O'Connor, Frank (Pseudonym of Michael O'Donovan) 1903–1966
An Irish short story writer, novelist, critic, editor, and translator of ancient Gaelic works, O'Connor sets his stories in Ireland. However, his warm sense of humor, his realism, and his strong development of character give his writing universality. O'Connor lived in the United States during the latter part of his life. (See also Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 25-28.)
There is a sensitive tenderness in Mr. O'Connor's ["The Saint and Mary Kate"] that overrides its patches of irony. Likewise, because of his skillful use of indirection, he is able to portray that melodrama and extravagance so apparent in many Irish lives without being himself melodramatic. The background of his novel is a tenement in the town of Cork that bulges with the sorrows and pitifulness of the poor. The two principal characters are Mary Kate and Phil, whose hopeful youth stands out in contrast to the frustrations of the older people they know….
Mr. O'Connor's book is serious and genuine. Its strongest pages are those which retail the pitiful and almost heart-breaking lives of the poor. He is, unquestionably, an Irish novelist who should be read.
James T. Farrell, "'Inheritance', 'Sons' and Other Recent Novels: 'The Saint and Mary Kate'," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1932 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. LXXII, No. 934, October 26, 1932, p. 301.
There is an Irish lilt to the dialogue and an Irish color to the scenery of Frank O'Connor's stories, even at their most melancholy, which, because it gives them a dimension of the strange, also acts to give them literary dimension. But emptied of local color, the stories in "Crab Apple Jelly" don't at all carry, for me, the weight that others have felt in them. I find them sweetly sad, sadly suggestive, or even a touch frightening at moments, but never more than in the way of the skilfully rendered pastiche. (p. 697)
Diana Trilling, "Fiction in Review: 'Crab Apple Jelly'," in The Nation (copyright 1944 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 159, No. 23, December 2, 1944, pp. 696-97.
[Mr. O'Connor] has little or none of the professional Irishman in him or of the brothiness, feyness, sentimentality, that mar so much of Irish writing. At his best he is more truthful, lucid and substantial than any other Irish realist now writing and in … [An Only Child, his autobiography,] his talent is sure.
His story is by turns painful, hard, tragic, comical and sardonic. It is remarkable throughout for the portrait of his mother….
[The] book ceases to be merely one more account of a life and hard times by a clever novelist and discloses the growth of a mind and a governing idea. To liberate himself from the humiliations of slum life and its picaresque slavery the boy made a religion of education. (p. 1049)
V. S. Pritchett, "A Fighting Childhood," in New Statesman (© 1961 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXI, No. 1581, June 30, 1961, pp. 1049-50.
A reader of Frank O'Connor's stories notices at once their atmosphere of warm intimacy. His concern with human contact originates in his sense of human isolation and it pervades his work; characters continuously touch each other, lie in bed discussing their problems or fall in love, and the narrative itself reflects a lively compassion which gives these stories their distinctive relevance. (p. 28)
His perceptions of emptiness lead him to seek an intensification of life. He delights in sheer animal vitality and encourages a full, waking life of the senses…. He dislikes abstractions, 'the Greek reasoning about life which are our daily bread', and thinks they have crippled modern literature as well as modern society by creating artificial barriers to communication. He tries to create an attitude of mind informed from within, from nature and the 'inner light', to overcome the literal application of sterile social mores, theories or religious doctrines. Consequently he avoids abstract speculation or burdening character or incident with a larger intellectual framework than is provided by the situation itself in relation to general human experience. (pp. 28-9)
He tries to locate within the complex, reflecting man the warm, vital animal which needs and seeks contact with others. His imagination dwells on the blood-ties which bind the human community together, on heredity, sex, reproduction, the family as an organic unit—the natural processes and conditions which create and sustain life. These natural relationships underlie and enhance human contact, so that it becomes not merely an interchange of ideas, but a communion, a sharing of experience expressed in the concrete acts of speaking and touching. (p. 29)
O'Connor's stories in particular convey a strong sense of family and community ties. They are remote from society, but not divorced from it; we can always feel a need for companionship, a pull towards contact and reintegration, and a desire to work out ways or reconciliation within the span of the individual life. He celebrates marriage as the institution in which natural bonds can best be maintained; at its best it combines romantic love with social acceptability. His attitude towards the more anti-social aspects of sexual contact is ambivalent. (p. 30)
O'Connor frequently casts his mind back to a childhood world for inspiration, because that period of his life exercised the most compulsive hold on him and because children have not yet lost their naturalness and innocence. (p. 31)
O'Connor's adult characters, like his...
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"I saw life through a veil of literature." This statement in his autobiography defines something important about Frank O'Connor. After writing, reading was his most consuming activity. He read without method or grace, because he was both a writer and a self-taught person. Since he knew what he liked and disliked, he seldom hedged his bets. Thus, when he wrote about literature he often seemed too opinionated, too flamboyant. But as Richard Ellmann has noted, O'Connor "thought he was stating conclusions that nobody in his right mind could miss. The strength of The Mirror in the Roadway and The Lonely Voice comes from this assumptive power. It begins in close observation, of course, but then, in an almost...
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In 1922 [O'Connor], with O'Faolain, took the Republican side in the Civil War, and his early stories, like O'Faolain's, are based on those experiences. Unlike O'Faolain's, however, O'Connor's lack the somewhat cynical objectivity which the theme demanded. Next we find him interned. The Internment Camp was for him the equivalent of a university. There among his fellow internees were to be found a number of men with questioning minds…. O'Connor made contact with the humanist side of letters and with Yeats. He contributed poems, stories and reviews of Gaelic plays to [The Irish Statesman], and these are all full of the warm imagination of young genius. But they also suffer from a serious defect which can, I...
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