The New Yorker, and the glamorous daughter of Ireland's first ambassador to the United States. Brennan's confidence and talent won her a place in what was then an old boy's club, and today her writing is often anthologized. But in between her successes and her posthumous acclaim, Brennan had a disastrous marriage, was devastated by mental illness, and found herself homeless in her adopted home (she ended up as a bag lady on New York's streets). Irish academic Bourke (The Burning of Bridget Clearly) treats the potentially sensationalist story arc of Brennan's life with respect, seeing it as a "window on one of the most passionate and problematic periods of Irish cultural history." Well written, well researched, and compelling as this book is, it sometimes remains difficult to understand Brennan's motivations and decisions. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries, particularly those collecting in the areas of Irish or Irish diaspora literature, women's studies, or biography.-Terren Ilana Wein, Univ. of Chicago Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Oddly incomplete biography of the New Yorker writer whose mysterious late-life madness sent her homeless into the streets she had written about for years with grace and precision. Bourke (Modern Irish/University College, Dublin; The Burning of Bridget Cleary, 2000, etc.) had never heard of Maeve Brennan (1917-93) until 1997, when a friend gave her a copy of The Springs of Affection, whose title story she now considers one of the great pieces of short fiction in the English language. Soon she was committed to learn all she could about a writer whose Irish roots proved to have many connections with Bourke's. The author begins with several chapters about Brennan's family (her father was an Irish political radical and writer of mysteries) and about the geography, history, and architecture of those regions of Ireland later showcased in the heavily autobiographical fiction Brennan published in the New Yorker between 1952 and 1972. She left Ireland at age 17, in 1934, when her father accepted a diplomatic position in Washington, D.C. Her first job in journalism was as a fashion writer for Harper's Bazaar; in 1949 she moved to the New Yorker, where she initially wrote unsigned book reviews. For years, in addition to her stories, she also contributed essays to the magazine's "Talk of the Town" section, most of them featuring a fictional "long-winded lady"; they were popular enough to be collected in book form in 1969. But her success at the magazine did not bring Brennan riches or much fame. She had one failed marriage and many financial and tax problems. She moved swiftly from quirky to eccentric to mad and eventually died in a nursing home, though her biographer's speculations about the reasonsfor this decline are less than satisfactory. Bad and bizarre things happened, but why? The book is notable, however, for Bourke's first-rate descriptions and analyses of Brennan's fiction. An impressive portrait-but with blank spots another biographer must one day fill in. (8 pp. b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582432298
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 10/4/2004
  • Pages: 333
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.15 (d)

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