New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families [NOOK Book]

Overview


In a brilliant, nuanced and wholly original collection of essays, the novelist and critic Colm T?ib?n explores the relationships of writers to their families and their work.

From Jane Austen?s aunts to Tennessee Williams?s mentally ill sister, the impact of intimate family dynamics can be seen in many of literature?s greatest works. T?ib?n, celebrated both for his award-winning fiction and his provocative book reviews and essays, and currently the Mellon Professor in the ...

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New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families

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Overview


In a brilliant, nuanced and wholly original collection of essays, the novelist and critic Colm Tóibín explores the relationships of writers to their families and their work.

From Jane Austen’s aunts to Tennessee Williams’s mentally ill sister, the impact of intimate family dynamics can be seen in many of literature’s greatest works. Tóibín, celebrated both for his award-winning fiction and his provocative book reviews and essays, and currently the Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia, traces and interprets those intriguing, eccentric, often twisted family ties in New Ways to Kill Your Mother. Through the relationship between W. B. Yeats and his father, Thomas Mann and his children, and J. M. Synge and his mother, Tóibín examines a world of relations, richly comic or savage in its implications. In Roddy Doyle’s writing on his parents, Tóibín perceives an Ireland reinvented. From the dreams and nightmares of John Cheever’s journals, Tóibín illuminates this darkly comic misanthrope and his relationship to his wife and his children. “Educating an intellectual woman,” Cheever remarked, “is like letting a rattlesnake into the house.” Acutely perceptive and imbued with rare tenderness and wit, New Ways to Kill Your Mother is a fascinating look at writers’ most influential bonds and a secret key to understanding and enjoying their work.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Some people pretend otherwise, but almost all of us all have families. Those non-elective associations form the core of Colm Tóibín's fascinating new essay collection about authors. His inquiries are diverse and surprising: We might have thought about Tennessee Williams' mentally ill sister before, but who among us has spent much time contemplating Jane Austen's relations with her aunts or J.M. Synge and his mother? Reading New Ways to Kill Your Mother not only illuminates the lives of writers we admire, but also raises subtle questions about the relatives we have, wish we had, or wish we didn't. Editor's recommendation.

