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Molly Keane Biography

(1904–96), The Knight of the Cheerful Countenance, Taking Chances, Mad Puppetstown, Conversation Piece, Devoted Ladies

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Patrick Kavanagh Biography to Knocknarea Sligo

Irish novelist, born in Co. Kildare into ‘a rather serious Hunting and Fishing and Church-going family’ who were not assiduous about seeing that she was properly educated. She chose her pseudonym, ‘M. J. Farrell’, to hide her literary side from her sporting friends. Following her first novel, The Knight of the Cheerful Countenance (1921), written for Mills & Boon when she was 17, she wrote ten novels under her pseudonym, including Taking Chances (1929), Mad Puppetstown (1931), Conversation Piece (1932), Devoted Ladies (1934), The Rising Tide (1937), Two Days in Aragon (1941), and Loving Without Tears (1951). She was also a successful playwright whose drawing-room comedies, in the opinion of James Agate, were comparable to those of Noël Coward; her plays with John Perry, invariably directed by John Gielgud, include Spring Meeting (1938), Ducks and Drakes (1941), Treasure Hunt (1949), and Dazzling Prospect (1961). Keane stopped writing for more than twenty years until 1981, when she re-emerged, under her own name, with Good Behaviour. This precipitated the reprinting of many of her earlier novels and was followed by Time after Time (1983) and Loving and Giving (1988). The world of which Keane writes has now vanished—a society where servants were faceless, while dogs were ‘little people’; where a good day's hunting earned a girl the ultimate accolade: ‘That girl Rowley's a proper bit of stuff. In fact I think she's a real live human being.’ Though part of such a social environment, Molly Keane was also something of a subversive. She wrote about not just the beauty of the sheltered world of big houses and field sports, but also the riveting selfishness of people whose prolonged loyalty was the exclusive preserve of their unpleasant pet dogs. The story is incidental in her novels, the characters are all-important, and the sense of location and dislocation is endemic throughout her fiction. The humour is mordant, her observation of manners and sexual shenanigans acute, and the aftertaste, bitter-sweet.

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