Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Seán O’Faoláin’s literary production includes novels, biographies, travel books, social analysis, and literary criticism. He wrote a number of well-received novels and several biographies of prominent Irish political figures. O’Faoláin’s most notable work of literary criticism is his study of the short story, The Short Story, published in 1948. O’Faoláin also wrote a memorable autobiography, Vive Moi! (1964).

Seán O'Faoláin Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Seán O’Faoláin is one of the acknowledged Irish masters of the short story. His stories are realistic and closely dissect the social world of the ordinary Irishman of the twentieth century. His protagonists are usually forced to accept the limitations and defeats that life in modern Ireland enforces. O’Faoláin, however, is not a social critic or satirist. Such an accommodation with society is often seen as welcome and necessary. The central theme in many of O’Faoláin’s stories is the defeat of rigid principle and idealism by social and individual compromise. O’Faoláin seems to resist any appeal to pure principle and to celebrate a healthy realism and recognition of the limits that life imposes.

Seán O’Faoláin’s most important structural device is the reversal, in which a character’s situation is suddenly altered. These reversals may be embarrassing or even humiliating, but O’Faoláin often softens the ending to show something human and positive even in the defeat that the reversal effects. O’Faoláin progressed as a writer of short fiction from his early autobiographical stories, focusing on the Irish troubles and civil war to stories dealing with a variety of Irish people in different sections and social situations. The autobiography became a more flexible and distanced art as O’Faoláin approached the ideal of his master, Anton Chekhov.

Seán O'Faoláin Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bonaccorso, Richard. Seán O’Faoláin’s Irish Vision. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. An excellent study that places O’Faoláin and his work in a social and literary context. His readings of the stories are thorough and ingenious, if not always convincing.

Butler, Pierce. Seán O’Faoláin: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993. An introduction to O’Faoláin’s short fiction in which Butler claims that O’Faoláin shifts from an early focus on individuals in conflict with repressive Irish forces to more universal human conflicts. Examines O’Faoláin’s realistic style and narrative voice as it changes throughout his career. Includes O’Faoláin’s comments on the short story, some contemporary reviews, and three previously published critical studies.

Davenport, Guy. “Fiction Chronicle.” The Hudson Review 32 (1979): 139-150. In a review article, Davenport has high praise for O’Faoláin’s ability as a writer of short fiction. He finds the central themes of the stories to be the Irish character and Irish Catholicism.

Doyle, Paul A. Sean O’Faoláin. New York: Twayne, 1968. A life and works study of O’Faoláin in the Twayne series. It is good on the novels and the literary context in which O’Faoláin wrote but only adequate on the short fiction.

Hanley, Katherine. “The Short Stories of Seán O’Faoláin: Theory and Practice.” Eire-Ireland 6 (1971): 3-11. An excellent introduction to O’Faoláin’s stories. Hanley briefly sketches the theoretical base of the stories and then traces the development of O’Faoláin from the early romantic stories to the more sophisticated ones.

Harmon, Maurice. Seán O’Faoláin. London: Constable, 1994. Harmon first analyzes O’Faoláin’s biographies on Irish figures to provide a social context and then examines briefly each book of short stories. Useful for an understanding of the Irish political and social scene.

Neary, Michael. “Whispered Presences in Seán O’Faoláin’s Stories.” Studies in Short Fiction 32 (Winter, 1995): 11-20. Argues that O’Faoláin confronts his Irishness in his stories in a way that refuses closure or the comfort of the telling detail. Asserts that many of his stories create a feeling of characters being haunted by some event from the past that cannot be made sense of.