William Trevor Drama Analysis
William Trevor would be more well known among fiction readers than theatergoers if it were not for the popularity of his stories on radio and television and in popular film in Great Britain. Although he has stated that his favorite medium is the one in which he develops a relationship with the individual reader, he has, from the earliest stages of his writing career, written and adapted works for the stage, radio, television, and screen. This adaptation has come easily because much of his fiction explores themes and character motivation as presented through the character’s own words or perceptions and through juxtaposed scenes or episodes. In other words, his fiction, rich with dialogue, is itself dramatic. It is not surprising then that the themes, style, and evolution of Trevor’s drama parallel those of his fiction.
Throughout his work, certain themes emerge. The most persistent is the lonely, alienated, fragmented experience of contemporary human beings. Characters are cut off from others for many reasons. Many of them have been scarred by the abuse of another. The nature of that abuse is generally reported or implied rather than depicted. He also explores the abuse inherent in and resulting from one group or nation exploiting another. Loneliness also results from ordinary loss or limited possibilities presented by circumstance and chance.
Related to the theme of lonely, fragmented lives is the prevalence of evil, a force surprisingly mundane. Ordinary people inflict great harm, sometimes intentionally, sometimes through a thoughtless selfishness that motivates them to set off a chain of events or revelations that wreak havoc in other lives. His works demonstrate that past evils continue to infect the present. Evil committed by groups or individuals affect the entire social fabric. Fanatics emerge who cannot forgive what has happened in the past and continually subvert attempts at reconciliation through new violence. Evil, guilt, and violence are inextricably related.
His works also show the ways that difficult lives are endured. Because of his many stories of individuals coping with the inevitability of fate, Trevor is often compared to Anton Chekhov, who also describes characters’ recognition of their need to accept reality. Trevor still finds the possibility of hope and affirmation. Some characters demonstrate the redeeming effects of compassion and commitment, reflecting a hopeful vision that lives can be different when people connect with one another and the larger community.
Stylistically, Trevor’s drama holds more affinity to his short stories than to plays of other dramatists. Conflict and resolution are not what shape his works. They are instead shaped by exploration of character (the effects of loneliness, for example) or theme (the effects of the past). At times, characters, reminiscent of characters of James Joyce, achieve a new realization or epiphany; at other times, they simply struggle to cope with the circumstances in their lives.
Trevor’s style lends itself to drama. He has claimed that being an Irish Protestant in a predominantly Catholic society provided him with an outsider/observer perspective. Developing the habit of quietly listening to what people say, he perfected voice and tone, enabling him to delineate a variety of characters who reveal themselves in words, thoughts, and actions. Evidence of Trevor’s appreciation of film and detective stories appears in the juxtaposition of significant scenes, the revelation of significant details through innuendo, and incrementally disclosed detail. Parallel structuring and repetition reinforce themes....
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William Trevor Short Fiction Analysis
Like his novels, William Trevor’s short stories generally take place in either England or the Republic of Ireland. For the most part, Trevor focuses on middle-class or lower-middle-class figures whose lives have been characterized by loneliness, disappointment, and pain. His stories feature tight organization and lean but detailed prose. Their very “average” characters are made interesting by Trevor’s careful attention to the traits and quirks that make them individuals, to the memories and regrets they have of the past. Trevor, often wry and always detached, refuses to sentimentalize any of them; he does not, however, subject them to ridicule. Their struggles reveal the author’s deep curiosity about the manifold means by...
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William Trevor Long Fiction Analysis
William Trevor began to write fiction in his thirties and soon became one of the most revered and prolific writers in the English language. Influenced by the popular Irish writer James Joyce and the English writer Charles Dickens—writers from the two countries in which Trevor has lived—he is known for his lyrical and psychologically rich fiction, in which a moral vision shines through with unusual clarity. With a wry and often macabre sense of humor, he develops characters who are social outsiders and eccentrics, putting them into situations in which they must make decisions that irreversibly affect their lives and the lives of others. The story is always at the heart of Trevor’s work, for he is a consummate narrator who weaves tales that capture readers in his fictional webs.
The Old Boys
The Old Boys, Trevor’s second novel, opens with the meeting of a group of “old boys,” a committee of an alumni association of an English public school that is five hundred years old. As it is a tradition of the association that members do not serve on the committee until they are very senior and that all members of the committee during a two-year term of office should have been at the school at the same time, these individuals are indeed appropriately described as “old boys.” This small group of men, all between seventy and seventy-five years old, includes Mr. Turtle, Mr. Nox, Mr. Swabey-Boyns, Mr. Jaraby, General Sanctuary, Sir George Ponders, Mr. Sold, and Mr. Cridley. United by their memories, jealousies, anecdotes, and dislikes, they are holding an important meeting to decide the next chairman of the Old Boys’ Association. The setting is contemporary London.
Mr. Jaraby wants the job. Mr. Nox does not want Jaraby to have it, and to prevent him from getting the position, he hires a detective to watch Jaraby, whom he suspects of frequenting prostitutes, and then gets a prostitute to approach Jaraby. Meanwhile the other old boys meet, talk, and reminisce. A number of events complicate the election process, including a visit that the committee makes to the school for Old Boys Day, and Turtle dies there. This death does not perturb the others, however, since they have become accustomed to the deaths of their old friends.
While the plot line of the novel is not completely unexpected—Jaraby is clearly an unpleasant character who gets what he deserves—the development of the characters is a rare accomplishment. Eccentric geriatrics, they offer Trevor the opportunity to explore old age with the skills that have become his trademarks: humor and compassion. The story is written largely in stylized dialogue, which some have criticized as artificial; however, it is consistent with the satiric tone of this novel as well as with its message about the persistence of smug, insular, superficial—and perhaps artificial—groups of old boys at every level of society and within every country.
The Children of Dynmouth
At the heart of The Children of Dynmouth is an aimless, sadistic fifteen-year-old named Timothy Gedge, a virtual orphan who wanders about the seaside town of Dynmouth trying to connect himself with other people. In his desperate quest for connections, he goes to funerals, knocks on people’s doors, and greets everyone he meets on the street. To fulfill his dream of participating in a talent show, and thus launching a career as a comic impersonator, he enlists the assistance of several people, all of whom he tries to blackmail: an aging homosexual whose marriage he almost destroys, an adulterer who has been having an affair with Timothy’s mother, and a twelve-year-old boy and his stepsister.
Timothy is unmasked at the end of the novel, and he surrenders his hope of becoming a famous comedian. He does not surrender everything, however; instead, he takes on the fantasy of being the son of a couple more attractive than his own parents.
As in other Trevor novels, the characters are the focus of The Children of Dynmouth. United in a town that is a veritable failure, they likewise share another unity: a dislike of Timothy, whose menacing omnipresence is unnerving and ominous. Although nothing is neatly resolved at the conclusion of the novel, there is the suggestion of redemption insofar as the vicar’s wife, unable to have a son, sees Timothy as that son. In his characteristic way, Trevor leaves a trail of memorable characters and unanswered questions, both developed with humor and compassion.
The title of Two Lives, which contains two novellas, seems straightforward and simple. In fact, this book does trace the lives of two women, both captives of their own lives and both attempting to find escape through literature. The first, Reading Turgenev, is a sorrowful love story about a woman trapped in Ireland; the second, My House in Umbria, is a kind of thriller about a woman trapped in Italy. Though different in style and setting, the two stories have thematic similarities, including the complexity of being human and the ways in which humanity can encourage or discourage love and life.
Mary Louise Quarry is the heroine of Reading Turgenev, which opens with the following understated description: A woman, not yet fifty-seven, slight and seeming frail, eats carefully at a table in a corner. Her slices of buttered...
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Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) (Vol. 14)
Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) 1928–
Trevor is an Irish-born novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and screenwriter now living in England. His writings are peopled with the unfortunates of society. Trevor depicts them, in his subtle and economical prose, with ironic detachment. (See also CLC, Vols. 7, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
[The] story of an evil child is venerable and [William Trevor] brings to his handling of it few approaches that are new. But he does his work with dignity and gives us the best fruits of his talent until almost the end of The Children of Dynmouth. He fashions a character out of the dubious clichés of the age, puts breath in his lungs and blood in his veins, and moulds him into the monstrous Timothy Gedge, abandoned by his father, ignored by his mother and older sister, virtually companionless except for the television set that he watches continually. Timothy hatches a plan to lift himself above his ordinary existence. (p. 321)
Flannery O'Connor said that we are accustomed to the face of evil, and this is largely true, I think, but Gedge is an exception. He horrifies us by his youthful competence in the art of destroying human felicity, by his imperviousness to advice or insult, by his indifference to the goodwill of others…. It seems proper that the rector of the village church should be one of the principals who bring an end to Gedge's reign of terror. Good and evil square off in classic enmity, but then the Reverend Featherston—and Trevor too, I assume, since the treatment is in no way ironic—loses the courage of his convictions.
Mrs. Featherston stands firm for the notion of evil in the world—malevolent forces at work within and among us. But, of course, educated people can hardly countenance such medieval misconceptions. Our realities are physical, our morals and metaphysics subjective and relative; our most cruelly perpetrated depredations are cries for help, evidence of our own need for understanding and pity. The greater pity in my judgment is that a novel so finely conceived, so well furnished with good characters, and so successful in endowing old images and devices with freshness should flounder and sink so badly at its conclusion. To imply that sooner or later the shrinks and the socialists will put an end to evil is to drag out an old chestnut indeed—and to negate the fine performance which leads up to this foolishness. (p. 322)
Walter Sullivan, "Documents from the Ice Age: Recent British Novels," in The Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1978 by The University of the South), Vol. LXXXVI, No. 2, Spring, 1978, pp. 320-25.∗
[In Lovers of Their Time] Trevor's open, persevering sympathies go out to the unrecognised characters of time; ordinary lives shaped through silt and scythe and then forsaken or betrayed by failures of not-so-common understanding. But though his people look back over the England and Ireland of the last 40 years, there's no moistness about the steady eyes which look at them. It's the unimaginative interruption of continuing time's own alterations to which these chronicles draw attention. History for intelligent conservatives, perhaps; but no bad vacation exercise for silly radicals either.
For Trevor caters to no settled taste for accusation. No slickly adumbrated malignity defeats the progress of his characters' lives; only the uncomprehending entrenchments of the everlasting dull. (p. 380)
Only the most practised art could give [the] barely perceptible forsakings [of his characters] their characteristically unforced yet painful movement. Trevor manages the thing in nearly every case; in charting how across the harsh years of the last war, a young girl's fresh attachments slowly twist into an adult cruelty; in catching the meaning behind the absence at Christmas of a family's long-standing friend; in following a neglected child's gradual retreat into a permanent fantasy. Through all such knots and breaks of time a rare aptitude for patience is the unassuming form of Trevor's irreplaceable imagination. (pp. 380-81)
Zahir Jamal, "Silt and Scythe," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 96, No. 2479, September 22, 1978, pp. 380-81.∗
William Trevor is one of the acknowledged masters of the short story. He is an Anglo-Irish writer who now lives in Devon and so he is an exiled member of a disappearing social class…. This is Trevor's heritage and it is at once his strength and his weakness. It enables him [in Lovers of Their Time] to present with the most accurate sympathy that desperately principled Irish intransigence which in "Another Christmas" makes an otherwise gentle Irish exile destroy a long-standing friendship…. Trevor tells the story with that impartial economy which is one of the most remarkable features of his writing.
Often Trevor returns to that notoriously Irish condition of being trapped by racial memories and historical bitterness. Usually he treats this subject with a resigned detachment which is effective and appealing, but sometimes the contradictions that underlie his detachment make him the passive victim of a nostalgia for vanished decencies. In a trilogy of stories called "Matilda's Endland" he describes an Englishwoman who hates the present and who believes that "there's nothing wrong with living in the past." Here, Trevor appears to be justly critical of that national nostalgia which keeps The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady at the top of the bestseller lists—he seems, in other words, to be investigating an English fixation with the past. And yet the three stories are suffused with loving memories of lost summers and...
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[William Trevor] is one of the finest short story writers at present writing in the Anglo-Irish modes. His people are those who, in the course of their lives, are so humdrum in their ordinariness, so removed from the power of expressing themselves that he has to efface himself in order to speak for them. They appear to be confused by experience and in moral judgment, but they live by an obscure dignity and pride which they are either too shy or too unskilled to reveal at once: his art is to show they have their part in an exceptional destiny and even in a history beyond the private. Impartially he will justify them….
In nearly all Trevor's stories [in Lovers of Their Time and Other Stories] we are led on at first by plain unpretending words about things done to prosaic people; then comes this explosion of conscience, the assertion of will which in some cases may lead to hallucination and madness. In that disordered state the victim has his or her victory; these people are not oddities but figures crucified by the continuity of evil and cruelty in human history, particularly the violent history of, say, the wars and cruelties of the last sixty years of this century. Theirs is a private moral revolt. The point is important, for Trevor has sometimes been thought of as the quiet recorder of "out of date" lives living tamely on memories of memories, as times change.
Tragically (comically too) he is aware of the...
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[Some British authors] abide by conventions of brevity, control, and traditional form without ever sounding like under-reachers. Perhaps the best of these is William Trevor, represented this season by Lovers of Their Time…. One sequence of tales in this book aims at nothing less than a recreation of the stunting impact of two world wars on the mind of a rural village. Two stories grapple, at the level of facts of feeling, with the Ulster anguish as endured by Protestants in the South and by Irish Catholics in England. And the book begins by walking unblinkingly up to the Conflict of Generations (an elderly woman and a gang of cosseted louts from a Comprehensive School) and charging it with genuinely fresh meaning….
[Trevor] has a quiet voice—modest, reserved, delicately inflected. The recurring gesture in this collection is a smoothing of folds—a movement of mind continually asking recognition of our power (blessed and deluding) of assimilating, domesticating—finally of hiding—the strangeness of human deeds and days. And the most striking achievement is the title story, an almost indescribable romance that's partly about the Beatles, partly about the mystique of Abroad, partly about the discovery in the sixties that everybody is a wild and crazy guy for whom life really ought to be Fun. In twenty calm pages "Lovers of Their Time" aspires to—and reaches—the condition of music, history, zany domestic comedy, and lyric poetry…. But the same low-keyed yet exhilarating sense of fictional possibility that animates this story breathes throughout the book. It's bold, original, energetically ambitious work, marvelously assured; it's also British to the core. (p. 92)
Benjamin DeMott, "British to the Core," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1979 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 243, No. 5, May, 1979, pp. 89-92.∗
Can a short story do it all? Can it close in on an intense moment of feeling and dig down to illuminate the psychological whys and wherefores and reach out to touch on themes that lie far beyond the strictly personal? And can it do all this while seeming as spontaneous as gossip, as uncomfortably convincing as an overheard confession on a crosstown bus?
The answer is a resounding, grateful yes—as long as William Trevor is doing the storytelling, and then only sometimes…. [Lovers of Their Time deserves] the broadest of audiences, especially since over half of [the collection] offers William Trevor at his many-layered best.
Not that Trevor's slightly less ambitious tales...
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Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) (Vol. 7)
Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) 1928–
Trevor is an Irish-born novelist, short story writer, and playwright now living in England. His special talent is displayed in his precisely styled studies of character. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
William Trevor is one of the most accomplished of those recent British writers who see life as a "farce in a vale of tears."…
The originality of The Old Boys is tonal. Based on the paradox that old people, instead of losing their grasp, become childlike but desperately knowledgeable about those things which matter—power, hatred, loneliness, the failure of love—it registers sharp impressions through fastidious understatement….
There is no fat on The Old Boys…. Within its carefully articulated limits, Trevor's novel is a morbid comedy of manners, gaiety mixed with dread in exact proportions. Then, too, it may well be the last word in the argument about English public schools running from Nicholas Nickleby past Evelyn Waugh. (p. 35)
Similar originality is evident in The Boarding House (1965). The owner, William Wagner Bird, dies gradually from the feet up on the second page of the novel and leaves his property to two lodgers, Mr. Studdy and Nurse Clock…. With minds obsessed by plans for profit, Studdy and Nurse Clock begin to cast out the lonely people Mr. Bird had so carefully brought together. As the story unfolds, Bird emerges as a mysterious, slightly sinister divinity, who had collected these solitaries so he might study the symptoms of their isolation and perhaps "kindle some comfort in their hearts." One of Trevor's most effective narrative devices is to quote occasionally from Bird's cryptic journal, "Notes on Residents," to provide a detached ironical view of the action. (pp. 35-6)
As in The Old Boys, Trevor skillfully catches the wayward humor in undisguised forms of egoism and vulnerability. The boarding house becomes, in the words of one of his admirers, "Castle Heartrent," and the inhabitants are memorable studies in the comic grotesque. Despite the large cast of freakish characters, each of the earlier novels is unified by the imaginative fitness of its central idea. The people in The Old Boys replay, at 70, the conflicts which joined them in early adolescence. In The Boarding House, the misfits have their place in Bird's peculiar design, and their complex interrelationships amplify his intentions and Trevor's theme.
