Nights at the Alexandra


Hailed as "probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language" by The New Yorker and "an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence" by The New York Times Book Review, William Trevor is one of our most elegaic chroniclers of loss.

Set in a provincial Irish town against the backdrop of the Second World War, Nights at the Alexandra is a masterpiece of short fiction. Tracing the reminiscences of a ...

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Hailed as "probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language" by The New Yorker and "an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence" by The New York Times Book Review, William Trevor is one of our most elegaic chroniclers of loss.

Set in a provincial Irish town against the backdrop of the Second World War, Nights at the Alexandra is a masterpiece of short fiction. Tracing the reminiscences of a fifty-eight-year-old Irish cinema owner named Harry, the story recounts the years during Harry's adolescence when he forges an unlikely friendship with an Èmigré couple recently arrived in his small town. Gently imperious yet strikingly beautiful, Frau Messinger, a young British woman married to a much older German, introduces a measure of color into Harry's otherwise black-and-white existence.

Disappointed by his dull family and his stifling boarding school, Harry soaks up Frau Messinger's stories of her youth and indulges her numerous flights of fancy. When Mr. Messinger announces his plans to build the town's first cinema and asks Harry to work its ticket window, Harry for the first time begins to imagine a life of possibility rather than privation. But the young man's newfound sense of himself comes not without its price, as William Trevor masterfully limns the border between innocence and experience, creating a subtle portrait of an adolescent moment that has the power to shape an entire lifetime.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375504716
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/21/2001
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 5.01 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

William Trevor
William Trevor was born in Ireland in 1928. He is the author, most recently, of Felicia's Journey and Death in Summer. He lives in England.


"William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence," Brooke Adams once wrote in the New York Times Book Review. Hailed by the New Yorker as "probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language," Trevor has also written over a dozen acclaimed novels as well as several plays. His characters are often people whose desires have been unfulfilled, and who come to rely on various forms of self-deception and fantasy to make their lives bearable.

Trevor was born in 1928 to a middle-class, Protestant family in Ireland. After graduating from Trinity College with a degree in history, he attempted to carve out a career as a sculptor. He moved to England in 1954 and exhibited his sculptures there; he also wrote his first novel, A Standard of Behavior, which was published in 1958 but met with little critical success. His second novel, The Old Boys, won the 1964 Hawthornden Prize for Literature and marked the beginning of a long and prolific career as a novelist, short-story writer and playwright.

Three of Trevor's novels have won the prestigious Whitbread Novel of the Year Award: The Children of Dynmouth, Fools of Fortune and Felicia's Journey. Felicia's Journey, about a pregnant Irish girl who goes to England to find the lover who abandoned her, was adapted for the screen in 1999 by director Atom Egoyan. Trevor, who has described himself as a short-story writer who enjoys writing novels, has also written such celebrated short stories as "Three People," in which a woman who murdered her disabled sister harbors an unspoken longing for the man who provided her with an alibi, and "The Mourning," about a young man who is pressed by political activists into planting a bomb (both from The Hill Bachelors).

Some critics have noted a change in Trevor's work over the years: his early stories tend to contain comic sketches of England, while his later ones describe Ireland with the elegiac tone of an expatriate. Trevor, who now lives in Devon, England, has suggested that he has something of an outsider's view of both countries. "I feel a sense of freshness when I come back [to Ireland]," he said in a 2000 Irish radio interview. "If I lived in, say, Dungarvan or Skibbereen, I think I wouldn't notice things."

As it stands, Trevor is clearly a writer who notices things, just as one of his characters notices "the glen and the woods and the seashore, the flat rocks where the shrimp pools were, the room she woke up in, the chatter of the hens in the yard, the gobbling of the turkeys, her footsteps the first marks on the sand when she walked to Kilauran to school" (The Story of Lucy Gault). Yet as Trevor told an interviewer for The Irish Times, "You mustn't write about what you know. You must use your imagination. Fiction is an act of the imagination." Trevor's fertile imagination captures, as Alice McDermott wrote in The Atlantic, "the terrible beauty of Ireland's fate, and the fate of us all -- at the mercy of history, circumstance, and the vicissitudes of time."

Good To Know

When Trevor was growing up, he wanted to be a clerk in the Bank of Ireland -- following in the footsteps of his father, James William Cox. Cox's career as a bank manager took the family all over Ireland, and Trevor attended over a dozen different schools before entering Trinity College in Dublin.

Trevor married his college sweetheart, Jane Ryan, in 1952. After the birth of their first son, Trevor worked for a time as an advertising copywriter in London. He also sculpted and worked as an art teacher, but gave up his sculpting after it became "too abstract."

In addition to the 1999 film Felicia's Journey, two other movies have been based on Trevor's works: Fools of Fortune (1990), directed by Pat O'Connor, and Attracta (1983), directed by Kieran Hickey. According to Trevor's agent, the plays Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria are also being adapted for the screen.

Trevor is also the author of several plays, most of which are not in print in the U.S. Works include Scenes from an Album, Marriages, and Autumn Sunshine.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Trevor Cox (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      Devon, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 24, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Trinity College, Dublin, 1950

Read an Excerpt


I am a fifty-eight-year-old provincial. I have no children. I have never married.

"Harry, I have the happiest marriage in the world! Please, when you think of me, remember that."

That is what I hear most often and with the greatest pleasure: Frau Messinger's voice as precisely recalled as memory allows, each quizzical intonation reflected in a glance or gesture. I must have replied something, Heaven knows what: it never mattered because she rarely listened. The war had upset the Messingers' lives, she being an Englishwoman and he German. It brought them to Ireland and to Cloverhill-a sanctuary they most certainly would not otherwise have known. She explained to me that she would not have found life comfortable in Hitler's Germany; and her own country could hardly be a haven for her husband. They had thought of Switzerland, but Herr Messinger believed that Switzerland would be invaded; and the United States did not tempt them. No one but I, at that time an unprepossessing youth of fifteen, ever used their German titles: in the town where I'd been born they were Mr. and Mrs. Messinger, yet it seemed to me-affectation, I daresay-that in this way we should honour the strangers that they were.

When first I heard of the Messingers I had just returned from the Reverend Wauchope's rectory, where I lodged in term-time in order to attend Lisscoe grammar school. My father told me about them. He said the man was twice the woman's age; he imagined they were Jews since they attended no church. A lot of Jews had slipped away from Germany, he ponderously added.

As a matter of principle, I refused to be interested in anything my father related, but a few days later I saw Frau Messinger stepping out of her husband's motor-car in Laffan Street and guessed at once who she was. The motor-car was powered by propane gas, a complicated apparatus being mounted where part of the luggage compartment had been removed: no one had petrol to spare during what in Ireland we called the "Emergency," and energy so ingeniously contrived was rare. A group of loiterers had gathered round the motor-car. Frau Messinger paid them no attention.

"Will you carry something for me?" she said to me, and pointed at the wet battery of a wireless-set on the floor by the passenger seat. "Might I ask you to carry it to the garage, and bring the other back?"

It is odd to think that those were the first words I heard her speak. Other boys had previously undertaken this chore: for some particular reason of her own she chose not to drive into Aldritt's garage and have the used battery replaced there by the one that had been recharged. Vaguely, she referred to that when she returned to the motor-car with her shopping, something about it being less of a nuisance like this. She opened the passenger door and showed me how to wedge the battery to prevent it from toppling over. "I'd really be most awfully lost without the wireless," she said, giving me a threepenny-piece.

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