Study Guide

A Fanatic Heart

by Edna O’Brien

A Fanatic Heart Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The title of A Fanatic Heart is drawn from William Butler Yeats’s “Remorse for Intemperate Speech,” cited as an epigraph to introduce the volume. Indeed, in these lines are summarized O’Brien’s ongoing, dominant themes of Ireland and the women of Ireland in their “maimed” search for loving relationships.

O’Brien continued to write short stories all of her life, and she began publishing in this genre in the early 1960’s. “Come into the Drawing Room, Doris” (ironically retitled “Irish Revel” in The Love Object and given the same title in A Fanatic Heart) first appeared in The New Yorker on April 25, 1962. Set in Ireland, this story, very clearly after the manner of James Joyce in “The Dead” in his Dubliners (1914), is an indictment of an entire society. Sprinkled with holy water by her overly protective mother, Mary, the heroine, who is observed by the omniscient narrator, sets off from her farm home on her bicycle to the shabby Commercial Hotel in the village and to her first party.

It turns out to be a miserable work-party for her; the married artist with whom Mary had danced two years before, and about whom she had fantasized, is not there. Only eight locals are present for the roast goose and the liquor. Eithne and Doris are there—brash village girls who complement Mary’s innate, refined naïveté; they amuse themselves “wandering from one mirror to the next.”...

(The entire section is 568 words.)