The New York Times
[Toibin's] an intense and moody thinker about books and writers, and these short pieces have subterranean echoes…pared down and plain-spoken. Mr. Toibin does not own a high style. What he does own is vast understanding of fiction and its uses, and a mind that processes novels and ideas like a rumbling supercomputer…Mr. Toibin is such an adept and morally serious close reader that his criticism becomes nearly as galvanizing as his fiction.
—Dwight Garner
Publishers Weekly
Through a series of accessible essays, lectures, and reviews that rove from Jane Austen to Brian Moore—many of which appeared in either the London or New York Review of Books— Tóibín explores the ambivalent relationships that many writers of the past few centuries have had with their families. The topics Tóibín (All a Novelist Needs: Essays on Henry James) addresses include the troubled bond between W.B. Yeats and his father, the fate of Thomas Mann’s children, and John Cheever’s alcoholic parenting and sexual hijinks. The book is divided into two sections: “Ireland,” containing chapters about Irish poets, playwrights, and novelists, such as John Synge and Sebastian Barry; and “Elsewhere,” which roves from Jorge Luis Borges to Tennessee Williams. With essays that prove more informative than argumentative, along with useful minibiographies of important authors, Tóibín excels when discussing craft, such as in the opening essay, which compares structural devices in the novels of Jane Austen and Henry James that for some reason necessitate an absent mother. Though chock-full of biographic detail that will interest ardent readers, Tóibín unfortunately resists drawing conclusions from the various case studies. But overall, given their figurative patricidal, matricidal, fratricidal, and infanticidal tendencies, one ought to be thankful not to have a writer in the family. Agent: Peter Straus, Rogers, Coleridge, and White. (June)
Bookforum
A typical Tóibín essay describes the arc of a writer’s development and life, and uses the writer’s own words to draw graceful conclusions about his temperament and biography…Tóibín’s skill at glossing the lives of great writers is on display in his latest essay collection.
— Andrew Martin
Wall Street Journal
Tóibín is a masterly novelist who is also a fine critic…powerful.
— Mira Sethi
The New York Times
[Toibin possesses a] vast understanding of fiction and its uses, and a mind that processes novels and ideas like a rumbling supercomputer...Mr. Toibin is such an adept and morally serious close reader that his criticism becomes nearly as galvanizing as his fiction. There really aren’t, it turns out, any new ways to kill your mother, at least not artistically. But all the old ways, in Mr. Toibin’s telling, still work rather beautifully.
— Dwight Garner
Entertainment Weekly
[A] lively exploration of writers and their families…Fascinating.
— Melissa Maerz
Minneapolis Star Tribune
[Tóibín writes] shrewdly and passionately as both critic and novelist.
— Fred Setterberg
Bookforum - Andrew Martin
“A typical Tóibín essay describes the arc of a writer’s development and life, and uses the writer’s own words to draw graceful conclusions about his temperament and biography…Tóibín’s skill at glossing the lives of great writers is on display in his latest essay collection.”
Wall Street Journal - Mira Sethi
“Tóibín is a masterly novelist who is also a fine critic…powerful.”
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
“[Toibin possesses a] vast understanding of fiction and its uses, and a mind that processes novels and ideas like a rumbling supercomputer...Mr. Toibin is such an adept and morally serious close reader that his criticism becomes nearly as galvanizing as his fiction. There really aren’t, it turns out, any new ways to kill your mother, at least not artistically. But all the old ways, in Mr. Toibin’s telling, still work rather beautifully.”
Entertainment Weekly - Melissa Maerz
“[A] lively exploration of writers and their families…Fascinating.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune - Fred Setterberg
“[Tóibín writes] shrewdly and passionately as both critic and novelist.”
Barnes & Noble Review - Donna Rifkind
“Tóibín finds an engaging multiplicity of detail. And his critical voice is as seductive as the widely varying voices in his novels.”
From the Publisher
“[Toibin possesses a] vast understanding of fiction and its uses, and a mind that processes novels and ideas like a rumbling supercomputer...Mr. Toibin is such an adept and morally serious close reader that his criticism becomes nearly as galvanizing as his fiction. There really aren’t, it turns out, any new ways to kill your mother, at least not artistically. But all the old ways, in Mr. Toibin’s telling, still work rather beautifully.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times

“Tóibín is an excellent guide through the dark terrain of unconscious desires.”—The Evening Standard

“A consistently revealing look at how writers’ relationships with their families have influenced their work…Delicacy is one of Tóibín’s great strengths as a novelist, and it’s here in abundance, too. Parallels are adroitly, teasingly drawn out, then knotted together with the lightest of touches. The result is a book that illuminates, startles and delights.”—The Telegraph

“Like all fine critics, Tóibín inspires readers to go back to the work, and he brings a human aspect to the works of seemingly deracinated authors like Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges…It’s a pleasure to watch Tóibín rove through 19th and 20th-century literary history.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Tóibín excels when discussing craft…[New Ways to Kill Your Mother is] chock-full of biographic detail that will interest ardent readers.”—Publishers Weekly

Unfailingly warm and compassionate.”—The Irish Times

“[A] lively exploration of writers and their families…Fascinating.”—Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly

Library Journal
Tóibín (The Master) is perhaps better known for his novels and short stories, but he also writes nonfiction and contributes to literary reviews. The pieces in this collection, which includes three essays originally given as lectures, were all previously published. They examine familial influence on writers in relation to their general output more than in relation to particular works, though Tóibín often intersperses quotations from the writers' works and letters. The pieces are grouped here by nationality of the writers examined, starting with those who, like him, are Irish—the title comes from his essay about J.M. Synge. These are scholarly and learned essays, to be read slowly and digested; the pieces that began as lectures are dense and not that easy to follow. All the pieces presuppose knowledge of the writers and their works. That being said, there is a lot of intriguing family history surrounding the authors discussed of which this reviewer was unaware. A couple of the essays, however, e.g., those on Yeats and Beckett, do not seem fully to support the author's theses. VERDICT For the serious student of literature, this collection is worth the effort. [See Prepub Alert, 1/21/12.]—Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences Lib., Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
Irish novelist and essayist Tóibín (Brooklyn, 2009, etc.) investigates how writers' classic works were inspired by their families--and sometimes in spite of them. One line of critical thinking holds that a writer's personal history is out of bounds when judging a poem, play or novel. Tóibín, who mined the life of Henry James for his 2004 novel, The Master, doesn't adhere to that notion, and these essays are largely concerned with how writers' personal lives influenced their work. In the opening essay, the author explores why James and Jane Austen tended to avoid writing about mothers, who "get in the way in fiction," and how that instinct was partly a product of their occasionally tense family relationships. Half the pieces that follow focus on Irish writers, including William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Roddy Doyle; the other half consider the non-Irish likes of Thomas Mann, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin and others. Most of these pieces, written for the London Review of Books or the New York Review of Books, are piecework prompted by a new biography or collection of letters, but common themes emerge. Dominating mothers provoked Irish playwright J.M. Synge and Beckett (who declared in a letter, "I am what her savage loving has made me"), and closeted homosexuality frustrated Williams and Cheever's lives and writing alike. Tragedies abound: Yeats brutally dismissed his father's literary ambitions, Thomas Mann's children were a riot of addiction and dysfunction, and Hart Crane's pioneering career as a poet ended in suicide. But like all fine critics, Tóibín inspires readers to go back to the work, and he brings a human aspect to the works of seemingly deracinated authors like Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges. Though there's no truly coherent thesis here, it's a pleasure to watch Tóibín rove through 19th- and 20th-century literary history.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Colm Tóibín the novelist is the master of the slow burn. His best fiction—The Blackwater Lightship, The Heather Blazing, Brooklyn—sneaks up on you, with a gradual accumulation of events, until a specific moment when you realize you're hopelessly involved. It's this cumulative effect that makes his novels seem most artfully lifelike.

Colm Tóibín the essayist is a more urgent but no less crafty storyteller. The mini-biographical pieces in this collection, which were originally composed as reviews, introductions, or lectures, explore how writers' families influence their work and how the writing life affects families. Within this common thematic foundation, Tóibín finds an engaging multiplicity of detail. And his critical voice is as seductive as the widely varying voices in his novels.

Tóibín, who was born in the southern Irish town of Enniscorthy in 1955, divides these essays into two sections: "Ireland" and "Elsewhere." (A discursive piece called "Jane Austen, Henry James and the Death of the Mother" serves as an introduction.) The seven essays in "Ireland" entertainingly dismiss any cobwebby clichés about the Emerald Isle and its silver-tongued bards. To this end, Tóibín quotes the always-quotable Samuel Beckett, who confesses a "chronic inability to understand...a phrase like 'the Irish people,' or to imagine that it ever gave a fart in its corduroys for any form of art whatsoever, whether before the Union or after?"

The piece on Beckett—which Tóibín wrote for the London Review of Books as a critique of the playwright's first volume of letters—goes on to show how Beckett sought a way to address Ireland in his work "without any reference to its mythology, its history, the amusing oddness of its people or the so-called lilt of its language." Tóibín maintains that Beckett found more inspiration in the paintings of Jack Yeats (the brother of poet William Butler Yeats) than in the work of any Irish writer, much the same way as the trailblazing young Hemingway strove toward a new literary style by studying the paintings of Cézanne.