Unfortunately, The Love Department is weakened by a controlling idea of limited force which fails to unite the novel's disparate elements…. Much of the action … is a variation rather than a development of the basic idea, and the fantasy—rarely bold enough to work on a surrealistic level—degenerates into whimsy. The vulgarity of contemporary conceptions of love and marriage is a time-honored theme for a novelist, but Trevor fails to get very far with it. Instead of probing the characters of [the protagonists], or the meaning of their choices, he spends untold time with daft barflies and vindictive charwomen, vagrant residents of The Boarding House. Since many of the most promising moments in The Love Department are short-circuited, often dropped in the pursuit of anything mildly odd, the novel is at bottom evasive. Trevor throughout has been so poised, so careful to refine the dryness of the farce and to screen the characters from complex emotions, that he seems finally to be toying with the large subjects on which the book so obviously rests. In the earlier novels, the fastidious style matched the modesty of the subject matter; now the crowded canvas and the tools of the miniaturist are incompatible. (pp. 36-7)
Lawrence Graver, "Daftness Falls from the Air," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1967 by The New Republic, Inc.), February 4, 1967, pp. 35-7.
[The stories in The Day We Got Drunk on Cake] are studies in the … essential absurdity of human existence. Some of them, like "The Table," have a Pinteresque kind of nonsensicality that is very effective, but most are stuck in a suburban, middle-class milieu that is so matter-of-fact and down-to-lino that I found myself becoming cumulatively depressed.
The typical figure of Mr. Trevor's very English stories is an aging, lonely man, a bachelor who has either refused to commit himself to life or who has finished with it. Both the figure and the language in which he is described are irresistibly reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's Prufrock.
It seems that, in his youth, Trevor had a big dose of the poetry of the laureate of middle age, cauchemar and frustration. The most typical story in this collection is "Raymond Bamber and Mrs. Fitch," in which the Prufrockian character is caught by a vulgar, drunken woman at a party, trapped in a corner, almost assaulted, and then told a few home truths about himself, including his latent homosexuality. He refuses to recognize the accuracy of any of her remarks, putting them down to her drunkenness, and retreats into his fantasy world again.
So go most of the stories: a moment of light which leads to no illumination. When, occasionally, truth does result in action, it is generally violent and horrible; the thin cover of convention and habit is ripped off and the abyss of anarchy revealed beneath….
These clever, meticulously-written, brittle tales almost all lead the reader into a blind alley, where it seems that the best, if not the only, thing to do, is accept the limitations life has inexorably imposed. In William Trevor's world, when illusion and liquor do not free him, man's lot is isolation, just as Eliot described it in "The Waste Land."
From this constriction, as the good American phrase goes, I want out.
Peter Buitenhuis, "Prufrock Updated," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 11, 1968, p. 38.
Novelists, like photographers, may be divided between those who put sharp edges on life and those who prefer the soft focus. William (The Old Boys) Trevor belongs with the best of the impressionists—those who view the world as if through the haze of a slightly sad and baffling dream.
A County Cork man himself, Trevor has spread an eery Irish mist over the shabby Dublin back street where O'Neill's Hotel stands in bewitched semi-ruin…. [In Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel] Trevor has animated a whole Irish repertory company of drinkers and fantasists. (pp. 80, 82)
Into this soft-focus world Trevor introduces an antagonist, Mrs. Eckdorf, a cold-eyed photographer from Munich, with her efficient camera…. She intends to photograph O'Neill's Hotel with pitiless clarity…. She wants to bring out all the unfuzzy truth about present and past….
Fanatically grubbing indecent exposures and hard sensory facts, Mrs. Eckdorf stands no chance against Trevor's Irish mist. In the end,… she goes mad and finds at last the gift of dreaming.
Here, clearly, is Trevor's sardonic back-of-the-hand to the non-Celtic Mrs. Eckdorfs of this world. But he is too Celtic himself to lift more than an edge of the mist that he has spread. What is Trevor's answer? What, for that matter, is his question? His novel remains an entrancing but disturbing sketch of human weaknesses…. (p. 82)
"The Silence of Forgiveness," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), January 26, 1970, pp. 80, 82.
William Trevor writes English as if he had learned the language from a cranky maiden aunt. His poised, metrical sentences, all prunes and prisms, have an incredulous, stuffy exactitude. They are like crochet-work bags, full of faded proverbs, names of brands and places, little anecdotes, funny expressions. In true aunt fashion, they mind their Ps so carefully that they commit frightful gaffes with their Qs. Like Muriel Spark's Edinburgh-genteel, Mr Trevor's style achieves its force by a deliberate social narrowing of tone; it registers, with a wonderful formal accuracy, a stunned disbelief before the sheer muddle and violence of the world it catalogues so carefully. It is the language of the lost and the abandoned as they vainly try to match their impoverished repertoire of words to the appalling scope of their experience. Mr Trevor has always been a master of fey, priggish verbal comedy. But in Miss Gomez and the Brethren he has created a full and dark landscape of abandonment; and he has learned to show the bewilderment and despair that lurk in the wide spaces separating word from word in his fustily elegant grammar.
The landscape is Crow Street, SW17, a place which, before the age of the budgie and the coloured circular, used to be called Limbo. As it waits for the final bulldozer to move in on the Dining-Rooms (est. 1899), only the pet shop and the pub are still inhabited. Its people are all pathological mythologists; they live in private imaginative worlds constructed, like jackdaws' nests, out of bright tat and baubles…. As Crow Street sweats in a London heatwave, it becomes a shimmering symbolic universe; a world on the edge of destruction whose dreams have been so dislocated and vulgarised that only the wildest of religions can save it. And Miss Gomez, a West Indian orphan, and convert to the postal church of the Brethren of the Way, has been chosen, 'one out of 92', to retrieve a meaning, a final solution, from the shoddy and isolated realities of the street. She reads its tangled web like a novelist, and, like most novelists, she gets it wrong.
Out of her own loneliness, and out of the primary-coloured patchwork of private mythologies, Miss Gomez weaves a communal dream for Crow Street; a kind of hysterical novelette which both transcends and perfectly expresses the actuality of the street…. Realities dissolve in a jumble of snarled-up, unreliable messages. Miss Gomez, raving prophetically in the pub kitchen, comes to stand for every self-styled author of those fictions by which we live and to which, bumblingly, we give the name of truth.
Yet, triumphantly, Mr Trevor has made his novel into a warm celebration of Miss Gomez. The language of the book belongs to her; innocent, baffled, crammed with rock-solid detail. So too does the constant imaginative energy, the relentless, wide-eyed entering of the lives of other people. Condemned to Crow Street, to a world where the real always flakes away from one's grasp, pity and care, however defective and half-baked, are the only values to which we can afford to cling. It is, supremely, a novelist's version of life; a version in which we can take a just and human pride.
Jonathan Raban, "Crow Street," in New Statesman (© 1971 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), October 15, 1971, p. 514.
[All] Mr Trevor's characters are social or emotional cripples. One looks down from the Press Gallery of the House of Commons from time to time on the heads of exactly such a collection, without ever experiencing the faintest twinge of sympathy, or amusement, or interest in the personal tragedy behind each wreck of a human being. The sad truth is that life must go on, and these people are best left to be looked after by nuns and others who specialise in that sort of work.
It is part of Mr Trevor's genius that he manages to make these cases appear if not sympathetic at any rate pathetic. People who in ordinary life would merely be depressing suddenly become objects of compassion, and as such afford keen enjoyment. It is not usual to devote whole articles to a single volume of short stories nowadays, but then it is very rare to find work of Mr Trevor's high standard in any field. One can say without hesitation that at least three of the short stories in this collection [The Ballroom of Romance] are as excellent as it is possible for a short story to be—as well written, meticulously observed, ingeniously constructed, generously conceived—deserving to be treated as classics of the form. (p. 733)
It is a bleak world which Mr Trevor asks us to explore with him, but he makes it worth the journey. Perhaps he will even make better people of us all: kinder, more considerate to those who are emotionally or socially deprived. If not, at least he has given us a highly enjoyable day's reading. (p. 734)
Auberon Waugh, "Brief Cases," in The Spectator (© 1972 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), May 13, 1972, pp. 733-34.
Elizabeth Alone is William Trevor's sixth novel, and it now becomes clear that the territory and the methods of this enormously talented and entertaining writer are unlikely to change. While not leaving his readers with any sense of repetition, Mr Trevor here once again introduces them, through the medium of one central character, to a world of people whose very ordinariness is their oddity. Characters reduced to futility by appalling parents, blighting school careers, or crucial misfortunes, enact, in interplay with one another, a series of farcical incidents which are at once supremely grotesque and convincingly real. For all the peculiarity of his people and their day-to-day existences, nothing in [this] novel is inherently unlikely: the precise location of the story (as often before) in a real area of south-west London he knows well, enhances the credibility….
The characters, the settings, the abundance of extraordinary incident, the skilful interlocking of one sub-plot with another, the ease with which he brings it all to a believable culmination—these are the hallmarks of Mr Trevor's talent, present in all his other novels. The social and psychological fabric of human failure, which he handles with such accuracy and understanding, is not a new thing either; indeed, it recurs here in some of the same forms as before: the derelicts and villains from Irish Catholic backgrounds, the sad products of pretentious schools, the awful children and teenagers, the elderly poor wrapt in self-delusion. The new dimension—and it makes Elizabeth Alone both a more substantial and a more disturbing novel than Mr Trevor's other panoramas of tragi-comedy—is provided by the viewpoint which the author now feels he must take. Cruel comedy must be dismissive in human terms. Mr Trevor has been ghastly enough, but rarely cruel. The end of Elizabeth Alone suggests a tentative answer to a self-posed question: What is all this human ridiculousness ultimately about? Writers less penetrating, less clearly sympathetic in their view of comedy than Mr Trevor, would not bother to ask it….
[Mr Trevor's answer to that question, that it is about the possibility of compassion,] is a comparatively unspectacular sort of affirmation; but any kind of affirmation at all is difficult for a writer of novels like Mr Trevor's to bring off. His ability to carry it here, and make it unquestionably convincing, derives from the authority he has built up, as a writer, out of the sheer, detailed understanding of the characters he creates. Their extreme, comic and pathetic, realism seems to have obliged him to have an attitude towards them more carefully meditated than an easy, magisterial condescension. The stance of compassion which is adopted finally in Elizabeth Alone can now be seen to be implicit in all Mr Trevor's best work. It gives him a place as a writer capable of handling the human comedy instead of merely manipulating comic human beings.
"The Flavour of Failure," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), October 26, 1973, p. 1299.
Trevor is very much of a traditionalist, interested more in illuminating character than in experimenting with narrative technique and extending the possibilities of fiction. His characters, though at times appearing quite eccentric, are recognizable human beings who suffer rather prosaic difficulties. Some would say that fiction has advanced too far for us to be affected by this type of work. (One American critic simply dismissed The Ballroom of Romance as being too old-fashioned.) But Trevor, with his ability to penetrate character, to yield small truths, does touch us.
His stories always conclude on just the right note, and that note remains with us, causing us to reevaluate what we have read….
Trevor's novels have always been less memorable and successful than his short pieces, chiefly because the author works best in a limited space. He is better at suggesting depth of character than he is at actually rendering it. In his novels he tends to explain too much about his characters, and often the explanations seem a bit too pat…. (p. 24)
Although Elizabeth Alone is not wholly a success, it is frequently so perceptive, intelligent and humane that we wish we could overlook its flaws. Trevor has yet to completely master the novel form, but it is still a pleasure to be in his company as he makes the effort to do so. (p. 25)
Ronald De Feo, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 The New Republic, Inc.), June 15, 1974.
[If William Trevor's] novels have excited respectful admiration, it is perhaps because enthusiasm does not come easily to reviewers—and perhaps because the area within which Mr Trevor works with something like obsession is an extremely uncomfortable one, quite rapidly giving rise to ill-defined feelings of guilt and despair in his readers. For Mr Trevor worries about the separation of human beings, from one another, from feeling, from the past, particularly from love and from childhoods retrospectively illuminated (whether in fact or illusion) by golden and perfect companionship. So meticulously articulated is this worry in the 12 stories of Angels at the Ritz, so expertly judged the writing, that you cannot help yourself from feeling strong compassion (amounting to heartbreak in the beautiful 'Mrs Acland's Ghosts') for the poor creatures of his fancy, cast thoughtlessly adrift on the silent-roaring sea of their aloneness. Nor, a moment later—and here is the discomfort—can you help the breaking in of a bitter self-knowledge: your compassion is, after all, for clever artefacts, and your own, real, companionable virtues are neither golden nor perfect. Too much of this can make you resentful, even blind you to Mr Trevor's excellence. This is why collections are inimical to the proper love of short stories and why, marvellously well as these 12 are done, it is better to resist the temptation to gulp them all down at a sitting. (p. 30)
Neil Hepburn, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp., 1976; reprinted by permission of Neil Hepburn), January 8, 1976.
The past weighs heavily on William Trevor's short stories: on the stories themselves, which are entirely traditional in style and might have been written at any time in this century, and on the characters in the stories, who become acutely aware of how their own past histories inhibit their present lives. "Because of the distant past they would die friendless. It was worse than being murdered in bed." So one of [his] stories ends (so, in like manner, do they all) with one of the characters shuddering in an awful moment of understanding.
Each of [the] dozen stories [in Angels at the Ritz] is about a little death of the spirit, little betrayals of oneself and others that result in a falling off of confidence, in a character's awareness that just living with himself will henceforth be distinctly less comfortable than before. These are, above all, moral stories. (pp. 91-2)
Trevor … is clearly less interested in expanding the possibilities of the short-story form than he is in refining to an exceptional purity its most familiar elements. Narrative interests him, so does character and the surprise of an unexpected insight into a particular domestic dilemma. Trevor is especially adept at making the presence of the past, the presence of people offstage, lean upon his characters. The ease with which he switches points of view, or modifies the distance between his narrative voice and his characters' perceptions, must have been earned hard and over many years. Without ever resorting to explicit scenes of sex he can maintain a sexual tension that pornographers might envy. (pp. 92, 94)
Peter S. Prescott, "Domestic Dilemmas," in Newsweek (copyright 1976 by Newsweek, Inc,; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), June 14, 1976, pp. 91-2, 94.
William Trevor, the author of "Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories," is a master of the quarter-turn. In "In Isfahan," a dry, narrow woman named Iris Smith (a woman we can easily "place" and dismiss, you would think) turns out to be Mrs. Azann, who married an Indian for money and leads a complex life that we never really get to the bottom of—a "sour little fairy-story," her companion decides, but of even that he cannot be so certain by the end. Hovering in the background of this tale is one of literature's funniest tour guides, and the shimmering blue of Isfahan. The whole story shimmers, in fact, like a yard of changeable taffeta. You want to reread it immediately, taking new looks from other angles.
There are victims in Trevor's stories too, but they are not always the people we would expect. He has a remarkable gift for turning things inside out—for taking a static, ho-hum situation and showing us the luminous possibilities within it….
William Trevor gives us the … joy of admiring how very unplaceable people really are: eternally shifting, unfolding new surfaces and capable of endless surprises. (p. 7)
Anne Tyler, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 11, 1976.
At their best, short stories can capture the essence of a life with the blink of an eye, and William Trevor is one of the subtlest practitioners of this art around today. In fact, he gives us such a rich understanding of the emotions of the various English and Irish people who inhabit [the] twelve spare, engrossing stories [in "Angels at the Ritz"] … that the collection seems to be made up of twelve little novels, though his stories are rarely more than twenty pages long. Many of them are about the effect of large events—death, divorce, romantic deceptions of all sorts—on ordinary lives. Villains are absent from them all. No matter how skewed a character's point of view, the author makes us feel a bit of sympathy for it. Mr. Trevor also gives a lot of credit to the pubs, sweet cakes, household furniture, and articles of clothing that solace people while their minds are on other things. Very little of a spectacular nature happens to anyone here, but the feeling of real lives lived (or merely endured) is palpable. (pp. 104-05)
The New Yorker (© 1976 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), July 12, 1976.
