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Jennifer Johnston Biography

(1930– ), The Captains and the Kings, The Gates, The Old Jest, Fool's Sanctuary

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Tama Janowitz Biography to P(atrick) J(oseph Gregory) Kavanagh Biography

Irish novelist, born in Dublin into a theatrical family (her father was Denis Johnston), educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Her first novel, The Captains and the Kings (1972), established Johnston as one of the foremost chroniclers of the Northern Irish experience. Issues of class and religion, the decaying fortunes of the Anglo-Irish gentry, and the conflicting loyalties of successive Irish generations are Johnston's major fictional preoccupations. Her fictions fall into three overlapping categories: The Gates (1973), The Old Jest (1980), and Fool's Sanctuary (1987) feature female protagonists, usually adolescents, embodying the divided loyalties of class and nation that link them to the male protagonists of The Captains and the Kings and of How Many Miles to Babylon? (1974), novels which depict relationships between members of the Anglo-Irish gentry and the Catholic underclass. The third category, represented by Shadows on Our Skin (1978), concentrates exclusively on the urban working class. The Railway Station Man (1985) reiterates all Johnston's fictional concerns with her combination of compassion and objectivity, incorporating a philosophical meditation on the relationship between art and mourning. An unusual departure is The Christmas Tree (1982), the story of a dying woman's love for a survivor of the Holocaust. In her novel The Invisible Worm (1991), Johnston reworks her theme—the Big House in Ireland—to include more overtly sexual imagery; the heroine is sexually and emotionally abused by her politician father. The Illusionist (1995) is a love story set partly in London.

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