Lacking the sensible nature of his father or brother, the dreamy, impractical Beckett was, says Tóibín, "the sort of young man who was made to break his poor mother's heart." While she fretted over his waywardness, he bunked with a bohemian aunt and uncle, distancing himself from his mother's "savage loving" as he would keep his distance from Ireland. Despite Beckett's self-imposed exile, both mother and motherland helped to form the writer he became, and found an oblique expression in his strange and austerely beautiful theatrical inventions.

Even more moving here is Tóibín's essay on J. M. Synge, the greatest playwright of his generation, who lived with and was supported by Dublin relatives who understood nothing about his genius and never once went during his lifetime to see any of his plays. At his funeral—he died just before his thirty-eighth birthday, of Hodgkin's disease, in 1909 - - the mourners were divided, as though by a yawning chasm, between family members and theater folk. (Synge was a director of the Abbey Theatre, along with Yeats and Lady Gregory, and wrote five plays for them.) Although his evangelical family sighed over Synge's faithlessness and despaired of his politics and his unprofitable career, it embraced him nonetheless, "and he was included in all family events and outings, the silent, stubborn dissenter at the table." Synge's nephew wrote that the playwright's mother and four siblings remained "serenely unaware of the importance of his work"; as they saw it, Tóibín writes, riffing on a letter William James once wrote about his brother Henry, "Synge belonged fundamentally to them; he was, first and foremost, a native of the Synge family."

The other first-rate pieces in "Ireland" are a tribute to Yeats's young English wife, George Hyde-Lee, and a partly autobiographical, emotionally complex rumination about nationalism and the Irish language in the works of two contemporary novelists, first published in The New York Review of Books, called "Roddy Doyle and Hugo Hamilton: The Dialect of the Tribe."

Leaving Ireland to travel "Elsewhere," Tóibín grows expansive on the theme of exile, whether in the case of Jorge Luis Borges, "an exile in his own country," or John Cheever, an exile in his own suburban New York house. For Thomas Mann, exile from Germany was only one calamity in a hair-raising family story that included multiple suicides, drug addiction, cruel parental rejection, and unrequited homosexual love affairs. The story of the Manns is a tragedy of grandly operatic dimensions, best told, as Tóibín tells it, by getting out of the way as the story unfolds. He quotes Mann's hopelessly wishful comment from Death in Venice: "It is as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not its origins."

Several pieces in this section make us wish for more. The essay on Tennessee Williams tells us that the playwright's mentally ill sister Rose was an inspiration for many of his characters, but ends before Tóibín manages to show us how. And an examination of Hart Crane's brief life is itself too brief. Tóibín clearly loves Crane's poetry, "in which he worked a gnarled, edgy sound against the singing line," and we yearn for more analysis of the tension between that carefully wrought music and the chaotic life Crane lived when he was not writing.

Throughout the collection, Tóibín's voice retains authority while also displaying some of the protean qualities of his fiction. He argues with himself often, not afraid to show us his critical restlessness, his change of mind. The sense of the writer as a perpetual wanderer is what makes these essays so lively: the house of literature has many mansions, and Tóibín is keen to tour them all.

Donna Rifkind's reviews appear frequently in The Washington Post Book World and the Los Angeles Times. She has also been a contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, The American Scholar, and other publications. In 2006, she was a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Donna Rifkind

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451668575
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 502,562
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Colm Tóibín

Colm TÓibÍn was born in Ireland in 1955. He is the author of six novels including The Blackwater Lightship, The Master, winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Brooklyn, winner of a Costa Book Award. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, TÓibÍn lives in Dublin and New York.

Biography

Colm Tóibín is a literary star of the "new" Ireland, the one -- as noted by National Public Radio's Jacki Lyman -- is short on whiskey and St. Patrick and long on cell phones, personal computers, and a stage set for economic opportunity. This is an Ireland where the people stop to cheer an author, yes, an author, whose latest novel has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, even though its key subject matter is the protagonist's struggle with his homosexuality.

