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Sean O'Faolain (Sean John Francis Whelan) Biography

(1900–91), (Sean John Francis Whelan), Midsummer Night Madness and Other Stories, A Nest of Simple Folk

Irish writer, born in Cork, the son of a policeman, educated at the National University of Ireland; after a period with the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles, he went to Harvard for three years (19269). He lectured at St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill, until his return to Dublin in 1933. His first published collection of short stories, Midsummer Night Madness and Other Stories (1932), is marked by a romantic lyricism, and reflects his experience as a revolutionary. His three early novels, A Nest of Simple Folk (1933), Bird Alone (1936), and Come Back to Erin (1940), figure youthful, idealistic protagonists, in search of freedom and fulfilment, who eventually rebel against the strictures of the lower middle class, to which they belong. As in his stories, O'Faolain here intertwined individual choice and destiny with an exploration of the collective malaise of a stunted post-revolutionary society. Further collections of stories (A Purse of Coppers, 1937; and Teresa, 1947) display a growing pessimism, as O'Faolain mercilessly examined Irish eccentricities and religious foibles. In his later work, this pessimism was replaced by humour and tolerance; the protagonists were often average and apolitical. Collections such as The Talking Trees (1971), Foreign Affairs and Other Stories (1976), and the novel And Again? (1979), subordinate specific social or moral issues to the philosophical issues of age and time, permanence and change. O'Faolain was regarded as Ireland's leading short-story writer. His fictional œuvre represents the painstaking craftsmanship and disciplined writing of an Irish school to which a younger generation of writers such as William Trevor and Mary Lavin also belong. Like Lavin, O'Faolain was often compared with Chekhov in the early years; later critics found comparisons with Nabokov more apt. His collected stories were published in three volumes between 1980 and 1983. O'Faolain's involvement with the world of letters extended beyond the boundaries of his distinguished career as a writer of fiction. As editor of The Bell (19406) he was in a position to encourage new Irish writing, develop existing talents, and expound his own liberal views. Between the 1930s and the 1960s O'Faolain also published several notable works of non-fiction in various genres: literary criticism, travelogues, social histories, cultural commentary, and perhaps most importantly, historical biographies of leading Irish figures such as Daniel O'Connell (1938), De Valera (1939), and Hugh O'Neill (1942). The range of his written work reflected his concern and engagement with all aspects of Irish life, and his vast knowledge of the structures of the society that formed him as a writer and thinker.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography