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...
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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...
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SOURCE: O'Faolain, Julia. “The Saving Touch of Fantasy.” Times Literary Supplement (31 May 1991): 21.
[In the following mixed review of Two Lives, O'Faolain claims that Trevor “is not here at the top of his form.”]
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. Humour rarely distances his subjects for long. Just as we settle to the release of laughter, a twitch of the plot hauls them back in for another shock of recognition. They are apt to be close to the end of their tether and are often very like ourselves. Trevor's empathy finds poignancy in the plainest lives.
It is this generosity of vision which makes the publication of his twenty-first book an occasion for celebration. So does his feel for a reality spliced with dreams. He is a writer attuned to this secular age which is full of hype and hope, when many are tantalized and fantasy is not only an escape but also a coping mechanism. Some of his most moving narratives pivot on the way their dreams nerve people to snatch at a happiness beyond their means. Thus, in...
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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 toiling on her widowed father's farm, to which the circumstances of the time have condemned her.
The film was a fine, understated, moving production by the Irish director Pat O'Connor and a cast led by the marvelous actress Brenda Fricker. When it was broadcast, critics in Britain praised it highly, but threw up their hands in horror at the portrait (an accurate one) it gave of rural Irish life in the 1950s. In Ireland for the most part the response was the same. Before long, however, voices were raised in defense of those crossroad dance halls as meeting places for people living lives of quiet desperation in isolated and often dying rural communities. Under the cry of “Bring back the ballrooms of romance!” there...
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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 notice, even in a chronicle that purports to be about underheard voices. Two Lives (a rather innocuous title, I think, for such a disturbing book) consists of two shortish novels, each focusing on the life of a woman who has come, in her later years, upon a serious crisis.
Mary Louise Dallon, the protagonist of Reading Turgenev, has entered into an unfortunate marriage. Her husband, a local draper named Elmer Quarry, is “the only well-to-do Protestant for miles around” in a rural Irish county where most of the wealth is passing into Catholic hands. Mary Louise is hardly a fortune hunter (in fact, the Quarry wealth proves to be much more modest than expected), but she does see the marriage as a way of...
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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 Dallon in Reading Turgenev is like so many unworldly young girls in 1950s small-town Ireland when she, through inexperience, poverty, and circumstance, finds herself trapped in a marriage to an unsuitable older man whose harmless but weak nature cannot shelter her from his vindictive sisters. The figure of “Mrs. Delahunty,” alias Gloria Grey, Janine Ann Johns, and Cora Lamore, in My House in Umbria is no less familiar: she is a slightly vulgar, unmarried, middle-aged woman whose attempts to keep up appearances and standards of decency in the wake of an appalling childhood and a dubious past are compromised by the effects of a senseless tragedy—a terrorist attack—and alcohol. In Trevor's case, however, it would not be true...
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SOURCE: Tillinghast, Richard. “‘They Were as Good as We Were’: The Stories of William Trevor.” New Criterion 11, no. 6 (February 1993): 10-17.
[In the following essay, Tillinghast discusses the defining characteristics of Trevor's short fiction through an examination of the pieces in 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 because a quarter of the eighty-odd pieces in his Collected Stories are set in Ireland or are peopled by Irish characters living abroad, usually in England. He himself has for many years lived and written in Devon.
The term “Anglo-Irish” usually either embraces the members and descendants of the Protestant Ascendancy like Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory—prime movers in the Irish Literary Revival; or it brings to mind the fiction written by that wonderful team of cousins who called themselves Somerville and Ross, authors of the “Irish R.M.” stories, whose masterpiece was the novel The Real Charlotte. A somewhat imprecise Celtic...
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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 into nightmares; and love, in the rare instances where it is allowed to blossom for a while, does not last. In the eighty-five stories in the present collection [The Collected Stories], Trevor explores the weaknesses and failures of his characters as they proceed to make life a little less bearable for themselves, or others, or both, or as life takes unexpected turns in undesired directions. There is often something a little old-fashioned about the settings or about the characters, as if they were relics from a by-gone age hardly capable of surviving in the modern world. But even his more contemporary protagonists are often lonely or alienated from their surroundings, because they are old, or young, or naïve, or insecure....
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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 with the writer-friends whom you will inevitably forget to include on the list. But such troubles never arise, because the question functions rather like the unstoppering of a drain: you watch helplessly as your whole library spirals in front of your eyes until the last book disappears down the vortex, sucked neatly out of your mind.
In fact it's not a simple question at all, but—if one thinks a beat too long—an immensely complex one. How many names does our interlocutor honestly want to hear? Our four or five favorite writers? We have more than four or five. All right, then, our hundred favorite writers? Our three hundred favorites? Let's say (to be generous) that there are three hundred living writers worldwide...
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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 Dubliners (1914) remains the model Irish story collection. Joyce was succeeded by Frank O'Connor and then Sean O'Faolain. With O'Faolain's recent death, the role of Ireland's master storyteller has passed to William Trevor.
The Collected Stories presents overwhelming evidence in support of Trevor's claim. The sheer quantitative evidence alone is massive: 85 stories from nine previous collections, published over a span of 25 years, are contained in 1261 pages, weighing 3 pounds, 12[frac34] ounces. The quantitative evidence heralds, but does not obscure, the enormous literary evidence.
These stories show Trevor to be a writer of the age, at times resembling in style and subject his contemporaries or...
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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 merely something inflicted from without, something inherited, some physical or psychic mutilation in which the child is simply an innocent victim. The trauma often involves a game in which the child is a significant player.
A paradigm of this process is presented in the early story “The Original Sins of Edward Tripp,” which by its title suggests a comparison between the chief Judeo-Christian explanation of the origin of evil (Adam's Original Sin in the Garden of Eden) and the particular forms of evil manifest in this story, an analogy both chilling and comic. Adam and Edward could not be more unalike: the first man, a being of preternatural perfection, as father of humanity his decisions affecting billions of...
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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 literary chameleon he takes on the coloration of Irish people far removed from his own experience: he is a Protestant who writes about Catholics; a man who writes about women; an expatriate who writes so convincingly about the country he left four decades ago that poet Eamon Grennan has commented, “‘… he picks up a stone and turns it over, and he knows the place.’”
Trevor is often elusive, and even his recent memoirs, Excursions in the Real World (1994), though richly revelatory of his writing life, are reticent about his personal life. However, in these memoirs, in interviews, and in recent fiction, Trevor has turned increasingly to a world he knows intimately—middle-class Protestant Ireland. In two recent...
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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 misapprehension that it is reading ‘Ireland,’ whatever and wherever that might be” (43). At times, such re-readings may be accused of self-serving revisionism, and “It requires great faith in literature to believe that Irish literature itself can correct ideological astigmatism and promote new ways of seeing …” (43). As Vance and Longley point out, perhaps there is a need to discard “anachronistic critical tools, such as the ‘post-colonial pastry-cutter’” (43). Certainly there is something of an exercise to sifting through modern Irish literature for discourses on the “Irish Question” and the colonial legacy, especially if one merely looks for what Vance calls the “archaic forced oppositions” that characterize...
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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 his characters' evasion or subversion of it. When these characters are seen in their social contexts, it is historical truth that often emerges like an uninvited guest, insinuating itself into collective experience and individual lives. Amorphous and mainly perceptible in shapes of family, class, and culture, history is ultimately revealed as a moral force adhering to the inheritances and destinies of Trevor's people.
In the story form Trevor does not so much write historical fiction as fictional portraiture in the context of history. And yet in Trevor's hands such group and individual portraiture is an interpretation of history. He envisions Irish history along the lines of Stephen Dedalus' definition, of a...
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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 play a precise, energizing role in the patterning of the whole—and showing the same lack of tolerance for digression, slowness or purely expository information.
How to get credible purchase on enough of human life to be compelling, in a space small enough for a reader to traverse in a single act of attention? That is the formal question every great short story answers. Each in its own way, of course, though certain distinct habits of mind do emerge with particular frequency.
An instinct for configuring ordinary images and events in such a way that they release meaning (for want of a better word) in a burst or deluge, out of proportion to the sum of their parts, seems an intrinsic part of the art. A...
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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 story that is apparent within the first few lines—control, economy, tension. The aftertaste remains for ever, with luck—whether it is the Chekhovian mood and manner story, or the Dahl twist-in-the-tail, or the Elizabeth Bowen magical accretion of atmosphere and character.
Several of the stories in this collection are Rolls-Royces, a couple are Ford Escorts and all the rest are BMW or Jaguar or thereabouts. I have never been a Dahl fan—the slap-the-reader-in-the-face ending seems to me in the last resort a cheap trick. The story form deserves better. Trevor is not a twist-in-the-tail man; indeed, he often deals a surprise right at the start, wrong-footing the reader within half a page. And this is just what we want of...
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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 illustrate.
A man sends a substitute to a party for him in “Timothy's Birthday.” The sub is a hoodlum whose very presence in the home of his parents is spiteful. He eats their food, drinks their liquor, and steals a little keepsake which he later pawns. He also steals the birthday boy's car. One might think there is something wrong with Timothy for setting this all in motion. But, no, the wrong is with the parents. They loved each other too much. The son was always jealous of their love because it excluded him.
Two more hoodlums (“A Bit of Business”) find the Pope's visit to Dublin an opportune time to go on a spree. They steal a car, burglarize several houses, sell the goods to a fence, and celebrate...
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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 partial apprehensions, until, with details and identities established, moral truths, or more precisely, moral implications that emanate from truths, begin to resonate, forming the story's ending. But because he takes such pains to avoid the didactic, and because he seems to have such respect for the relativity and the ambiguity of each situation, one may question whether or not Trevor's stories promote a general moral vision. In the same 1989 interview, Trevor states that he has no message, no philosophy imposed upon his characters beyond “the predicament they find themselves in” (Stout 145-46). His declared preference for the story form testifies to his distrust of philosophic generalization and yet also to his desire to dramatize the need...