"When I went down to get my groceries, people stopped their car and got out of them and waved at me and looked at me as though I was an athlete and shouted at me, ‘Come on, you can do it. You can do it,' " Tóibín said on NPR's All Things Considered in 2000. "And I basked in the sunshine of Irish approval and love for about three weeks.... You know, sort of -- I keep wondering when this, you know, backlash or something is going to happen, but I'm afraid it isn't going to happen. I'm afraid the country has changed, and being a writer there is actually quite a nice thing these days."

In fiction, travelogues, essays, and newspaper columns, Tóibín has established himself as a writer who can connect both the political and the personal to a sense of place. Though his work has often been informed by the political history of Ireland, he has also drawn on his travels to places like Spain and Argentina to create settings for his work.

And, even though his current home of Dublin has never made an appearance in any of his fiction, the environs of his youth -- County Wexford -- have been prominent.

The Washington Post, in a 2000 review of The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction, which Tóibín edited, called him a "journalist and critic of influence, a brilliant novelist steadily harvesting his own postage-stamp piece of Wexford as diligently as Faulkner worked Mississippi."

"Colm Tóibín has established himself as a major and distinctive voice in contemporary Irish fiction," the Dictionary of Literary Biography has noted. "While his work makes much of the complex associations between people and place, he eschews easy stereotypes of Irishness in favor of the often-contradictory impulses that pull on contemporary lives.

Tóibín was born into a family that had a long history in his hometown. His father, who died when Tóibín was 12, was a local schoolteacher, and his grandfather was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was twice imprisoned by British authorities for civil disobedience against British rule.

Tóibín explored this history as a writer, following four years teaching English in Barcelona, Spain. He began as a features editor but moved to editing a current affairs magazine and joined the Sunday Independent in Dublin in 1985 as a columnist. As an author, he started by writing travelogues on Ireland and Spain before publishing his first novel in 1990. The South, which draws on Ireland's Catholic-Protestant tensions as well as Tóibín's life in Spain, is about an Irish woman who leaves her husband and son and moves to Spain, falls in love with a political artist, and returns to Ireland as an artist herself, once her son is grown.

This novel would establish Tóibín's reputation as a writer with a keen sensibility for characterization ("His novels have been noted for their deft characterizations, particularly of women, as evidenced by the strong female protagonist in The South," noted Contemporary Literary Criticism), but it wasn't until later novels such as The Story of the Night and The Blackwater Lightship that readers would realize his insight into gay characters as well.

"This is not a simple, upbeat story about gay liberation or political activism," Merle Rubin wrote in The Christian Science Monitor in 1997. "Powerfully imagined and tautly written, it is a subtly shaded portrait of a country in transition, a culture beginning to reflect important political changes, and a man coming to a new understanding of himself."

David Bahr, writing in The Advocate in 2000, predicted that The Blackwater Lightship -- now that it had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize -- would finally make Tóibín known outside his magazine's primary readership: "His latest...should finally prove to straight American readers what many gay people have long known: that Tóibín is one of the more honest and subtly powerful novelists publishing today.... Perceptive and moving, The Blackwater Lightship again reveals Tóibín to be the kind of restrained, quiet writer whose prose feels as natural as breathing. His poetic narrative is so understated that its profound lyricism often takes you by surprise, infusing a potentially familiar tale with vibrant new life."

Mixing fiction and biography in 2004, Tóibín penned a novel inspired by the life of Henry James. "Ambitious and gracefully plotted," said the New Statesman. In the pages of London's Observer, a previous Tóibín skeptic confessed he had been swayed. "There's little in Colm Tóibín's previous work, to some of which this reviewer has been immune or even mildly allergic, to prepare for the startling excellence of his new novel," Adam Mars Jones wrote, "The Master is a portrait of Henry James that has the depth and finish of great sculpture."

Moving fully into nonfiction, Tóibín continued to impress.

