Study Guide

William Trevor

by William Trevor Cox

William Trevor Essay - Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) (Vol. 14)

Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) (Vol. 14)

Introduction

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.)

Walter Sullivan

[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.∗

Zahir Jamal

[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.∗

Tom Paulin

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...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

V. S. Pritchett

[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...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

BENJAMIN DeMOTT

[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.∗

Josh Rubins

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...

(The entire section is 506 words.)