Mary Lavin has an illustrious place among the handful of Irish women writers of short stories. Unlike other members of that group—for example, Elizabeth Bowen and Edna O’Brien—Lavin has devoted virtually all of her creative energies to short fiction, her novels having little to contribute to an overall assessment of her artistic achievement.
At the age of nine, Lavin was brought by her Irish emigrant parents from her native America back to Ireland. For a time the family settled in Athenry, County Galway, in circumstances which have haunted the author’s work. The special place occupied by houses in her fiction and the stolidly repressive conformity they connote reflect this place and time. Stories such as “The Becker Wives,” the Grimes family sequence, and the novel The House in Clewe Street have their origins in these formative experiences. In 1922, the family moved to Dublin, where the author was educated. Four years later, her father began to work as the manager of Bective House, an estate in County Meath, north of Dublin. This position and locale had a number of important consequences for Lavin, not least for providing the landscape of many of her stories—“In the Middle of the Fields” is a noteworthy example.
In 1936, after completing an M.A. thesis on Jane Austen, Lavin left Dublin’s University College and took a teaching position. She later began to study for a Ph.D. but abandoned a thesis on Virginia Woolf in favor of creative work. Her first story, “Miss Holland,” was published in 1939. Marriage to a university classmate, William Walsh, a lawyer, followed in 1942, the same year that her first book of stories, Tales from Bective Bridge, was published. The book came with a preface by a famous Bective neighbor, the author Lord Dunsany, and in 1943 Lavin received the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
In 1946, following the death of her father (see the story “Tom” in The Shrine, and Other...
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