The New Statesman observed that The Irish Famine: A Documentary was "no arid survey of the historiography of the famine, but a stimulating quest, prompted by a personal and vocational curiosity. And Joseph Olshan, writing in Entertainment Weekly in 1995, awarded Tóibín's The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe an A, not only for its ability to dissect the Church's close relationship with European politics and social order. "[W]hat Tóibín comes back to is the transcendent power of Catholic ritual," Olshan writes. "Indeed, in a very moving centerpiece, Tóibín describes a therapy session during which he relives his father's death and comes to realize that his most profound wish is to bless his deceased parent with the sign of the cross. This is an extraordinary document."

But it may always be the intensely personal moments in his fiction that will always stand out. Susan Salter Reynolds noted as much in the Los Angeles Times in 2000. "There is little reconciliation in Colm Tóibín's novels; moments in which the stage is set for it usually pass," she wrote. "His novels build to these moments, fraught with potential, from which the air goes out with a nasty little hiss, and a new chapter, full of reasons not to live, begins.... It's good to read Tóibín's honest novels, in which human beings fail to forgive, fail to understand. We spend so much of our lives in the dark, shouldn't literature face this as squarely as we must?"

Good To Know

Tóibín's novel The Story of Night is No. 84 on the Publishing Triangle's list of the best 100 gay and lesbian novels of all time.

He counts two books by James Baldwin -- Giovanni's Room and Go Tell It on the Mountain -- as major influences on his work.

Tóibín covered the downfall of the military dictatorship in Argentina in 1985.

He joined such authors as Roddy Doyle in the 1997 novel Finbar's Hotel, in which each of the seven authors wrote individual chapters set in the same 24-hour period at a fading hotel.

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    1. Hometown:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 30, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland
    1. Education:
      St. Peter's College, Wexford; University College, Dublin, B.A. in English and history
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Jane Austen, Henry James and the Death of the Mother

In November 1894 Henry James set down in his notebooks a sketch for the novel that became The Wings of the Dove, which was published eight years later. He wrote about a possible heroine who was dying but in love with life. “She is equally pathetic in her doom and in her horror of it. If she only could live just a little; just a little more – just a little longer.” In his outline James also had in his mind a young man who “wishes he could make her taste of happiness, give her something that it breaks her heart to go without having known. That “something” can only be – of course – the chance to love and be loved.” James also noted as a possibility the position of another woman to whom the man was “otherwise attached and committed . . . It appears inevitably, or necessarily, preliminary that his encounter with the tragic girl shall be through the other woman.” He also saw the reason why the young man and the woman to whom he was committed could not marry. “They are obliged to wait . . . He has no income and she no fortune, or there is some insurmountable opposition on the part of her father. Her father, her family, have reasons for disliking the young man.”

This idea, then, of the dying young woman and the penniless young man on one side and, on the other, of father, family and young woman with no fortune circled in James’s fertile mind. There was no moment, it seemed, in which the second young woman would have a mother; it was “her father, her family” that would oppose the marriage; over the next five or six years James would work out the form this opposition would take, and who exactly “her family” would be.

In her book Novel Relations, Ruth Perry looked at the makeup of the family in the early years of the novel. “Despite the emphasis,” she wrote, “on marriage and motherhood in late eighteenth-century society, mothers in novels of the period are notoriously absent – dead or otherwise missing. Just when motherhood was becoming central to the definition of femininity, when the modern conception of the all-nurturing, tender, soothing, ministering mother was being consolidated in English culture, she was being represented in fiction as a memory rather than as an active present reality.”

In nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century fiction, the family is often broken or disturbed or exposed, and the heroine is often alone, or strangely controlled and managed. If the heroine and the narrative itself are seeking completion in her marriage, then the journey there involves either the searching for figures outside the immediate family for support, or the breaking free from members of the family who seek to confine or dictate. In creating the new family upon marriage, the heroine needs to redefine her own family or usurp its power. In attempting to dramatize this, the novelist will use a series of tricks or systems almost naturally available to Jane Austen and the novelists who came after her; they could use shadowy or absent mothers and shining or manipulative aunts. The novel in English over the nineteenth century is filled with parents whose influence must be evaded or erased to be replaced by figures who operate either literally or figuratively as aunts, both kind and mean, both well-intentioned and duplicitous, both rescuing and destroying. The novel is a form ripe for orphans, or for those whose orphanhood will be all the more powerful for being figurative, or open to the suggestion, both sweet and sour, of surrogate parents.