A superficial description of William Trevor's third collection of short fiction [Angels at the Ritz] might give the impression that the author is preoccupied with some of the more widely discussed social upheavals of the last decade. A story on wife-swapping in suburbia and another on extramarital affairs in corporate offices both treat aspects of The New Morality. "Mrs. Acland's Ghosts," about a mad housewife and her imaginary companions, could be either a feminist case study or a nod to the recent vogue of the occult. "Afternoon Dancing" gets in a word about interracial sexual attractions, and "The Distant Past" examines the effects of terrorism in Ulster on people in the Republic of Ireland. What's more, Trevor is notably up-to-the-minute in his liberal use of trade names.
So much topicality suggests the ephemeral. For Trevor, however, it is incidental to character. His people are so meticulously drawn that they are obliged to feel the tiny reverberations of current events and fashions.
In fact, Trevor is more concerned with the past than with the present. He is obsessed with the power of our recollections to dominate us: His characters regard what happened long ago as somehow fuller and more vital than the moment being lived. (pp. 18-19)
Trevor has a masterly gift for carefully tracing the effects of large, remote events on the lives of ordinary individuals….
The author's reserved, exact prose lets him handle … potentially sentimental themes and situations without a trace of bathos….
In Trevor's world the past recaptured may mean a chorus of happy childhood reminiscences signifying a lonely life now, or the return of imaginary childhood companions as symptoms of madness…. Trevor's vision has a beauty and a power of its own. His lonely characters, vulnerable to personal histories, real or invented, and to events that only seem safely distant, are as true and alive as any in recent fiction. (p. 19)
Philip Lemmons, "The Awesome Power of the Past," in The New Leader (© 1976 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), August 16, 1976, pp. 18-19.
Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) (Vol. 9)
Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) 1928–
Trevor is an Irish-born novelist, short writer, and playwright now living in England. His work is characterized by a subtle prose style, and his characters, people old and living an isolated existence, are depicted with a sad, whimsical humor. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
[The Children of Dynmouth] is a small failure of transplanted suburban Gothic, but it has its interesting points. Mr Trevor is one of those writers who take a certain masochistic pleasure in being confined by the smallness and meretriciousness of the average English domestic emotions. He sees our lives measured out not in coffee-spoons so much as plastic teaspoons, not to mention boxes of Daz, episodes of Crossroads and pints of bogus continental lager….
Timothy Gedge [the central character] is in every way a horror…. The Children of Dynmouth is the story of how he goes about [realizing his ambitions], by blackmail….
Trevor captures the diseased affability of the junior conman rather well, in lines of dialogue that seem to marry something namelessly disgusting in their half-conscious ambiguity…. The child is definitely repulsive. But all the more reason why the author should not duck out of the consequence of Timothy, which he unfortunately does….
[The conclusion is] very disappointing. Whatever the social likelihoods of Timothy's case might be, he has been brought to a pitch of literary malice which can't simply be allowed to fall away [as it does]. Withdrawing his relish of Timothy's evil, and presenting him suddenly as something like a case-history victim, Mr Trevor hops without warning into another mood, almost another genre. He is guilty of failing to respect the impetus generated by his own characterisation, and of reasserting the decencies of life in a way that the whole tendency of the story belies, negates and derides. The old accusation of blowing up a short story idea to novel length is bound to come up too—though Trevor's problem, as he faces the task of doing something impressive with the miniature repressed emotions of a leftover genteel society, entitles him to some sympathy.
Russell Davies, "Tiny Tim," in New Statesman (© 1976 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 9, 1976, p. 53.
William Trevor characteristically writes a finely wrought story in which the action is wholly dramatized in the Jamesian sense…. (p. ii)
[The title story in Angels at the Ritz] dramatizes the machinations of a jaded middle-class suburban world. One couple engages in ritualistic exchanges of partners, trying to draw in the couple who engage our sympathies. They escape—narrowly in the husband's case—and the wife finds a renewed sense of life. Such affirmation doesn't ordinarily occur in Trevor's fiction, but this is not to say that he enjoys defeating his characters in their expectations or that he characteristically presents a grim view of life.
The two best stories in the collection—"Last Wishes" and "The Tennis Court"—show how he adumbrates human experience in all its comedy and pathos. Both involve the coming of death and the impact of the modern world upon an older time and society. In "Last Wishes" the reader is so thoroughly drawn into the complicity of the servants that he forgets momentarily the strength of their deception and their greed…. In "Last Wishes" one encounters "the territory of unease, the sure-footed sinister prowl around the edges of pain" that a … reviewer has remarked in Trevor's short fiction.
"The Tennis Court" has the sureness of effect and brilliance of economy that reveal the signature of a master. The narrator, a middle-aged woman, looks back at the events of her childhood in the summer of 1939, and in recalling that halycon time on the eve of World War II she presents the last vestiges of Edwardian England. Old Mrs. Ashburton wishes to restore her tennis court at the family manor (now owned by Lloyd's Bank) and in that act to recapture the leisured world of England on the eve of World War I. The party is a great success, but its very success brings pathos in its wake, and Mrs. Ashburton says: "I've had a lovely day," adding: "It's all over. Yet again." In the simplicity of that closing speech lies the heart of the story: the past has been repeated—in an awkward and democratic manner (former tenants attend the party), with little of the ceremony and splendor that marked Edwardian times—but that event fades as quickly and inexorably as the past upon which it has been crudely modeled.
Graham Greene has said that Angels at the Ritz is one of the best collections of short fiction, "if not the best collection, since Joyce's Dubliners."Before I read the book that claim seemed to me preposterous; afterward I was wholly persuaded of its rightness. (p. vi)
George Core, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor, © 1976 by The University of the South), Winter, 1977.
English novelists continue to work in a realistic and conventional tradition that looks back not to the great Modernists (Joyce, Woolf, Mann, Lawrence, Gide), but to the late 19th century: to a common-sense vision of the world that is adequately expressed in terms of beginnings, middles and ends, and in language that is pragmatic and unadorned. Within such limitations (which are perhaps primarily those of English publishers), a surprisingly rich and humanly engaging literature has been developed, and it is possible to read certain outstanding English novelists of our time—among them Iris Murdoch, V. S. Naipaul and William Trevor—as "experimentalists" in a special sense. They are far less concerned with formal virtuosity than their American counterparts, and far more explicitly concerned with the moral dimensions of their art. It may safely be said that they are more readable; and many readers might argue that they are more entertaining….
Trevor evokes potentially tragic situations that do not develop into tragedy: He gives life to quite ordinary people—men, women and children—who find themselves locked together by a single event and who are forced to reassess themselves and, as a consequence, their relationships. (p. 13)
Trevor does not force his readers to any clear-cut conclusion. What is unmistakable is his faith in his characters and his exuberant talent in bringing those characters alive in succinct, unsensational terms.
"The Children of Dynmouth" is Trevor's finest novel so far. At its core is a memorable creation—an aimless, sadistic 15-year-old boy named Timothy Gedge who, having no father and virtually no mother, wanders about the seaside town of Dynmouth trying to connect himself with other people. He … is tolerated by everyone and liked by no one; by the novel's end he has come close to destroying several people. Timothy's malice arises from his chronic aloneness, so that it isn't possible, as the vicar recognizes, to see the boy as evil. He is a fact of life in Dynmouth, a testimony to Dynmouth's inexplicable failure…. Trevor has basically a comic imagination, though he deals with very serious subjects; his novels, for all their anxious moments, manage to end more or less happily.
One comes to detest Timothy Gedge, with his sharp cheekbones, his mocking, moronic conversation and utterly selfish concerns; yet at the same time one is forced to experience Timothy as a natural event—or an Act of God, like flood or famine. He is mean, vicious, silly, idle, tiresome, but he will not go away. (pp. 13, 36)
Timothy's connections with the people of Dynmouth are achieved only through the violation of their privacy and through the violation of his own sanity; in fact he remains utterly alone, one of those deprived, debased individuals who commit terrible crimes without possessing the depth of feeling required to know what they are doing….
Yet such is Trevor's optimism that there may be a place in the pattern of lives even for Timothy; the vicar's wife, who has been unable to have a son, comes to see in Timothy the son who had not been born to her. And so there is the possibility of redemption; or, if not redemption, at least a place in the community. But it is all very tenuous, very problematic. The novel ends abruptly and ironically, and nothing is really resolved.
"The Children of Dynmouth" is a skillfully written novel, a small masterpiece of understatement. Where "Elizabeth Alone" sags and nearly buckles beneath the weight of too many incidental characters and their whimsical lives, "The Children of Dynmouth"—like the powerful "Miss Gomez and the Brethren"—manages to give life to a surprising variety of people, linking them together in the rhythms of a community as well as in the more urgent rhythms of a suspenseful narrative. It is a sensitive and honorable achievement, a work of rare compassion. (p. 36)
Joyce Carol Oates, "More Lonely Than Evil," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 17, 1977, pp. 13, 36.
Trevor, William (Vol. 116)
William Trevor 1928–
(Full name William Trevor Cox) Irish short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.
The following entry presents an overview of Trevor's career through 1998. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 9, 14, 25, and 71.
Considered one of the premier writers in English alive today, Trevor has earned the highest praise from critics who compare him to fellow Irishman James Joyce. Trevor is known for his skill in describing the lives of unhappy, unloved, self-delusional characters, and evoking sympathy and humor rather than pity or ridicule for his misfits. Although his short stories and novels are not widely known outside Britain, Trevor has consistently won numerous awards and has enjoyed a prolific career.
Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland on May 24, 1928. Born into a Protestant family in a predominantly Catholic area, Trevor moved frequently as a result of his father's job. Attending thirteen schools throughout his youth, Trevor claims that he felt like an outsider and this gave him a greater ability to observe others, a talent he would later use in his writing. He attended Sandford Park School in Dublin and St. Columbia's College in Dublin before receiving a B.A. in history from Trinity College in 1950. In the early 1950s Trevor took a number of teaching posts in Northern Ireland and England while also pursuing a successful career as a sculptor. He married Jane Ryan in 1952, with whom he had two sons, Patrick and Dominic. After becoming disillusioned with sculpting, he published his first novel, A Standard Behaviour, in 1958. Through the early 1960s he worked as a advertising copywriter while simultaneously pursuing his writing career. He quit the advertising job to pursue writing full time in 1965, the same year he won the Hawthornden Prize for literature for his second novel Old Boys (1964). Since then, he has won the Benson Medal in 1975 for Angles at the Ritz and Other Stories (1975), an Allied Irish Bank Prize for Literature in 1976, the Heinemann Award for fiction in 1976, the Whitbread Prize in 1978 for The Children of Dynmouth (1976) and again in 1983 for Fools of Fortune (1983), the Irish community Prize in 1979 and the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award in 1994 for Felicia's Journey (1994). In addition, he was awarded honorary doctorates of literature from University of Exeter; Trinity College, Dublin; Queens University, Belfast, and National University of Ireland, Cork, as well as being awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Many of Trevor's works have been adapted into popular and award winning television movies and radio and theater plays. He continues to live and write in England.
Trevor is known for his short stories and novels about people on the fringe of society, living in old boarding houses and hotels, who are unhappy and lonely. Set in England, novels such as The Boarding House (1965), Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel (1969), and The Children of Dynmouth (1976) as well as his early short story collections deal with "the theme of loneliness and hunger for love …" to quote Julian Gitzen. In his novels and stories his characters search for the truth, although not all of them are willing to accept it. Particularly well known, Trevor's story "The Ballroom of Romance" recounts a young woman's decision to accept her fate and marry an alcoholic bachelor rather than continue to dream of a better life. In the 1980s Trevor turned his attention to Ireland and the political turmoil there. Setting many of his works in the past, he focused on themes of retribution, forgiveness, conflict, and isolation. Fools of Fortune (1983) centers upon a man living in self-imposed exile in Italy after the death of his family in the Anglo-Irish war. The novel links the importance of history, both personal and national, in shaping destiny, as well as the ways in which people create their own isolation. Stories in his collections The News from Ireland (1986) and Beyond the Pule, and Other Stories (1981) such as "Attracta", "Beyond the Pale", "Another Christmas," and "The News From Ireland" explore the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, arguing that while the past cannot be forgotten, forgiveness can bring restitution. After Rain (1996), a collection of short stories, and Felicia's Journey (1994) constitute Trevor's later works. The former centers on revelations of truth in twelve stories which are thematically connected, while the latter focuses on the destruction of a young unwed pregnant Irish girl and the forces who prey upon her.
Critics of Trevor's work contend that he is among the greatest short story writers of the late twentieth century. Compared with James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Henry James, and Samuel Beckett, Trevor is praised for his dark humor, his intimate portraits of sad, delusional characters, and his skill at evoking commonplace but lonely settings. Gary Krist writes that Trevor is "arguably the English-speaking world's premier practitioner of a certain brand of artistically distanced fiction …" and Stephen Schiff contends that "Trevor is probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language…." Suzanne Morrow Paulson holds that not enough attention has been paid to Trevor's novels. She and other critics assert that within his novels Trevor perfects his character development and merges the tragic and comic. However, others argue that Trevor's work is uneven. James Lasden states: "A faltering muse seems to preside over [Trevor's] work, with the habit of bestowing superb openings, then disappearing, sometimes to return at the last moment, sometimes not." Other critics of Trevor's Collected Stories agree that the quality of his work fluctuates and that some of his characters fail to capture Trevor's interest and falter. However, Lasden concludes that "(w)hat Trevor does have … is something approaching genius for conveying ordinary human unhappiness."
A Standard of Behaviour (novel) 1958
The Old Boys (novel) 1964; (play) 1971
The Boarding House (novel) 1965
The Love Department (novel) 1966
The Day We Got Drunk on Cake and Other Stories (short stories) 1967
Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel (novel) 1969
Miss Gomez and the Brethren (novel) 1971
The Ballroom of Romance and Other Stories (short stories) 1972
Going Home (play) 1972
Elizabeth Alone (novel) 1973
The Fifty-Seventh Saturday (play) 1973
A Perfect Relationship (play) 1973
Marriages (play) 1974
Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories (short stories) 1975
The Children of Dynmouth (novel) 1976
Old School Ties (short stories) 1976
Lovers of Their Time and Other Stories (short stories) 1978
The Distant Past and Other Stories (short stories) 1979
Other People's Worlds (novel) 1980
Beyond the Pale and Other Stories (short stories) 1981
Scenes from an Album (play) 1981
Fools of Fortune (novel) 1983
The Stories of William Trevor (short stories) 1983
A Writer's Ireland: Landscape in Literature (nonfiction) 1984
The News from Ireland and Other Stories (short stories) 1986
Nights at the Alexandra (short stories) 1987
The Silence in the Garden (novel) 1988
Family Sins and Other Stories (short stories) 1990
Two Lives: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria (novellas) 1991
The Collected Stories (short stories) 1992
Excursions in the Real World: Autobiographical Essays (autobiography) 1994
Felicia's Journey (novel) 1994
Ireland: Selected Stories (short stories) 1995
After Rain (short stories) 1996
SOURCE: "The Truth-Tellers of William Trevor," in Critique, Vol. 21, No. 1, 1979, pp. 59-72.
[In the following essay, Gitzen explores the themes of loneliness and self-delusion in Trevor's work.]
Since the appearance of his first novel, A Standard of Behavior (1958), William Trevor has published a total of eleven volumes of fiction. Despite the popularity of The Old Boys (1964), The Boarding House (1965), and The Ballroom of Romance (1972), extensive analysis of his writing is as yet in short supply. Reviewers, on the other hand, have neither ignored Trevor nor hesitated to classify him. With virtual unanimity, they have labeled him a comic...
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SOURCE: "William Trevor's Stories of Trouble," in Contemporary Irish Writing, edited by James D. Brophy and Raymond J. Porter, Iona College Press, 1983, pp. 95-114.
[In the essay below, Rhodes examines five of Trevor's short stories concerning the Irish troubles and finds that they share similar characters and themes.]
William Trevor was born Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in 1928, spent his boyhood in provincial Ireland, and was educated at St. Columba's and Trinity College, Dublin. Since 1958—and mostly since 1964—he has been the author of nine novels, five collections of short stories, and a number of radio and television dramas as well as plays for...
(The entire section is 9065 words.)
SOURCE: "Short Satisfactions," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXVII, No. 8, May 17, 1990, pp. 38-9.
[In the following review Towers argues that while some of the stories in Family Sins are skillfully told, the collection does not measure up to Trevor's earlier work.]
Readers of William Trevor's earlier story collections, six in all, will find in Family Sins, as before, that the Irish settings—mucky farms, shabby genteel boarding houses, schools, convents, hotel barrooms where more than a few drinks are taken—are coolly but sympathetically observed. So are his characters—foolish, blustering, guilty, touching in their various predicaments....
(The entire section is 908 words.)
SOURCE: "Saints of the Ascendancy: William Trevor's Big-House Novels," in Ancestral Voices: The Big House in Anglo-Irish Literature, edited by Otto Rauchbauer, Lilliput Press, 1992, pp. 257-72.
[In the following essay, Larsen explores shared themes in Trevor's two novels Fools of Fortune and The Silence in the Garden.]
With the spatial awareness of a sometime sculptor, William Trevor has from the start shaped the physical environment in his fictional worlds as the tangible expression of intangible human concerns. In his earlier writings, hotels and boarding houses acquire distinctive symbolic significance as the favored arenas for petty power struggles among...
(The entire section is 8170 words.)
SOURCE: "'They Were as Good as We Were': The Stories of William Trevor," in The New Criterion, Vol. 11, No. 6, February, 1993, pp. 10-17.
[In the following review Tillinghast examines Trevor's treatment of Irish culture in The Collected Stories.]
American readers of William Trevor's fiction may find themselves at something of a loss to decide precisely what nationality or ethnic identity to assign to this acknowledged master of the short story. The usual epithet for Trevor is Anglo-Irish, which, particularly for readers unfamiliar with Ireland, roughly places him, because he was born and raised in Ireland, went to school there, attended Trinity, College, Dublin—and...
(The entire section is 5597 words.)
SOURCE: "A Lifetime of Tales from the Land of Broken Hearts," in New York Times Book Review, February 28, 1993, pp. 1, 25-7.
[In the following review of The Collected Stories, Price argues that Trevor's short story writing is consistently strong but that his novels are better.]
The voices of extraordinary writers like William Trevor are almost as quickly recognizable as those of great singers. Any lover of song will know a Pavarotti, a Leontyne Price, in an opening phrase—often in a single note. The genuinely sizable writers of fiction announce their presence almost as early. Some, like Conrad or Hemingway, speak in timbres distinctive enough to declare their...
(The entire section is 3152 words.)
SOURCE: "Irish Drift," in New Statesman and Society, Vol. 6, No. 267, August 27, 1993, pp. 40-1.
[In the review below, Craig praises Excursions in the Real World as an insightful social commentary, but argues that it is not reveal enough about Trevor.]
The real world as opposed to the world of fiction, that is; these enjoyable essays by William Trevor provide a series of glimpses into the novelist's past. He was born in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, in 1928, a Protestant in a Catholic culture, and without even the eclat that ownership of a "big house" might have conferred. His father was a bank clerk, and his childhood peripatetic: after Mitchelstown came Youghal and...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
SOURCE: "Kilneagh and Challacombe: William Trevor's Two Nations," in Eire-Ireland, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, Fall, 1993, pp. 114-29.
[In the following essay, Hildebidle contrasts Fools of Fortune to "Matilda's England" as he discusses Trevor's views on Ireland and England.]
William Trevor has baldly asserted that "There is no such thing today as an Anglo-Irish novelist," which will, among other things, come as a great shock to Molly Keane. Of the supposedly nonexistent species, Trevor himself is an apparently unequivocal example. And the question arises: can one be an Anglo-Irish writer and not, sooner or later, address the peculiar embrace which so painfully joins...
(The entire section is 6180 words.)
SOURCE: "Belonging Nowhere, Seeing Everywhere: William Trevor and the Art of Distance," in The Hollins Critic, Vol. XXX, No. 4, October, 1993, pp. 1-11.
[In the following essay, Core provides an overview of Trevor's work, discussing recurring themes and Trevor's critical reception.]
As a writer one doesn't belong anywhere. Fiction writers, I think, are even more outside the pale. Because society and people are our meat, one doesn't really belong in the midst of society. The great challenge in writing is always to find the universal in the local, the parochial. And to do that, one needs distance.
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SOURCE: "De-colleenizing Ireland: William Trevor's Family Sins," in Notes on Modern Irish Literature, Vol. 5, 1993, pp. 28-33.
[In the essay below, Fitzgerald-Hoyt analyzes "Kathleen's Field" and "Events at Drimaghleen" to support of her argument that Trevor breaks typical stereotypes of Irish women.]
The identification of Ireland with female icons—Hibernia, Erin, the old woman, the colleen—has for centuries been a potent and pernicious tendency. Curiously, these stereotypes historically have been embraced by Irish and English alike: the metaphor of Ireland as oppressed woman or occasionally as militant standard-bearer fueled Irish nationalist posters and...
(The entire section is 1947 words.)
SOURCE: "Introduction," in William Trevor, Twayne, 1993, pp. 1-8.
[In the following excerpt, Morrison discusses Trevor's Irish nationality and recurring themes within his works.]
From some perspectives William Trevor might seem to be a British author: he lives in Devon, on the southwest coast of England; his publishers are two important British firms, Penguin and the Bodley Head; he has been awarded an honorary CBE by Queen Elizabeth II for his valuable services to literature. His work usually occupies a foot or two of shelf space in major bookshops throughout the United Kingdom. And his speech is accented by an urbane mix of various regions of Britain. Even so,...
(The entire section is 3067 words.)
SOURCE: "Preface," in William Trevor: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne, 1993, pp. xi-xviii.
[In the following excerpt from her Preface, Paulson argues that Trevor is one of the finest modern short story writers and that he is not appreciated adequately in the United States.]
My sense of tragedy probably comes from childhood—the source, I think, of both tragedy and comedy. The struggle in Ireland—and the sorrow—is a good backdrop for a fiction writer, but it is not for me any sort of inspiration…. What seems to nudge me is something that exists between two people, or three, and if their particular happiness or distress exists for...
(The entire section is 2210 words.)
SOURCE: "A Thunder of Hooves in the Drawing Room," in The Hudson Review, Vol. 47, No. 4, Winter, 1995, pp. 655-60.
[In the following review, Krist argues that if readers give Excursions in the Real World a careful reading, they will learn a great deal about the author.]
Any rich and active writing life creates by-products—reviews, essays, travel articles, profiles, and other occasional pieces—that accumulate in the odd corners of a writer's opus until they take on substantial heft. If the writer is good enough, these pieces, while perhaps not originally intended to appear between hard covers, may eventually be gathered into a collection and published. If the...
(The entire section is 2530 words.)
SOURCE: "Never Did Spider More Hungrily Wait," in New York Times Book Review, January 8, 1995, pp. 1, 22.
[In the following review of Felicia's Journey, McGrath praises Trevor's ability to create memorable characters and a satisfying resolution to a dramatic story.]
William Trevor is an Irishman who lives in England and writes often about the English. He is a moral realist who possesses a deliciously dry wit, a nice sense of the macabre and a warm sympathy for the flawed and suffering characters he creates with such fine psychological precision. There is a conviction implicit in all his work that people divide into predators and prey, that the human condition is...
(The entire section is 1237 words.)
SOURCE: "An Improbable Monster," in National Review, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, March 6, 1995, pp. 67-8.
[In the following review, Bowman argues that despite Trevor's romantic depiction of the homeless, Felicia's Journey is well written.]
In Britain, William Trevor's 13th novel and 21st book of fiction won the Sunday Express "Book of the Year" award and the Whitbread Prize. Now published in the U.S., Felicia's Journey should be taken as stating a most persuasive case on behalf of its 67-year-old Irish author, who has long lived in England but continues to write about both his native and his adoptive countries, as one of the two or three best living writers...
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SOURCE: "A Most Improbable Beauty," in Commonweal, Vol. CXXII. No. 10, May 19, 1995, pp. 31-2.
[In the following review, Maitland faults the conclusion of Felicia's Journey, but still finds the work powerful and engaging.]
William Trevor is an eminent British writer, claimed—very properly—by the British literary establishment; winner of many of the most prestigious British literary awards. But importantly, Trevor is not British, but Irish—he was born in County Cork in 1928, brought up in provincial Ireland, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters. He is a very Irish writer.
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SOURCE: "The Casualties of Deception," in New York Times Book Review, October 20, 1996, p. 15.
[In the following review, Lesser considers the concepts of truth and self-knowledge in After Rain.]
The great novels draw you in entirely, it seems, so that while you are reading them you forget you ever had another life. But the great short stories, in my experience, keep you balanced in midair, suspended somewhere between the world you normally inhabit and the world briefly illuminated by the author. You see them both at once and you feel them both at once: the emotions generated in you by the story carry over instantly and applicably to the life outside the book. This is...
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SOURCE: "Wonderment and Serenity" in Irish Literary Supplement, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring, 1997, p. 4.
[In the following review, Fitzgerald-Hoyt agues that Trevor achieves a coherency in the twelve stories about revelations contained in the collection After Rain.]
In the title story of William Trevor's stunning new collection, After Rain, a young woman who has traveled to Italy to come to terms with a failed love affair as well as a troubled family past reflects upon a painting of the Annunciation in the church of Santa Fabiola:
The Virgin looks alarmed, right hand arresting her visitor's advance. Beyond—background to the...
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Beards, Richard D. A Review of Fools of Fortune and The Stories of William Trevor. World Literature Today 58, No. 3 (Summer 1984): 416-17.
Praises Trevor's skill as a story teller.
Bonaccorso, Richard. "Not Noticing History: Two Tales By William Trevor." Connecticut Review XVIII, No. 1 (Spring 1996): 21-7.
Considers the role of history in Trevor's short stories "Beyond the Pale" and "The News from Ireland."
Coad, David. A Review of Felicia's Journey. World Literature Today 69, No. 3 (Summer 1995): 585....
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Trevor, William (Vol. 21)
Trevor, William 1928-
(Full name William Trevor Cox) Irish short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.
Trevor is acknowledged as one of Ireland's finest contemporary short story writers. Often compared to James Joyce and Frank O'Connor, he skillfully blends humor and pathos to portray the lives of people living on the fringe of society. While many of his early works are set in England, his most recent fiction incorporates the history and social milieu of his native Ireland. In works such as The Ballroom of Romance, and Other Stories, Trevor explores the importance of personal and national history as he focuses on lonely individuals burdened by the past.
Born in Country Cork to Protestant parents, Trevor moved frequently while growing up and attended thirteen different schools before entering St. Columba's College in Dublin in 1942. Shortly after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, he left Ireland to accept a position teaching art in England, where he currently resides. While he was in his mid-thirties, he abandoned a successful career as a sculptor to pursue writing full-time. His first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, was generally dismissed as imitative and pretentious. The Old Boys, proved significantly more successful, winning the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1964. In the years that followed, Trevor continued to write novels and also produced a number of well-received plays. However, it is as a writer of short fiction that he has received the most critical and commercial attention. The publication of his first collection of short stories, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, was soon followed by the highly popular works The Ballroom of Romance and Angels at the Ritz, and Other Stories. One story in particular—"The Ballroom of Romance"—established Trevor's reputation as a talented short fiction writer, inviting comparisons to works by Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Muriel Spark. Trevor's most recent short fiction collections, The News from Ireland, and Other Stories, Family Sins, and Other Stories and Two Lives: Reading Turgenev; My House in Umbria continue to generate popular and critical acclaim.
Major Works of Short Fiction
In his works Trevor typically focuses on eccentric individuals isolated from mainstream society. For example, in "The General's Day" a retired British army officer living in a shabby apartment falls victim to his housekeeper who exploits his loneliness and steals from him. Many of Trevor's characters are imprisoned by the past, such as the title character of the short story, "In Love with Ariadne" who cannot bear the shame of her father's suicide and rumors of his pedophilia. As a result, she enters the convent, refusing a future with a man who loves her. Other Trevor characters, dissatisfied with their present lives, relive the past. In "Virgins," two women who are unhappy in their marriages recall their youth when they fell in love with the same man, while the protagonist of My House in Umbria confuses memories from her past with the present. Trevor's recent short fiction incorporates these thematic concerns with the history and political turmoils of Ireland. Beyond the Pale, and Other Stories and The News from Ireland, and Other Stories address more directly the troubles in Ireland and its tenuous relationship with England. For instance, in the title story of Beyond the Pale, and Other Stories English tourists are exposed to terrorist violence while staying at an isolated resort in Northern Ireland. While initially rationalizing the event, the vacationers are eventually forced to confront their own roles in perpetuating the Anglo-Irish conflict.
While some critics have praised Trevor's emphasis on the past, others have found his subject matter tiresome. Anatole Broyard lamented: "Too many of Trevor's characters are haunted by the past. After a while, when I grew tired of them, they reminded me of the sort of people who sentimentalize in attics. Although nothing demands deftness so much as nostalgia, Mr. Trevor is sometimes content just to shamble around it." Despite the often bleak tone of his work, Trevor has been lauded for his compassionate characterizations; in particular, many commentators have noted and commended his sensitive treatment of female characters. Trevor's restrained writing style and subtle humor have also received favorable attention. The last few years have seen the publication of several full-length studies of Trevor, expanding critical analysis of his work to include such topics as gender relations, religious symbolism and the context of Irish literature.
The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, and Other Stories 1967
The Ballroom of Romance, and Other Stories 1972
Angels at the Ritz, and Other Stories 1975
Old School Ties (short stories and memoirs) 1976
Lovers of Their Times, and Other Stories 1978
The Distant Past, and Other Stories 1979
Beyond the Pale, and Other Stories 1981
The Stories of William Trevor 1983
The News from Ireland, and Other Stories 1986
Nights at the Alexandra (novella) 1987
Family Sins, and Other Stories 1990
Two Lives: Reading Turgenev; My House in Umbria (novellas) 1991
The Collected Stories 1992
Other Major Works
A Standard of Behaviour (novel) 1958
The Old Boys (novel) 1964
The Boarding House (novel) 1965
The Love Department (novel) 1966
Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neills Hotel (novel) 1969
Miss Gomez and the Brethren (novel) 1971
* The Old Boys (play) 1971
Going Home (play) 1972
Elizabeth Alone (novel) 1973
The Fifty-Seventh Saturday (play) 1973
A Perfect Relationship (play) 1973
Marriages (play) 1974
The Children of Dynmouth (novel) 1976
Other People's Worlds (novel) 1980
Scenes from an Album (play) 1981
Fools of Fortune (novel) 1983
A Writer's Ireland: Landscape in Literature (nonfiction) 1984
The Silence in the Garden (novel) 1988
Excursions in the Real World (memoirs) 1994
Felicia's Journey (novel) 1994
Juliet's Story (juvenilia) 1994
*Adapted from Trevor's novel The Old Boys.
SOURCE: A review of The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, in Stand, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1967, p. 56.
[In the following mixed review, Standen discusses the uneven quality of The Day We Got Drunk on Cake.]
William Trevor's The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, comes in a jacket so swinging and irrelevant that one is eventually forced to the conclusion that there was a muddle in Bodley Head's design cloakroom. Mr. Trevor's characters are in fact mostly ageing and/or lonely—certainly characters of England before the Flood. There are twelve stories of middle-class life—nearly all the private tragedies of people who would expect to keep up appearances but whose lives have dipped wildly and uncontrollably beneath the surface.
Often objects (an antique table, the furnishings of a luxury penthouse) play a crucial part and this may be generally true of the short story form which forces a writer to coalesce rather than develop his characters. [Yukio] Mishima does the same thing, using thermos flasks, a wardrobe, a pearl. Objects (and 'servants') are part of the trap that William Trevor's characters live in. His method is clinical although he is less truly detached than the Japanese writer—in fact it is those stories where his sympathy breaks through which are the best. Of the twelve "The General's Day" is probably the most satisfying and "A School Story" is finely done. The overall impression though is one of unevenness. In "In at the Birth" for example a lady who goes to babysit for a couple, who are in fact childless, ends up herself in a cot—the child they never had. Here there is not much of sympathy and too much of formula. One is left wondering if William Trevor isn't working a very narrow seam.
SOURCE: "Brief Cases," in The Spectator, May 13, 1972, pp. 733-34.
[Waugh is an English novelist, journalist, and nonfiction writer. In the following laudatory assessment of The Ballroom of Romance, he examines the characters in Trevor's short stories, asserting that characters "who in ordinary life would merely be depressing suddenly become objects of compassion, and as such afford keen enjoyment. "]
All Mr Trevor's characters are people whom any sane man would wish to avoid. The English have an admirable convention that we never talk to strangers—in railway carriages, bars or anywhere else—unless to request or convey precise information. The reason for...
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SOURCE: "Miseries and Splendours of the Short Story," in Encounter, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3, September, 1972, pp. 69-75.
[Theroux is an American fiction writer, critic, and travel writer who, since 1963, has lived outside the United States, first traveling to Africa with the Peace Corps and later settling in England. Many of his novels and short stories have foreign settings—Kenya in Fong and the Indians (1968), Malawi in Girls at Play (1969) and Jungle Lovers (1971), Singapore in Saint Jack (1973)—and feature characters whose conflicting cultural backgrounds, as well as their personal conflicts, provide the substance of the story. Critics often find...
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SOURCE: A review of Angels at the Ritz, in The Spectator, Vol. 235, No. 7689, November 8, 1975, pp. 604-05.
[An English biographer, critic, nonfiction writer, poet, and editor, Ackroyd is known for his novels that focus upon the interaction between artifice and reality and emphasize the ways in which contemporary art and life are profoundly influenced by events and creations of the past. In the following excerpt, he offers a positive assessment of the stories comprising Angels at the Ritz.]
Angels at the Ritz is one of the most imaginative and substantial books I have read this year; the fact that it is a volume of short stories is probably beside the...
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SOURCE: "Explosions of Conscience," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. 26, No. 6, April 19, 1979, p. 8.
[Pritchett, a modern British writer, is respected for his mastery of the short story and for what critics describe as his judicious, reliable, and insightful literary criticism. In the following essay, he considers the "obscure dignity" of characters in Lovers of Their Time, and Other Stories.]
The excellent short story depends so much on alerting immediate doubts and acute expectations; we are alerted by a distinctive style and self; yet there are one or two writers who cunningly insinuate an abeyance of the self, a quiet in the inquiry that, for the moment,...
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SOURCE: 'The Truth Tellers of William Trevor," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XXI, No. 1, 1979, pp. 59-72.
[In the following excerpt, Gitzen offers a thematic analysis of Trevor's early short stories. ]
Since the appearance of his first novel, A Standard of Behavior (1958), William Trevor has published a total of eleven volumes of fiction. Despite the popularity of The Old Boys (1964), The Boarding House (1965), and The Ballroom of Romance (1972), extensive analysis of his writing is as yet in short supply. Reviewers, on the other hand, have neither ignored Trevor nor hesitated to classify him. With virtual unanimity, they have...
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SOURCE: An interview in The Paris Review, Vol. 31, No. 110, Spring, 1989, pp. 118-51.
[In the following interview, Trevor discusses his background, the creative process, and the influences on and major themes of his fiction. ]
[Stout]: What did you do after leaving university?
[Trevor]: When I left Trinity Dublin, I tried to get a job, and it was very difficult in those days—in the 1950s in Ireland. Eventually I found an advertisement in a newspaper that said someone's child needed to be taught. "Would suit a nun" it suggested at the end of it, which was interesting, and I actually got that job. So I used to leave Dublin every day on the bus,...
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SOURCE: "The Rest is Silence': Secrets in Some William Trevor Stories," in New Irish Writing: Essays in Memory of Raymond J. Porter, edited by James D. Brophy and Eamon Grennan, Twayne Publishers, 1989, pp. 35-53.
[Rhodes is an American educator and literary critic with a special interest in Irish literature. In the following excerpt, he explores the theme of secrecy in Trevor's stories, asserting that it is "a means of directing our attention to his most important fictional concern: the mystery of human personality, behind which may also preside some assumptions, conscious or otherwise, about dimensions of the Irish personality. "]
Prior to the 1986 collection The...
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SOURCE: "William Trevor's 'A Meeting in Middle Age' and Romantic Irony," in Journal of the Short Story in English No. 16, Spring, 1991, pp. 19-28.
[In the following essay, Doherty determines the influence of James Joyce's "A Painful Case" on Trevor's "A Meeting in Middle Age."]
Many Irish writers have worked the theme of isolation, and William Trevor is one of the present masters. In his novel of 1965, The Boarding House (1968), he has his central character, Mr. Bird, the man who runs the boarding house (an analogue for the creative artist as he creates the boarding house as his own work and to suit himself), admit to a specialist's interest in loneliness:...
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SOURCE: "The Saving Touch of Fantasy," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 46005, May 31, 1991, p. 21.
[O'Faolain is an English novelist and short story writer. In the following review, she examines the tension between reality and fantasy in Trevor's Two Lives.]
William Trevor's fictions swing between realism and the escape-hatch of fantasy and the process is symbiotic, for it is his characters' plausibility which earns credence for their excesses. Like real people, they can commit cartoonish follies without becoming cartoonish. Reality dogs them. Realism delivers them up to scrutiny and we, like Peeping Toms, may even feel an uneasy shiver at its verisimilitude....
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SOURCE: "The Plain People of Ireland," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4676, November 13, 1992, p. 19.
[O'Donoghue is an Irish poet, critic and editor. In the following favorable review of The Collected Stories, he discusses the defining characteristics of Trevor's short stories.]
Graham Greene said that William Trevor's Angels at the Ritz (1975) was "one of the best collections, if not the best collection since Joyce's Dubliners". Leaving aside the extravagance of this (Greene is bound to like Trevor: the Collected's opening story, "Meeting in Middle Age", is like Greene without the metaphysics), the Dubliners...
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SOURCE: "William Trevor and Other People's Worlds," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. CI, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 138-44.
[In the following mixed assessment of Two Lives and The Collected Stories, Allen derides the pedantic, overly-political nature of Trevor's short fiction set in and around Northern Ireland.]
Afiçionados of the contemporary short story could undoubtedly summon up a dozen or so names if asked to identify the best living practitioners of the form. For me there are three now writing in English who dominate this genre: the Canadian Alice Munro, America's Peter Taylor, and the Anglo-Irish master William Trevor. (I'm tempted to expand the list to...
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SOURCE: "The Garden and Trevor's 'System of Correspondence,'" in William Trevor, Twayne Publishers, 1993, pp. 9-18.
[Morrison is an American educator and critic with a special interest in Irish literature. In the following excerpt, she analyzes "The News from Ireland" from a cosmological perspective, maintaining that Trevor attempts to connect past and present in his fiction through a complex series of mutual interrelationships.]
When Mr. Erskine, the Pulvertaft's estate manager, begins courting Miss Heddoe, the English governess, in "The News from Ireland," he invites her "to stroll about the garden" and boasts that he "reclaimed the little garden [that surrounds his...
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SOURCE: "Stories about Courtship: Bachelors/Spinsters, Fathers/Daughters," in William Trevor; A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1993, pp. 57-82.
[In the following excerpt, Paulson commends Trevor's sensitive and realistic portrayal of gender relations in "The Ballroom of Romance," "Kathleen's Field," and "The Wedding in the Garden. "]
While codes governing courtship and marriage are changing in some parts of the world, in most places feminine and masculine gender identities are governed by two antagonistic codes of behavior—purity for women, promiscuity for men. Certainly Trevor's stories about courtship—such as "The Ballroom of Romance," "Teresa's...
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Broyard, Anatole. "Radical Comes from Root." The New York Times Book Review (31 October 1972): 43.
Derides the traditional style of The Ballroom of Romance, and Other Stories.
Craig, Patricia. "The Pressure of Events." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4530 (26 January 1990): 87.
Observes three recurrent themes in Trevor's short fiction: domestic scandals, acrimony in marriages, and recollecting the past.
Gordon, Mary. "The Luck of the Irish." The New York Review of Books (22 December 1983): 53-4.
Studies the influence of Trevor's middle class, Irish Protestant...
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Trevor, William (Vol. 25)
William Trevor 1928–
(Born William Trevor Cox) Irish short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.
Trevor is renowned as a superb craftsman whose vision is moral and intensely humane. In prose noted for its subtletly and control, he attempts to show the reader what is extraordinary about the seemingly ordinary lives that he portrays. He does so, in the opinion of many critics, with remarkable success. Trevor's characters have a quiet dignity and command our respect. They are "recognizably human," believable in the fullness of their portrayed lives.
Trevor's novels and short stories, narrated by detached observers, are often extremely funny. Their subjects, nevertheless, are quite serious. Trevor's characters are isolated people who live bravely but fear a disruption in the order they have imposed on their thoughts and emotions. Typically, some person or event leads them to reassess their lives and selves. In his acclaimed early novel The Old Boys, for instance, a class reunion is the starting point for reflections on old age and for revelations of the pretentions of some of its characters. In the ambitious novel The Children of Dynmouth and the recent Other People's Worlds, it is a person rather than an event that causes the epiphanic moment around which all of Trevor's fiction revolves.
Trevor is often described as a master of the short story. His interest in the small but powerful moments that can change a person's life is particularly well suited to the form. Collections like his The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, The Ballroom of Romance, and Angels at the Ritz contain stories that have been described as both perfectly constructed and unusually moving. As Trevor's characters face some simple but painful truth about themselves, readers, critics feel, are moved to recognize their own vulnerability.
(See also CLC, Vols. 7, 9, 14; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 4.)
William Trevor is an extremely accomplished writer, and Other People's Worlds is as accomplished as anything he's so far written. Trevor has the professional's knack of allowing key moments to make their effect without help of underlining. The villain-hero of his new novel, Francis Tyte, is a bit-part actor, full-time liar and fantasist who makes trouble for all the women he fastens and fattens on, without himself being troubled by anything more than rage that they're occasionally ungrateful to and unworthy of him. He has an illegitimate daughter by a shop assistant, Doris, and Trevor contrasts the drab meanness of their lives with that of Francis's. One scene ends with Doris spooning out tinned ravioli for her daughter before she notices that Joy is comatose with drugs…. The next scene begins: 'In the Rembrandt Hotel, in the restaurant called the Carver's Table, Francis ate roast beef, and drank half a bottle of last year's beaujolais.'
Obvious enough, perhaps. Nothing interferes with Francis's appetites. He's about to be married to a well-to-do middle-aged widow, Julia Ferndale, whom he'll desert on their honeymoon. Much later in the novel Julia finds herself with the responsibility of trying to help Doris and Joy. She goes to stay in the Rembrandt Hotel. 'In the restaurant called the Carver's Table she tried to eat roast beef but found she could not.' It's part of Trevor's accomplishment that he resists drawing attention to the echo.
Much of the novel's artful construction depends on echo, parallel, contrast. Which is perhaps not surprising, since Other People's Worlds is about the distinctions that have to be made between various realities and the illusion out of which Francis in particular builds his life. 'Make-belief is all we have,' he remarks at one point, and he's the complete artificer, acting out the various parts he's assigned himself. (He always wears...
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William Trevor, like many of the characters in his novels and stories, is something of a con artist. The boring opening to his new novel, Other People's Worlds, is a setup…. That Trevor is willing to lull us for 20 or so pages, only to jolt us back awake by revealing that Francis Tyte, the intended groom [of Julia Ferndale] is in fact an impostor with the sinister mission of violating the peaceful contentment of Swan House, is the first of Trevor's tricks in this novel, one of many masterful strokes by which he shifts our perceptions. (p. 3)
On one level, this new novel is an old-fashioned, very readable, Gothic tale about the dialectic between good and evil, truth and illusion, innocence and guilt. Yet it is also a thoroughly contemporary work, not only in its details (this is an England of "Pizzaland" and television addiction), but in the ways it touches on our most up-to-date fears, most especially the fear of being vulnerable and compassionate in a predatory, violent world.
Trevor's prose seems careful, delicate, almost cautious at times. He builds his narrative by setting everything up, then knocking it down: the repeated use of facades and faces (and, finally, of demolition) in Other People's Worlds gives this technique a metaphorical scaffold. But he is never too careful, and it would be a distortion to reduce his work to formulas on how his self-admitted "obsessions" all add up in the end.
It would also be a distortion to leave the impression that Trevor's novel is a bleak, pessimistic work. Julia Ferndale, a sane, sympathetic person caught up in what often seems to be a world of comic-book horror, does not so much surrender her innocence as her naiveté. She holds on to her best qualities—her character, her trust in people—while qualifying them with a deeper sense of life's darker realities. Her spiritual survival is a source of hope…. (p. 10)
Terence Winch, "A Predator and His Prey," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1981, The Washington Post), February 1, 1981, pp. 3, 10.
The three aesthetic challenges of [Other People's Worlds] are to establish Julia's innocence on credible grounds, to show it first as weakness and then as strength, and to intimate, lightly, the sources of Francis's malignity. Trevor succeeds with Julia, but I think he goes too far in the direction of the explicit with Francis. Still, it is a real artistic dilemma; if he tells too little about Francis, then allegory will rear its blunt head; too much, and the mystery around Francis will dissipate, revealing a case history. In these matters, a little early Freud can be dangerous; and Trevor, I think, errs in furnishing us with the childhood seduction theory as the key to Francis's foul nature. This error grows out of an attempt to avoid the greater simplifications of allegory. But since the essence of Francis's evil is his sheer externality, furnishing him with this gross scar shifts our attention from surface to psyche. It would have been better to have kept us hunting in the shadows of human motivation.
Julia, on the other hand, is a triumph in a difficult field: the portrayal of good. Her goodness is not ethereal; the natural motion of her soul is to form ties of loyalty and love. This makes her vulnerable (she comes close to suicide when Francis leaves her on the first day of their honeymoon in Italy). But it is also the source of her vitality and it proves infectious. (p. 38)
I admire what Trevor wants to do with Doris [the mother of Francis's illegitimate daughter Joy]: he wants to show us how much economic...
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"Other People's Worlds," by William Trevor … is a shorter, more efficient novel than [Iris Murdoch's] "Nuns and Soldiers," but bears some resemblances. It, too, has for a heroine a widow who marries a young man financially beneath her, and it, too, demonstrates that such a union, however rashly contracted, cannot be lightly undone. Julia Ferndale, like [Murdoch's] Gertrude Openshaw, is plump but still handsome; like Anne Cavidge, she undergoes a struggle with religious doubt. Catholicism haunts both books, and both are at their best showing different social worlds impinging, with painful and revelatory effect…. Like Miss Murdoch, Mr. Trevor was born in Ireland, and he brings to the anthropology of their adopted England an affectionate and attentive outsider's eye…. [While] he is not the international star she is, Mr. Trevor has a solid reputation in Great Britain and a growing one [in America]. "Other People's Worlds" surely will boost this reputation; it is a dense and constantly surprising work, grimly humorous, total in its empathy, and pungent with the scent of evil and corruption. While Iris Murdoch's world has something incorrigibly sunny and donnish about it, and even her meanest characters have intellectual positions to articulate, Mr. Trevor's contains true depths, hells whose inhabitants do not know where they are.
Unlike Miss Murdoch, Mr. Trevor is a short-story writer as well as a novelist, and he has the habit of...
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Rarely do verbal precision, intelligence, imagination, and compassion converge to produce a talent as awesome as William Trevor's. His eleventh offering to a burgeoning and increasingly enthusiastic American audience further entitles aspiring writers of fiction to despise him a little.
Other People's Worlds, with the persuasive intricacy characteristic of Mr. Trevor's short stories, reveals the presence of the demonic in human affairs as most ordinary human beings encounter it…. The despicable Tyte is one of the byzantine monsters in western literature; his adventures, only gradually discovered by Julia, have left the wake of his careening will strewn with human debris….
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From his first novel, The Old Boys, onwards, [William Trevor] has specialized in harrying gentility. His books regularly shepherd into view the well-bred and/or well-heeled: then, unleashing some aggressive predator at them, they depict with sprightly relish the bleating distress and panic-stricken swervings that ensue.
The clash between herbivores and carnivores fascinates Trevor. His last novel, Other People's Worlds, absorbedly watched a psychopath wreaking havoc in a nest of gentlefolk. The preceding one, The Children of Dynmouth, recorded the tremors shaking rectory and bungalow as a crazy blackmailer harassed the mild citizens of a sleepy Dorset town. Retailing prim...
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I liked "Lovers of Their Time," William Trevor's last collection of stories, better than "Beyond the Pale." I still remember with a feeling of pleased surprise a couple of images from that book….
Yet in some of the other pieces in that book I felt that Mr. Trevor indulged himself in a sort of perverse minimalism, a kind of contest with himself to see how little he needed to make a story. Though everyone regards him as a master of understatement, I wonder whether it isn't conceited in a way to insist on writing such carefully removed stories, so breathlessly poised on the edge of non-existence.
At one time it might have been argued that these are the people who do not get written...
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William Trevor's characters would be perfectly content to lead decorous, uneventful lives. They work in shops or offices, attend bridge socials and lawn parties, quietly raise quiet families in London or the Irish countryside. Yet calm eludes them. Unbidden and inevitable as physics or original sin, the past catches them up, impartial History tracing out consequences. Each of the dozen stories in Beyond the Pale, Trevor's fifth collection, gauges some repercussion of past on present. Small ones, mostly—remembered indiscretions, hints of family secrets—or larger ones muffled by distance, specifically the continuing war in Ireland. As brute facts intrude, Trevor's characters struggle to stay unruffled,...
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William Trevor's reputation has been slow to establish itself in America…. "Other People's Worlds," his most recent novel, received a good deal of praise for its radioactive portrait of a talented sociopath and his victims. Still, Trevor is probably best known for his stories, particularly among writers and critics who recognize a master when they see one. Graham Greene hailed his third collection, "Angels at the Ritz," as perhaps the best in English since "Dubliners," an astute comment that calls attention to the qualities Trevor shares with the early Joyce. Both write that austere Irish prose that quietly charms and that can be adapted to portray various walks of life. Further, both Trevor and the early Joyce are...
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A good short story, like a good poem, exists only in its expression. Its essence is irreducible and immutable. As William Trevor has written (in a review in praise of one of the writers of short stories he most admires, Sean O'Faolain), 'the better the short story the less easy it is to re-tell'. By this criterion, among others, Trevor's short stories are among the best in English…. I have just re-read 59 of [his] stories and I cannot imagine how any of them could be improved by any alteration. Every story seems as perfect (as Philip Larkin might put it) as an egg.
Perhaps [Trevor's] most important virtue, rare among all sorts of people, especially writers, is that he acknowledges without...
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Trevor, William (Vol. 58)
William Trevor 1928-
(Full name William Trevor Cox) Irish short fiction writer, novelist, playwright, essayist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents criticism of Trevor's short fiction works from 1990 to 2001. For discussion of Trevor's short fiction career prior to 1990, see SSC, Volume 21.
Trevor is acknowledged as one of the finest contemporary Anglo-Irish short story writers. Often compared to James Joyce and Frank O'Connor, he skillfully blends humor and pathos to portray the lives of people living on the fringe of society. While many of his early works are set in England, his recent fiction incorporates the history and social milieu of his native Ireland.
Born in Country Cork, Ireland, to Protestant parents, Trevor moved frequently while growing up and attended thirteen different schools before entering St. Columba's College in Dublin in 1942. Shortly after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, he left Ireland to accept a position teaching art in England, where he currently resides. While Trevor was in his mid-thirties, he abandoned a successful career as a sculptor to pursue writing. Trevor's first novel, A Standard of Behaviour (1958), was generally dismissed as imitative and pretentious. His novel The Old Boys (1964) proved significantly more successful, winning the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1964. In the years that followed, Trevor continued to write novels and also produced a number of well-received plays. However, it is as a writer of short fiction that he has received the most critical and commercial attention. The publication of his first collection of short stories, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake (1967) was soon followed by the highly popular works The Ballroom of Romance (1972) and The Angels at the Ritz (1975). Trevor continues to write novels and short stories. His longtime interest in art has led to one-man exhibitions of his artwork in Dublin and Bath, England.
Major Works of Short Fiction
In his writing, Trevor typically focuses on eccentric individuals isolated from mainstream society. For example, in “The General's Day” a retired British army officer living in a shabby apartment falls victim to his housekeeper who exploits his loneliness and steals from him. Many of Trevor's characters are imprisoned by the past, such as the title character of the short story “In Love with Ariadne,” who cannot bear the shame of her father's suicide and rumors of his pedophilia. As a result, she enters the convent, refusing a future with a man who loves her. Other Trevor characters, dissatisfied with their present lives, relive the past. In “Virgins,” two women who are unhappy in their marriages recall their youth when they fell in love with the same man, while the protagonist of the novella My House in Umbria (1991; included, along with the novella Reading Turgenev, in Two Lives) confuses memories from her past with the present. Several of Trevor's stories incorporate these thematic concerns with the history and political turmoils of Ireland. Beyond the Pale (1981) and The News from Ireland (1986) address more directly the troubles in Ireland and its tenuous relationship with England. After Rain (1996) and The Hill Bachelors (2000) revisit Trevor's dominant themes of failed relationships and missed opportunities.
While some critics have praised Trevor's emphasis on the past, others have found his subject matter tiresome and without humor. Despite the often bleak tone of his work, Trevor has been lauded for his compassionate characterizations; in particular, many commentators have commended his sensitive treatment of female characters. Trevor's restrained writing style and subtle wit have also received favorable attention. The last several years have seen the publication of several full-length studies of Trevor, expanding critical analysis of his work to include such topics as gender relations, religious symbolism, and the context of Irish literature. His short stories have often been compared to those of such writers as Muriel Spark and Anton Chekhov. Trevor is recognized as one of the best contemporary short story writers today and his work is generally highly regarded. In 2002, Trevor was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain for his service to literature. Furthermore, in 2002, Trevor's novel The Story of Lucy Gault (2002) was shortlisted for Great Britain's Whitbread Prize for best novel.
The Day We Got Drunk on Cake and Other Stories 1967
The Ballroom of Romance and Other Stories 1972
Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories 1975
Old School Ties (short stories and memoirs) 1976
Lovers of their Times and Other Stories 1978
The Distant Past and Other Stories 1979
Beyond the Pale and Other Stories 1981
The Stories of William Trevor 1983
The News from Ireland and Other Stories 1986
Nights at the Alexandra 1987
Family Sins and Other Stories 1990
Two Lives: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria 1991
Collected Stories 1992
Outside Ireland: Selected Stories 1995
After Rain 1996
Cocktails at Doney's and Other Stories 1996
Ireland: Selected Stories 1998
The Hill Bachelors 2000
Nights at the Alexandra 2001
A Standard of Behaviour (novel) 1958
The Old Boys (novel) 1964
The Boarding House (novel) 1965
The Love Department (novel) 1966
Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel (novel) 1969
Miss Gomez and the Brethren (novel) 1971
The Old Boys (play) 1971
Going Home (play) 1972
Elizabeth Alone (novel) 1973
The Fifty-Seventh Saturday (play) 1973
A Perfect Relationship (play) 1973
Marriages (play) 1974
The Children of Dynmouth (novel) 1976
Other People's Worlds (novel) 1980
Scenes from an Album (play) 1981
Fools of Fortune (novel) 1983
A Writer's Ireland: Landscape in Literature (nonfiction) 1984
The Silence in the Garden (novel) 1988
Excursions in the Real World: Autobiographical Essays (memoirs) 1994
Felicia's Journey (novel) 1994
Juliet's Story (juvenilia) 1994
Death in Summer (novel) 1998
The Story of Lucy Gault (novel) 2002
SOURCE: Schirmer, Gregory A. “‘Such Tales of Woe’: The Short Stories.” In William Trevor: A Study of His Fiction, pp. 85-121. London: Routledge, 1990.
[In the following essay, Schirmer provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Trevor's short fiction.]
Three years after the appearance of his second novel, The Old Boys, Trevor published his first collection of short stories, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake (1967). Like The Old Boys, this book seemed more the work of an experienced, accomplished author than the efforts of a relative novice. Its twelve stories are remarkably consistent in quality, and many of the formal characteristics of The Old Boys—the precise diction, the use of concrete, extremely suggestive details, the sparse, economical plots and sub-plots constructed around parallelism and juxtaposition, the carefully modulated ironies—prove at least as effective in these stories as they are in the novel.
The promise of The Day We Got Drunk on Cake has more than been fulfilled. Over the course of two decades, Trevor has published six volumes of short stories, and although the six-dozen stories in these collections range widely in terms of subject-matter and thematic concerns, and employ a broad variety of styles and story-telling modes, they are characterized by a consistently impressive level of craftsmanship and—at their best—by an intensity and complexity that place Trevor in the very first rank of contemporary short-story writers. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the short story, with its demands for nuance and economy, for suggestiveness and precision, is the form most amenable to Trevor's literary sensibility.1
Trevor's stories fall somewhere between the radical experimentation of modernists like Joyce and Woolf and the relative conservatism of more conventional tale-tellers like Kipling in England and Frank O'Connor in Ireland. One way to categorize them is as “free stories,” a term coined by Trevor's fellow Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen.2 Although free stories tend to play down plot, they do not go so far as to replace anecdotal narrative structures with essentially symbolic ones (as some of Joyce's stories do),3 nor are they mainly interested in interrogating such fundamental fictional concepts as character and setting (as do many of the stories of Woolf and Beckett). Instead, the free story, perhaps best exemplified in the work of Bowen and V. S. Pritchett, is committed to exploring human character with psychological authenticity and Chekhovian subtlety—relying largely on suggestion, irony, and cinematic juxtaposition to do so—and in anchoring its characters in meaningful social realities.
Although some of Trevor's stories are slightly more traditional than many free stories, his short fiction is essentially committed to this notion of what the short story can do.4 For one thing, his stories depend on highly realistic surfaces that also work to suggest underlying moral and psychological complexities. Trevor's characteristic handling of narrative voice, observed in his novels, contributes significantly to this effect. By negotiating between a relatively distant, neutral tone and one highly colored by the qualities of certain characters, Trevor's narrators are able both to present a relatively objective surface and to indicate by suggestion subjective psychological and emotional currents running beneath it. This flexible narrative voice needs to be distinguished from the scrupulously dispassionate voice that governs most of Joyce's stories in Dubliners, discouraging subjective identification with any character. It also differentiates Trevor's stories from the work of contemporary “minimalist” writers like Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie, whose narrators tend to be more one-dimensionally flat and limited.5
The moral vision behind Trevor's short stories tends to be somewhat darker than that which informs his novels. The faith in compassion and connection that is affirmed, albeit with qualification, at the end of novels like Elizabeth Alone, The Children of Dynmouth, and Other People's Worlds is largely absent from the stories. Characters in them tend to be not only alienated and disconnected, but also rarely able to discover the means to break out of their social and moral estrangement, or to overcome the crippling illusions with which they mask their inadequacies.6 Attempts at connection usually go astray or fail altogether; characters are either victims or victimizers, “clinging to the periphery of life,” as one of them puts it,7 and they stay that way.
The most effective objective correlative that Trevor employs for this bleak vision is the corruption or destruction of love. More than half of Trevor's stories take love as their principal subject, almost always in ways that dramatize alienation and disconnection: marriages dissolved or coming apart (“Access to the Children,” “Angels at the Ritz”), love displaced by casual sexual relations (“Office Romances,” “The Forty-Seventh Saturday”), romance worn down and defeated by time and circumstances (“The Day We Got Drunk on Cake,” “Lovers of Their Time”). Trevor's interest in middle-class marriages, evident in novels like The Love Department and Elizabeth Alone, and comparable to some of John Updike's writing, is especially manifest in a number of stories concerned with divorce and its effects.8
These stories about love and marriage tend to focus on the losers—sometimes the man (“Access to the Children”), sometimes the woman (“Angels at the Ritz”), sometimes the children (“Mrs Silly”). As such, they exemplify a tendency in many of Trevor's stories—in keeping with the tradition of the free story—to dramatize their thematic concerns through character. Trevor's stories are full of alienated, lonely people: middle-aged women living lives of quiet desperation in London bed-sitters; shy, repressed bachelors incapable of love or sexual relationships; the elderly; the abandoned; the eccentric. Mr. Mileson, a bachelor in a story entitled “A Meeting in Middle Age,” is typical: “He would leave little behind, he thought. He would die and there would be the things in the room, rather a number of useless things with sentimental value only. Ornaments and ferns. Reproductions of paintings. A set of eggs, birds' eggs he had collected as a boy. They would pile all the junk together and probably try to burn it.”9
In Trevor's first three volumes of stories—The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, The Ballroom of Romance (1972), and Angels at the Ritz (1975)—these characters exist in worlds more or less detached from historical or political realities. Whatever past is evoked is private rather than public, psychological rather than political. But with Lovers of Their Time (1978) and the two collections of stories that follow it—Beyond the Pale (1981) and The News from Ireland (1986)—Trevor's stories increasingly evidence a political and historical consciousness; characters are portrayed as victims specifically of history, caught in the grip of forces over which they have little or no control.10 Ireland provides the most dramatic stage for the working out of this view, and it is no accident that some of Trevor's most psychologically convincing stories have to do with Ireland, particularly with the sectarian violence in contemporary Ulster.
Although Trevor's stories are, on the whole, remarkably consistent in terms of their level of accomplishment and effectiveness, there are flaws that need to be pointed out, if only to call attention to the risks that these kinds of stories entail. Characterization is occasionally thin, either because a story is not large enough to accommodate all that Trevor wants to put in it, or because character is sacrificed to thematic concerns.11 In a story entitled “Torridge,” for example, Trevor sets up a confrontation between three comfortable middle-class families and a man who was once, in the public-school days of the three husbands, the butt of many schoolboy jokes. The sudden appearance of this man, his admission that he is a homosexual, and his revelations about the homosexual nature of all their schoolboy experiences is intended, like the words of most of Trevor's truth-tellers, to jolt his listeners into facing a reality buried beneath the apparently secure surface of their lives. Unfortunately, the effect is largely lost because there are too many characters for Trevor to be able to develop a significant interest in any one or two of them. In a late story entitled “Butterflies,” a potentially provocative development of character is overwhelmed by the impulse to get across a moral point. The story opens with a strong difference of opinion between a man and his wife over a local political issue, but the question of how this public matter might affect the precarious balance of a marriage is abandoned for the more reductively didactic question raised by the issue itself: whether a residential community of well-to-do people should allow a home for mentally disturbed women to be set up in their midst.
These kinds of failings are, however, remarkably rare, and do not detract seriously from the considerable achievement of Trevor's short stories as a whole, an achievement that the rest of this chapter will attempt to measure by examining a selection of the most representative and accomplished of them.
“The Table,” the first story in Trevor's first collection of stories, presents—in microcosmic form—many of the situations and concerns that run through Trevor's novels: a confrontation between people from different classes, a plot that tracks the attempt of one character to break out of a solipsistic existence and establish some connection with a world beyond his own, and a climactic scene in which one character takes on the role of truth-teller. On one side is Mr Jeffs, very much a figure of alienation—a bachelor whose life is devoted only to his antiques business, and a Jew; on the other are the Hammonds, a well-off middle-class couple considerably higher up the social ladder than Mr Jeffs. In the process of buying a table from the Hammonds, Mr Jeffs begins to suspect that Mr Hammond is carrying on an adulterous relationship with a young woman named Mrs Youghal, and this provokes him to the uncharacteristically selfless action of revealing his suspicions to Mrs Hammond in an attempt to help her see the truth about her marriage. But there is no illumination, no real connection established; the news stuns Mrs Hammond into silence, and Mr Jeffs is left with self-condemnation as his only reward. The story ends with an epiphany that is thoroughly Joycean in its disillusionment and in its acceptance of alienation as a necessary condition:
Mr Jeffs drove on, aware of a sadness but aware as well that his mind was slowly emptying itself of Mrs Hammond and her husband and the beautiful Mrs Youghal. ‘I cook my own food,’ said Mr Jeffs aloud. ‘I am a good trader, and I do not bother anyone.’ He had no right to hope that he might have offered comfort. He had no business to take such things upon himself, to imagine that a passage of sympathy might have developed between himself and Mrs Hammond.
‘I cook my own food,’ said Mr Jeffs again. ‘I do not bother anyone.’ He drove in silence after that, thinking of nothing at all. The chill of sadness left him, and the mistake he had made appeared to him as a fact that could not be remedied. He noticed that dusk was falling; and he returned to the house where he had never lit a fire, where the furniture loomed and did not smile at him, where nobody wept and nobody told a lie.
“The Table” also demonstrates Trevor's ability, so crucial to the free story, to create a surface as strongly suggestive as it is fully realized. In the following passage, for example, both the social gap between Mr Jeffs and the Hammonds and the nature of Mr Jeffs's character are conveyed with the efficiency demanded of this type of short story:
‘I've been clever,’ said Mrs Hammond to her husband. ‘I have sold the console table to a little man called Mr Jeffs whom Ursula and I at first mistook for a window-cleaner.’ Mr Jeffs put a chalk mark on the table and made a note of it in a notebook. He sat in the kitchen of his large house, eating kippers that he had cooked in a plastic bag. His jaws moved slowly and slightly, pulping the fish as a machine might.
Mrs Hammond's description of Mr Jeffs as “a little man” and her amused reference to the mistake made about his identity pinpoint precisely the class and ethnic attitudes that the story is concerned with. The sudden, cinematic shift to Mr Jeffs in his house, and especially the nicely observed detail about the kippers cooked in a plastic bag, dramatically define the distance between the two worlds of the story. And finally, the last image on the one hand suggests the stereotypical view of Jews as aggressive—the kind of assumption that Mrs Hammond takes as truth—and on the other functions ironically, given Mr Jeffs's true status as an alienated victim.
Both The Old Boys and “The General's Day,” the second story in The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, focus on the elderly, and both end darkly. But the strong strain of comedy that takes some of the edge off the essentially tragic shape of The Old Boys is much less in evidence in “The General's Day.” The story has its comic moments, including scenes dependent on the same kind of linguistic humor found in The Old Boys, but it is much more relentlessly fixed on its vision of alienation than is the novel.
The story is structured around a series of attempts by the protagonist, a lonely retired general named Suffolk, to make connections, to reach out, as Mr Jeffs tries to do in “The Table,” beyond the confines of his solipsistic world. No connections are made, however; each attempt ends in a cruel, pathetic rejection: the young boy Basil says he cannot accompany General Suffolk to the movies, but later is seen there by the General; the General's supposed friend Mr Frobisher will not come out to meet him, and the General overhears him tell his wife, “Oh my dear, can't you tell him I'm out?” (p. 32); and finally a middle-aged married woman with the Dickensian name of Mrs Hope-Kingley walks abruptly away when the General tries to pick her up in a teashop. It all ends with the General in the arms, literally, of a predator, his mean-spirited cleaning-woman, Mrs Hinch, a character typical of the victimizer in Trevor's fiction, someone who sees human relationships chiefly in terms of power struggles. The story concludes with the General's arrival home, drunk, at the end of his disappointing day, and with a devastatingly bleak moment of self-understanding:
The General laughed. Clumsily he slapped her broad buttocks. She screamed shrilly, enjoying the position she now held over him. ‘Dirty old General! Hinchie won't carry her beauty home unless he's a good boy tonight.’ She laughed her cackling laugh and the General joined in it. He dawdled a bit, and losing her patience Mrs Hinch pushed him roughly in front of her. He fell, and in picking him up she came upon his wallet and skilfully extracted two pounds ten. ‘General would fancy his Hinchie tonight,’ she said, shrieking merrily at the thought. But the General was silent now, seeming almost asleep as he walked. His face was gaunt and thin, with little patches of red. ‘I could live for twenty years,’ he whispered. ‘My God Almighty, I could live for twenty years.’ Tears spread on his cheeks. ‘Lor’ love a duck!’ cried Mrs Hinch; and leaning on the arm of this stout woman the hero of Roeux and Monchy-le-Preux stumbled the last few yards to his cottage.
The effect of this epiphany, and of the story as a whole, depend significantly on Trevor's ability to maintain sympathy for the General, even when, as in the teashop scene, he acts badly. This is where Trevor's manipulation of narrative voice becomes crucial. In the following passage, for example, the narrator's voice is distinctly colored by the highly formal, somewhat arch tone of the General's speech, generating sympathy for the General by contrasting his relatively refined sensibility, felt in the narrative tone, with the coarseness of the world in which the General finds himself forced to live:
A man carrying a coil of garden hose tripped and fell across his path. This man, a week-end visitor to the district, known to the General by sight and disliked by him, uttered as he dropped to the ground a series of expletives of a blasphemous and violent nature. The General, since the man's weight lay on his shoes, stooped to assist him. ‘Oh, buzz off,’ ordered the man, his face close to the General's. So the General left him, conscious not so much of his dismissal as of the form of words it had taken.
The intimacy between the narrative voice and the General's character carries this scene beyond the slapstick comedy of its surface, and even beyond its status as another symbolic moment of rejection in the General's day. By embodying in its language the contrast between the General's old-world graciousness and the rude, alienating character of the man whom he tries to help, it conveys dramatically the bankruptcy of morals and manners in contemporary society, and the futility of attempts at exercising compassion and connection in such a world.
Although it looks back in setting and character to Trevor's first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, and ahead to the later novels and stories concerned with love and marriage, the title story of The Day We Got Drunk on Cake seems to represent, in formal terms, a direction that Trevor tried once and then abandoned. It is also one of the most thematically ambitious of Trevor's early stories, and one of the most successful.
Apart from the opening two paragraphs, which exhibit the same imitative, artificial tone that characterizes much of A Standard of Behaviour—“Garbed in a crushed tweed suit, fingering the ragged end of a tie that might well have already done a year's service about his waist, Swann de Courcey uttered a convivial obscenity in the four hundred cubic feet of air they euphemistically called my office” (p. 144)—the style of this story is extremely and uncharacteristically sparse, with an occasional trace of Hemingway in the narrative voice and dialogue that comes as close as Trevor gets to minimalist writers like Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie. The following telephone conversation, between the narrator, a young man drifting through an afternoon and evening of aimless party-going and pub-crawling, and a girl named Lucy with whom he is in love and whom he keeps calling, is typical:
‘Hullo, Lucy. What are you doing?’
‘What d'you mean, what am I doing? I'm standing here talking to you on the telephone.’
‘I'm getting drunk with people in Soho.’
‘Well, that's nice for you.’
‘Is it? Wish you were here.’
Lucy would be bored by this. ‘I've been reading Adam Bede,’ she said.
‘A good story.’
‘Have you had lunch?’
‘I couldn't find anything. I had some chocolate.’
‘I telephoned to see how you were.’
‘I'm fine, thanks.’
‘I wanted to hear your voice.’
‘Oh come off it. It's just a voice.’
‘Shall I tell you about it?’
‘I'd rather you didn't. I don't know why.’
‘Shall we meet some time?’
‘I'm sure we shall.’
‘I'll ring you when I'm sober.’
‘Do that. I must get back to Adam Bede.’
I replaced the receiver and stood there looking down the steep stairs. Then I descended them.
‘What on earth shall we do now?’ Swann said. ‘It's four o'clock.’
That final allusion to Eliot's Wasteland is perfectly appropriate to “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake,” a story in which fragmented relationships function as barometers of society's moral and spiritual impoverishment.12 The narrator's apparently futile feelings for Lucy—in his last phone call, he discovers that another man is spending the night with her—are complemented by other unfulfilled relationships, in particular a rocky marriage between Margo, one of the women in the casual group of drinkers, and her husband Nigel. As the other woman in the foursome, Jo, says to the narrator at one point, “Nobody knows what to do about anyone else” (p. 149), a statement that goes to the heart of many of Trevor's later stories about love.
Ultimately, “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake” ranges beyond this portrayal of moral incongruity and meaninglessness. The futility and absurdity experienced by the narrator throughout the story, and embodied in the story's title, serve finally to set the stage for the narrator's closing epiphanic reflections about the passage of time and how it destroys passion even as it heals. It is a moment, relatively rare in Trevor's fiction, in which the usual ironies generated by carefully manipulated distances between narrator and character are dispensed with in favor of a direct, unambiguous expression that is psychologically authentic and philosophically poignant. Its lyricism is all the more affecting, coming at the end of a story marked by an extremely flat, colorless prose:
As for me, time would heal and time would cure. I knew it, and it was the worst thing of all. I didn't want to be cured. I wanted the madness of my love for Lucy to go on lurching at me from dreams; to mock at me from half-empty glasses; to leap at me unexpectedly. In time Lucy's face would fade to a pin-point; in time I would see her on the street and greet her with casualness, and sit with her over coffee, quietly discussing the flow beneath the bridges since last we met. Today—not even that, for already it was tomorrow—would slide away like all the other days. Not a red letter day. Not the day of my desperate bidding. Not the day on which the love of my life was snaffled away from me. I opened the front door and looked out into the night. It was cold and uncomforting. I liked it like that. I hated the moment, yet I loved it because in it I still loved Lucy. Deliberately I swung the door and shut away the darkness and drizzle. As I went back to the party the sadness of all the forgetting stung me. Even already, I thought, time is at work; time is ticking her away; time is destroying her, killing all there was between us. And with time on my side I would look back on the day without bitterness and without emotion. I would remember it only as a flash on the brittle surface of nothing, as a day that was rather funny, as the day we got drunk on cake.
Although it is neither as accomplished nor as ambitious as “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake,” “Raymond Bamber and Mrs Fitch” is more representative of Trevor's short stories, in terms both of its characters and structure and of its thematic concern with the nature and necessity of illusions. The story turns on a characteristic confrontation between two very different people, both familiar figures in Trevor's fiction. Raymond Bamber is a shy, repressed, 42-year-old bachelor living a life taken up principally with furnishing his flat; in sexual matters, he is a genuine naif, like Edward Blakeston-Smith in The Love Department. Mrs Fitch is an outspoken, garrulous woman of the world, a contemporary Wife of Bath who, in an aggressive conversation with Raymond at a cocktail party, challenges his self-deceiving illusion that his life is as fully satisfying and meaningful as anyone else's. Like many of Trevor's truth-tellers—Mrs Eckdorf and Miss Gomez, most notably—Mrs Fitch has a highly overactive imagination, but she is able to see through illusions and pretences designed to mask disturbing truths, psychological or societal. She tells Raymond, for example, that her husband has been unfaithful to her, and that such behavior is common in their circles, information that is deeply troubling to Raymond's childish need to believe in order and fidelity and to ignore the realities of sexual desire and irrationality. She also tells him, cruelly, that most people see him as “a grinding bore” (p. 169).
Whether it is viewed as an attempted connection between two disparate people, or as an effort by one character to force another to face the truth about himself, this confrontation, like many such encounters in Trevor's stories, fails. Raymond is given evidence that Mrs Fitch, for all the distracted quality of her talk and appearance, cannot be dismissed as mad—“She has a reputation,” Raymond is told by another woman at the party, “for getting drunk and coming out with awkward truths” (p. 176)—but her messages cannot penetrate his defenses. The end of the story suggests that illusions, however crippling, are not so easily destroyed, and, may, in fact, be necessary for survival in a world of alienation:
Soon afterwards, Raymond left the party and walked through the autumn evening, considering everything. The air was cool on his face as he strode towards Bayswater, thinking that as he continued to live his quiet life Mrs Fitch would be attending parties that were similar to the Tamberlys', and she'd be telling the people she met there that they were grinding bores. The people might be offended, Raymond thought, if they didn't pause to think about it, if they didn't understand that everything was confused in poor Mrs Fitch's mind. And it would serve them right, he reflected, to be offended—a just reward for allowing their minds to become lazy and untidy in this modern manner. ‘Orderliness,’ said the voice of Nanny Wilkinson, and Raymond paused and smiled, and then walked on.
Not only does this passage subvert the convention of bringing a short story of this type to rest on a moment of illumination or self-understanding, but also it exemplifies some of the effects gained by Trevor's handling of narrative voice. Although the passage is undoubtedly ironic—Raymond is, after all, clinging to self-deception and self-delusion—the irony is qualified somewhat by the narrative voice, which, in its practised serenity and slightly priggish note of condescension, is extremely close to Raymond's character. And so the passage walks the line between irony and sympathy, allowing Trevor to convey simultaneously the destructive nature of illusions and the human need for them.
Characters like Raymond Bamber, General Suffolk, and Mr Jeffs are eccentrics, inhabiting the outskirts of society, and Trevor's use of such figures as lenses through which to view society is in keeping with Frank O'Connor's notions about how the story tends to work.13 And although Trevor never fully abandons his interest in such out-of-the-way characters, in his next volume of stories, The Ballroom of Romance, he begins to direct his attention more toward the mainstream of society, the middle class especially, and toward love and marriage.
Both these preoccupations inform the opening story of the volume, “Access to the Children,” a story substantially different from anything in The Day We Got Drunk on Cake. Its protagonist, Malcolmson, is a middle-aged, middle-class man who, at one time, led a comfortable, conventional family life. At the beginning of the story, however, all that is in the past—a temporary love affair with a younger woman ended Malcolmson's marriage—and the story charts Malcolmson's drift toward the edges of society and a life consumed by illusions. In many ways, Malcolmson is a forerunner of Henry, the childhood friend of Elizabeth in Elizabeth Alone whose life of illusion and disappointment ends in suicide.14
Malcolmson is more fully and more subtly realized than is any character in The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, and his characterization depends, in the way of the modern free story, on the gradual accumulation of concrete but highly suggestive details that keep pointing to the gap between what Malcolmson is and what he perceives himself to be. The first sentence of the story, describing Malcolmson arriving at his former wife's house to pick up his two daughters for their weekly outing together, exemplifies the way that small details in this story are charged with suggestion: “Malcolmson, a fair, tallish man in a green tweed suit that required pressing, banged the driver's door of his ten-year-old Volvo and walked quickly away from the car, jangling the keys.”15 The information almost thrown away here—the suit needs pressing, the car is ten years old—points to the true nature of Malcolmson's deteriorating character, just as the abruptness and harshness of his actions, reinforced through the jarring assonantal “banged” and “jangling,” suggest the lack of control, largely induced by alcohol, that has come to define his life.
The story also discloses the futility of Malcolmson's life, and of his hopes of remarrying his wife Elizabeth and restoring his life to what it once was, by playing Malcolmson's consciousness off against other, more objective points of view. For example, when Malcolmson takes his daughters to the park, the memory of another, earlier scene in the park surfaces, and it jolts the reader into seeing Malcolmson from a disturbingly different position than the largely sympathetic one that has been operating up to this point:
In the drizzle they played a game among the trees, hiding and chasing one another. Once when they'd been playing this game a woman had brought a policeman up to him. She'd seen him approaching the girls, she said; the girls had been playing alone and he'd joined in. ‘He's our daddy,’ Susie had said, but the woman had still argued, claiming that he'd given them sweets so that they'd say that. ‘Look at him,’ the woman had insultingly said. ‘He needs a shave.’ Then she'd gone away, and the policeman had apologized.
The most dramatic use of this technique occurs at the climax of the story, in the conversation that Malcolmson has with Elizabeth when he returns the girls at the end of the day. The gap between Malcolmson's point of view, embodying his hopes of redeeming himself from his life of alienation and loneliness, and the reality of how far he has fallen from that possibility, steadily widens as the story progresses, and in this scene, the shift to the relative objectivity of dialogue and, at one point, to Elizabeth's consciousness, seriously discredits Malcolmson's position, but without destroying the reader's sympathy for him:
‘Will you think about it?’
‘About our being together again.’
‘Oh, for heaven's sake.’ She turned away from him. ‘I wish you'd go now,’ she said.
‘Will you come out with me on our birthday?’
‘I've told you.’ Her voice was loud and angry, her cheeks flushed. ‘Can't you understand? I'm going to marry Richard. We'll be married within a month, when the girls have had time to get to know him a little better. By Christmas we'll be married.’
He shook his head in a way that annoyed her, seeming in his drunkenness to deny the truth of what she was saying. He tried to light a cigarette; matches dropped to the floor at his feet. He left them there.
It enraged her that he was sitting in an armchair in her flat with his eyelids drooping through drink and an unlighted cigarette in his hand and his matches spilt all over the floor. They were his children, but she wasn't his wife: he'd destroyed her as a wife, he'd insulted her, he'd left her to bleed and she had called him a murderer.
‘Our birthday,’ he said, smiling at her as though already she had agreed to join him on that day. ‘And Hitler's and the Queen's.’
‘On our birthday if I go out with anyone it'll be Richard.’
‘Our birthday is beyond the time—’
‘For God's sake, there is no beyond the time. I'm in love with another man—’
‘On our birthday,’ she shouted at him, ‘on the night of our birthday Richard will make love to me in the bed you slept in for nine years. You have access to the children. You can demand no more.’
This scene does not lead to any epiphany of self-understanding for Malcolmson. Indeed, part of the pathos of Malcolmson's character is that his illusions are so powerfully, so desperately a part of his life that they cannot be dislodged, even by such an encounter. And so just as Raymond Bamber retreats after his disturbing confrontation with Mrs Fitch to the psychological safe-harbor of his misconceptions, so Malcolmson, at the end of “Access to the Children,” is left clinging to the illusions without which he could not live. He leaves Elizabeth's flat, and stops off, as he always does on Sunday evenings, at a nearby pub:
‘D'you understand me?’ he drunkenly asked the barmaid. ‘It's too ridiculous to be true—that man will go because none of it makes sense the way it is.’ The barmaid smiled again and nodded. He bought her a glass of beer, which was something he did every Sunday night. He wept as he paid for it, and touched his cheeks with the tips of his fingers to wipe away the tears. Every Sunday he wept, at the end of the day, after he'd had his access. The barmaid raised her glass, as always she did. They drank to the day that was to come, when the error he had made would be wiped away, when the happy marriage could continue. ‘Ridiculous,’ he said. ‘Of course it is.’
“The Grass Widows” also concerns a failed marriage, but viewed primarily from the point of view of the wife. The marriage of Mrs Angusthorpe, the story's principal center of consciousness, is characterized by the ruthless psychological domination of an unloving husband and by Mrs Angusthorpe's resignation to a life of disappointment. In the course of the story, Mrs Angusthorpe is prodded out of her lethargic alienation, but ultimately with the same ineffectuality that marks the responses of many other of Trevor's characters when faced to force the truth about themselves.
The unjust balance of the Angusthorpes' marriage is threatened by two events that upset the English couple's regular summer holiday in Co. Galway: a dramatic decline in the quality of the hotel that they...
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SOURCE: Banville, John. “Relics.” New York Review of Books 38, no. 15 (26 September 1991): 29-30.
[In the following mixed assessment, Banville deems Two Lives as “more interesting than enthralling.”]
Some years ago British television filmed an adaptation of William Trevor's short story “The Ballroom of Romance.” It was a grim little drama, set in one of those concrete and galvanized-iron dance halls which sprang up at crossroads in rural Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s. The story centered on a woman, no longer young, who comes every week to the dance in a last-ditch and ultimately vain search for a husband who will take her away from her bleak life of...
(The entire section is 2781 words.)
SOURCE: Krist, Gary. “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” Hudson Review 45, no. 1 (spring 1992): 146-48.
[In the following excerpt, Krist praises the complementary relationship between the novellas Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria.]
While Gordimer's collection [Jump and Other Stories] would certainly be in the running, I have to admit that the best book I read this quarter—among the best I've read in several years—was something written by one of those venerable white males I had intended to avoid this time out. But the pull of Two Lives, William Trevor's latest, proved too strong for me, and now that I've read it I cannot let it pass without...
(The entire section is 1008 words.)
SOURCE: Lanters, José. Review of Two Lives, by William Trevor. World Literature Today 66, no. 2 (spring 1992): 345-46.
[In the following review, Lanters offers a favorable assessment of Two Lives.]
The lives of each of the female protagonists who form the focus of the two complementary novels in William Trevor's Two Lives, for all their differences of place, time, and circumstance, are touched by tragedy and loneliness, and in each instance the woman's imagination plays both a confining and a liberating role. Readers who know Trevor's work well will find the predicaments of these women familiar from some of his other stories and novels. Mary Louise...
(The entire section is 481 words.)
SOURCE: Lanters, José. Review of The Collected Stories, by William Trevor. World Literature Today 67, no. 3 (summer 1993): 610-11.
[In the following positive review of Collected Stories, Lanters maintains that Trevor probes both the common and exceptional elements of humanity in his stories.]
There are certain unmistakable qualities that identify a short story as a William Trevor story. The characters in it are almost without exception unattractive, either because they are insensitive and cruel or because they are weak and spineless; children are not and never were innocent; marriages are unhappy or indifferent; desires remain unfulfilled; dreams turn...
(The entire section is 516 words.)
SOURCE: Prose, Francine. “Fiction in Review.” Yale Review 81, no. 3 (July 1993): 122-33.
[In the following excerpt, Prose commends the range and quality of the pieces in Collected Stories.]
I assume I am not the only writer who frequently has had the experience of being asked, “What fiction do you read? What writers do you like?” and finding myself unable to remember a single title or name. It seems like a simple question, certainly to those who ask it—the eager students, the beginning writers, the reporters from local papers who beam at you, awaiting a reply, looking (you hope) for reading suggestions and not for gossipy ways to stir up trouble...
(The entire section is 1267 words.)
SOURCE: Storey, Michael L. Review of Collected Stories, by William Trevor. Studies in Short Fiction 30, no. 4 (fall 1993): 603-04.
[In the following review, Storey examines the style and major thematic concerns of the pieces in Collected Stories.]
From its inception at the turn of the century, the modern Irish short story has been continuously distinguished by a master—a preeminent writer whose work embodies the Irish spirit and reflects the highest literary qualities. George Moore, who published the first truly modern collection of Irish stories, The Untilled Field (1903), was the first to fill that role. Moore was followed by James Joyce, whose...
(The entire section is 793 words.)
SOURCE: Morrison, Kristin. “The Genealogy of Evil.” In William Trevor, pp. 19-36. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.
[In the following essay, Morrison investigates the role of evil in several of Trevor's short stories.]
Trevor's analysis of the evil permeating human history does not simply link adult suffering with childhood misfortunes or trace twentieth-century blight back through the ages to an original sin in a garden of Eden. Such commonplace chains of evil are transformed by the revelation that his characters participate in their own wounding, that the originator of sin is not one man only in the past but each person along the way. Childhood trauma is never...
(The entire section is 7876 words.)
SOURCE: Fitzgerald-Hoyt, Mary. “William Trevor's Protestant Parables.” Colby Quarterly 31, no. 1 (March 1995): 40-5.
[In the following essay, Fitzgerald-Hoyt explores Trevor's portrayal of middle-class Protestant characters in Ireland in the short story “Lost Ground” and the novella Reading Turgenev.]
Whether he writes about a rural woman seeking unlikely romance in a remote dance hall, a self-deluded Ascendancy family during the Famine years, or an aging teacher trying to break the cycle of sectarian violence, William Trevor has contributed a rich array of characters and scenes to contemporary Irish literature. With impressive imaginative power, like a...
(The entire section is 2807 words.)
SOURCE: Haughey, Jim. “Joyce and Trevor's Dubliners: The Legacy of Colonialism.” Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 3 (summer 1995): 355-65.
[In the following essay, Haughey finds similarities between Trevor's “Two More Gallants” and James Joyce's “Two Gallants,” perceiving the former's story as an “updated commentary on the legacy of Ireland's colonial experience.”]
In a recent review of Edna Longley's latest collection of essays—The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland—Norman Vance notes that “Irish Literature, fraught with tradition, has a reputation for endlessly re-reading itself, not necessarily with value added, under...
(The entire section is 4864 words.)
SOURCE: Bonaccorso, Richard. “Not Noticing History: Two Tales by William Trevor.” Connecticut Review 18, no. 1 (spring 1996): 21-7.
[In the following essay, Bonaccorso delineates the role of history in Trevor's stories “Beyond the Pale” and “The News from Ireland.”]
What is history? Is it a kind of truth that transcends our individual lives, and, essentially, our understanding? Or is it our creation, an external manifestation of our lives together, of relationships that begin at the level of intimacy? Here, at this base point, we often find the wisdom of fiction.
A prevalent device for the revelation of truth in William Trevor's fiction is...
(The entire section is 2333 words.)
SOURCE: Lasdun, James. “A Genius for Misery.” Times Literary Supplement (27 September 1996): 23.
[In the following review, Lasdun surveys the strengths and weaknesses of Trevor's short fiction, deeming the stories comprising After Rain as some of the author's best work.]
Leverage is all; as in the commodities trade, so in the short story. Maximum disturbance (change, revelation) achieved with minimum means. Often regarded as a poor relation of the novel, the form has, in fact, more in common with the lyric poem, requiring the same taut calibration of effect, the same double-duty from each of its parts—that they be vividly realized in themselves; that they...
(The entire section is 1969 words.)
SOURCE: Lively, Penelope. “Models of Design and Performance.” Spectator (5 October 1996): 51-2.
[In the following review, Lively provides a favorable assessment of After Rain.]
Short stories take up almost as much space in William Trevor's long list of titles as do novels—After Rain is his eighth collection. He is indeed blessed in this facility with both fictional forms. It is hard to write a good novel, but to serve up even one memorable story is to pass through the eye of a needle. Anyone can write a story—oh, dear me, yes—but it is the form that most definitively sorts out the men from the boys. There is something about a Rolls-Royce of a short...
(The entire section is 712 words.)
SOURCE: Williams, Margo. “Sex, Subtlety, and the Supernatural.” Cross Currents 47, no. 4 (winter 1997): 547-51.
[In the following excerpt, Williams considers Trevor's subtlety in the stories in After Rain.]
In William Trevor's twelve stories [After Rain], subtlety is the game, though he might do better with less. Subtlety can be wearing. One pattern is evident throughout: a series of events and an eccentric center, often a bit quirky, to explain things, the events sometimes testing the limits of our capacity to be bored, the center sometimes arriving at the artificial, more often hitting paydirt, some unexpected mystery or truth. A few summaries will...
(The entire section is 707 words.)
SOURCE: Bonaccorso, William. “William Trevor's Martyrs for Truth.” Studies in Short Fiction 34, no. 1 (winter 1997): 113-18.
[In the following essay, Bonaccorso emphasizes the moral nature of Trevor's short fiction.]
In a 1989 Paris Review interview, William Trevor speaks of his fascination with the focusing power of the story form: “I like the whole business of establishing its point,” he states, “for although a story need not have a plot it must have a point” (Stout 143). The point in Trevor's stories appears to be of a moral nature. Indeed, one could call them “moral mysteries.” His typical tale builds through a series of concealments and...
(The entire section is 2365 words.)
SOURCE: Banville, John. “Revelations.” New York Review of Books 44, no. 3 (20 February 1997): 19-22.
[In the following review, Banville finds parallels between Alice Munro's Selected Stories and Trevor's After Rain.]
The short story is the only literary form to have remained largely untouched by modernism. Its big brother, the novel, suffered a crisis of identity during and after the great age of fictional experiment that began, say, with the late work of Henry James and came babbling to a stop with Finnegans Wake. In the half-century that has passed since the appearance of Joyce's calamitous masterpiece, the novel has become increasingly...
(The entire section is 4222 words.)
SOURCE: Filbin, Thomas. “Familiar Capability.” Hudson Review 50, no. 1 (spring 1997): 159-65.
[In the following excerpt from a laudatory review of After Rain, Filbin maintains that Trevor “examines human behavior with such a keen eye and fine hand, that one thinks of a Henry James gifted with a modern brevity.”]
While first novels often burst with literary energy and the raw emotion franchised to the young, the writing game demands other qualifications if the successful novice is to make it a vocation. Producing an interesting book every few years requires self-sharpening powers of insight, an inventory of questions about the human condition, and...
(The entire section is 891 words.)
SOURCE: Binns, Stephen. “Humor, Melancholy Lurk in Irish Writer's Stories.” National Catholic Reporter 33, no. 29 (23 May 1997): 29.
[In the following review, slightly revised by the author in 2003, Binns asserts that some of Trevor's stories in After Rain are among the writer's most imaginative and display a well-wrought craftsmanship.]
When The Collected Stories of William Trevor came out, five years ago, it seemed definitive—the summing up of a long, masterly career in what we have long been told is a dying form. It had the heft of a monument: nearly 1,300 pages of prose that was itself sort of heavy, dense in its concision.
(The entire section is 944 words.)
SOURCE: Sänger, Wolfgang R. “The ‘Favourite Russian Novelist’ in William Trevor's Reading Turgenev: A Postmodern Tribute to Realism.” Irish University Review 27, no. 1 (spring-summer 1997): 182-98.
[In the following essay, Sänger traces the role of Turgenev's work in Trevor's novella Reading Turgenev.]
A title such as Reading Turgenev must kindle vastly different expectations in different readers, but they are very likely to include well-read or bookish characters of genuine or pretentious intellectuality and a real or pseudo-cultured background of unspecified nationality. The first pages of the short novel, creating an image of “a woman, not...
(The entire section is 7595 words.)
SOURCE: McGraw, Erin. “Telling Lives.” Georgia Review 51, no. 2 (summer 1997): 378-89.
[In the following excerpt, McGraw praises the insight and steadiness of Trevor's narrative voice in After Rain.]
The characters in William Trevor's After Rain inhabit a world about as far as can be imagined from Marie Sheppard Williams' emotionally tumultuous one. Trevor is known for elegance and restraint, for characters who make do with lives that have disappointed them, for understatement, implication, and spareness. Nevertheless, his stories aren't the prim-lipped affairs that such a description might suggest. Trevor's fiction centers on passion, lives held in the grip...
(The entire section is 1140 words.)
SOURCE: Bell, Millicent. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 64, no. 3 (summer 1997): 414-27.
[In the following excerpt, Bell explores the defining characteristics of the stories in After Rain.]
Short stories aren't novels—they're shorter. Short stories snatch at life and give us only a concentrated episode or several moments—or thin out an epic chronicle to the bareness of a Bible parable. The point in either case is that this quick read (done at a sitting, as Poe insisted) isn't just a crumb from a loaf; it's a round bagel with a mysterious hole of implication, a tale whose strength, as William Trevor says, “lies in what it leaves out just as much as what...
(The entire section is 2511 words.)
SOURCE: Kessler, Rod. Review of After Rain, by William Trevor. Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 3 (fall 1997): 239-40.
[In the following review, Kessler offers a positive assessment of After Rain.]
Because he has published twenty-two books—short-story collections, novellas and novels, certainly, but also plays, nonfiction, and a children's book—because he has won such prestigious prizes as the Heinemann Award and the Whitbread (twice, so far), because his stories appear not only in Antaeus but, frequently, in the New Yorker and Harpers, and because he's considered by some critics as “the greatest living writer of short...
(The entire section is 336 words.)
SOURCE: Curb, Randall. “All in the Details: A Fiction Chronicle.” Southern Review 34, no. 1 (winter 1998): 76-88.
[In the following excerpt, Curb discusses the pessimistic and dark nature of the stories comprising After Rain.]
Writers who thrive on the short-story form and rarely if ever write novels are at their best when challenged to seize upon the few “telling” details that will particularize without diminishing. A man in a story can be precisely described by the clothes he wears, but he must not appear to be summed up by them. Despite the genre's concision, caricature or facile judgment is disastrous; what is indispensable to the traditional short story...
(The entire section is 1259 words.)
SOURCE: Clark, Miriam Marty. “The Scenic Self in William Trevor's Stories.” Narrative 6, no. 2 (May 1998): 174-87.
[In the following essay, Clark considers Trevor's use of epiphanies in his stories and argues that they differ significantly from modernist usage of epiphanies.]
To read widely in William Trevor's stories is to enter a number of familiar short story landscapes: the Catholic Ireland of Joyce and O'Connor; the provincial towns of Chekhov and Munro; the dark, inevitable terrain of family; the interior landscapes of childhood and memory. It is also to enter into a familiar story dynamic, one made more evident by Trevor's pervasive thematic concern with...
(The entire section is 7282 words.)
SOURCE: Taylor, Sue. “Tragic Beauty.” Quadrant 43, no. 6 (June 1999): 85.
[In the following review, Taylor delineates the tragic aspects of the stories in After Rain.]
William Trevor is a prolific writer and has won many awards. If you have never read his work, After Rain is a good place to start.
After Rain is a collection of a dozen very powerful, tragic tales, truly beautifully written. Trevor's stories are black. Sinister. Poignant. Shockingly real. And, above all, tragic. For a character to earn the description “tragic”, he must contribute to his own downfall. If a tree falls on him, it might be a disaster, but it is not a...
(The entire section is 966 words.)
SOURCE: MacKenna, Delores. “We Are the Stuff of History.” In William Trevor: The Writer and His Work, pp. 107-32. Dublin: New Island Books, 1999.
[In the following essay, MacKenna examines Trevor's portrayal of the conflict in Northern Ireland in his short fiction.]
It is the landscape of the mind which is of importance to a writer; where he actually lives is irrelevant. He can travel in his imagination to any place and create a context for his characters. William Trevor continued to live in England and although he visited Ireland frequently, by the early 1970s he had gained sufficient distance from the country to enable him to write about it with the objectivity...
(The entire section is 9528 words.)
SOURCE: Oates, Joyce Carol. “On Small Farms from Cork to Cavan.” Times Literary Supplement (29 September 2000): 22-3.
[In the following favorable review of The Hill Bachelors, Oates characterizes the main thematic concerns of Trevor's short fiction.]
Twentieth-century Irish literature has been a phenomenon. No more ambitious and original novels than James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake have been written in any language, and it might be claimed that Ulysses is the greatest novel in the English language. In poetry, William Butler Yeats is surely the greatest poet of the century writing in...
(The entire section is 2819 words.)
SOURCE: Murtaugh, Daniel M. “Stories You Live Within.” Commonweal 128, no. 6 (23 March 2001): 20-2.
[In the following review, Murtaugh praises the believability and disturbing nature of the stories in The Hill Bachelors.]
The Hill Bachelors gives strong support to the growing consensus that William Trevor is one of the very best writers of short stories alive. One can open this book, pick a paragraph at random, and imagine dozens of ways Trevor could have written it less effectively and did not, ways he could have added, or failed to excise, a word or phrase that would have made it easier, more explicit, but less focused in its power to disturb or to force...
(The entire section is 1062 words.)
Becker, Alida. Review of Two Lives, by William Trevor. New York Times Book Review (8 September 1991): 3.
Finds parallels in Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria.
“Irreflexive.” Economist (11 November 2000): 108-09.
Provides a laudatory assessment of The Hill Bachelors.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Irish Miniatures, Brought to Life in a Few Strokes.” New York Times (12 November 1996): C15.
Contends that in After Rain, “we are left with the sense that we not only know who Mr. Trevor's people are, but also understand the hidden truth...
(The entire section is 276 words.)