It is easy to attribute the absence of mothers in novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the large numbers of women who died in childbirth, as high as 10 per cent in the eighteenth century. The first wives of three of Jane Austen’s brothers died in childbirth, for example, leaving motherless children. But this explanation is too easy. If it had suited novelists to fill their books with living mothers – Jane Austen’s mother outlived her, for example – then they would have done so. In Novel Relations Ruth Perry takes the view that all the motherless heroines in the eighteenth-century novel – and all the play with substitutions – “may derive from a new necessity in an age of intensifying individualism.” This necessity involved separating from the mother, or destroying her, and replacing her with a mother-figure of choice. “This mother,” Perry writes, “who is also a stranger may thus enable the heroine’s independent moral existence.”

Thus mothers get in the way in fiction; they take up the space that is better filled by indecision, by hope, by the slow growth of a personality, and by something more interesting and important as the novel itself developed. This was the idea of solitude, the idea that a key scene in a novel occurs when the heroine is alone, with no one to protect her, no one to confide in, no one to advise her, and no possibility of this. Thus her thoughts move inward, offering a drama not between generations, or between opinions, but within a wounded, deceived or conflicted self. The novel traces the mind at work, the mind in silence. The presence of a mother would be a breach of the essential privacy of the emerging self, of the sense of singleness and integrity, of an uncertain moral consciousness, of a pure and floating individuality on which the novel comes to depend. The conspiracy in the novel is thus not between a mother and her daughter, but rather between the protagonist and the reader.

Jane Austen’s last three novels have motherless heroines. Austen, however, does not allow this to appear as loss, or does not let this expose the heroine, or take up much of her time. Rather it increases her sense of self, it allows her personality to appear more intensely in the narrative as though slowly filling space that had been quietly and slyly left for that purpose.

In Pride and Prejudice there is a mother, but there are also two aunts, Elizabeth Bennet’s Aunt Gardiner and Mr. Darcy’s aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It is an aspect of Austen’s genius that, while the novel dissolves the power and influence of the mother, neutralizes her in ways both comic and blunt, the two aunts are painted in considerably different shades, one allowed a calm, civilizing subtlety, the other given a histrionic sense of entitlement. But none of the three older women in the book has any actual power, although two of them seek power and influence; power instead is handed directly to the heroine and this power arises from the quality of her own intelligence. It is her own ability to be alone, to move alone, to be seen alone, to come to conclusions alone, that sets her apart.
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Table of Contents

Jane Austen, Henry James and the Death of the Mother 1

Part 1 Ireland

W. B. Yeats: New Ways to Kill Your Father 33

Willie and George 52

New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Synge and His Family 78

Beckett Meets His Afflicted Mother 111

Brian Moore: Out of Ireland Have I Come, Great Hatred, Little Room 134

Sebastian Barry's Fatherland 156

Roddy Doyle and Hugo Hamilton: The Dialect of the Tribe 166

Part 2 Elsewhere

Thomas Mann: New Ways to Spoil Your Children 185

Borges: A Father in His Shadow 212

Hart Crane: Escape from Home 246

Tennessee Williams and the Ghost of Rose 262

John Cheever: New Ways to Make Your Family's Life a Misery 276

Baldwin and "the American Confusion" 296

Baldwin and Obama: Men Without Fathers 316

Bibliography 329

Acknowledgements 331

Index 333

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 24, 2012

    This is a very interesting and enlightening book about several a

    This is a very interesting and enlightening book about several authors' lives and their writing. If you are interested in those subjects, you will find it a very good read. I really enjoyed it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2012

    What th hell

    What the hell who would want otp read this

    0 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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