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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 self-conscious and uneasy (not always to ill effect, it should be said). Meanwhile, the short story has continued an unbroken narrative, speaking in its quiet way its unemphatic verities. Even Borges, if we accept as short stories the brief fictions of magic realities and strange science on which his fame rests, was more a medieval savant and necromancer than one of Pound's makers of the new. Reflective in manner, unperturbed in tone, the short story is perhaps the last form in which humanism finds its true voice, that humanism which at the close of this savage century we are being forced, with many regrets and misgivings, to relinquish.
That the short story has survived at all testifies to the subtle strengths of the form and, even...
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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 seriously established work habits. This is not to deny that even the immortals had dry seasons and ignition failures; Zola wrote masterpieces like L'Assommoir and The Debacle, but he penned his share of duds, too. Try The Sin of Father Mouret for soppy sentiment, a weep through the woods that goes wrong from the very beginning. But lapses aside, writers can usually tell when they've tapped into the vein. As discouraging as any first draft must be, with its shortcomings before rewrite strutting about like bad actors in audition, a familiar capability noticeable in a day's rushes can overcome the fear of failure. Some recent fiction by six older writers (the youngest is fifty and the oldest nearly seventy) showcases the talents...
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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.
As a kind of bonus, then, comes After Rain, a collection of 12 new stories that revisit familiar Trevor territory: the suburbs of London, where people tend to create all kinds of emotional trouble by their sophisticated suppression of emotion; the holiday spots of Italy, which are not far enough away for travelers to escape the complications of home, so that the interiors of the stories are still suburban London; the author's native Ireland, where life may seem more simply lived but is no day at the beach.
Trevor is still in his 60s, so I suppose there was no good reason to think he wouldn't be productive for a long time to come. What is truly noteworthy—and the real bonus—is that some of these stories can be...
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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 yet fifty-seven, slight and seeming frail, eats carefully at a table in the corner”1 do nothing to contradict such expectations: her solitary position, the coherent argument running through her mind, the placid superiority with which she ignores adverse comments of “the others”, all mark her out as a potential Turgenev reader under any of the imaginary categories above.
The confirmation would seem complete when the lady casually pronounces the name of a character central to one of Turgenev's novels, Insarov.2 However, this reference at the end of the first brief chapter, which is set in an asylum for the mentally disturbed, calls for an adjustment in our expectations. The lady who largely...
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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 of enormous desires and compulsions. The work's power comes from its slow revelation to the reader that these passions are lifelong, not youthful aberrations. The fire of his characters' needs illuminates not only their delicately balanced psyches, but also their deep understanding and an even deeper, almost shocking acceptance of what their lives have brought them to.
At first, the stories seem simple. “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old,” begins “The Piano Tuner's Wives.” The narrative voice could hardly be more straightforward, and its even, judicious tone holds steady as we come to know Belle, once the prettiest girl in the village, who nevertheless has...
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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 it puts in”—quite a different thing. Writing short stories is a high and special art, and only some novelists are good at it; most are not. Many great writers are better when they write briefly than when they don't. Faulkner, who wrote well either way, thought it was harder to write a good short story than a good novel. In a novel, he said, “you can be more careless; you can put more trash in it, and be excused for it. In a short story that's next to a poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right.”
Just the same, we are likely to rank the accomplished short story writer under the novelist. We meet short stories in quickly thrown out magazines, while novels, though they used to appear in installments...
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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 stories,” it's likely that readers will know the work of William Trevor, whose new collection of short stories, After Rain, has just appeared. For such readers, suffice it to say that in these twelve stories—about wives, husbands, lovers, and heartbreak; about children and parents and heartbreak; about friends and thieves—Trevor displays both his usual craftsmanship and his uncanny insight into the human heart.
But what of William Trevor for the as-yet-uninitiated? Except for the Italy of its title story, the stories are set in his native Ireland and in England and Northern Ireland, where Trevor has spent his life. Trevor has observed of his own earlier writing, “I think I am interested in people who are not...
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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 are close-up sensory detail and the subtle mapping of psychic landscape. The rest is a matter of style, structure, and point of view. The reader should be the one to bring moral exigencies to bear, if he or she is so inclined. A good story writer, too, doesn't ring down the curtain and wait for applause. The curtain needn't descend at all, and if someone is left on stage, quietly thinking or staring out as though looking for an answer, all the better. A brilliant story can leave the reader in midair.
The short story has glibly been claimed as an indigenous American form, but in the last sixty years many of its surest practitioners have been either English or Irish: V. S. Pritchett and Frank O'Connor, to name only two. With...
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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 truth and lies and their near kin: knowledge and ignorance, blindness and insight, illusion and disillusionment, hiddenness and disclosure.
Over his long career in stories, Trevor employs a full range of disclosive structures. He makes significant use, for example, of the trope Genette calls paralipsis, withholding to the end—in stories like “Mr. McNamara” and “The Bedroom Eyes of Mrs. Vansittart”—some piece of information crucial to the reader's understanding. Conversely, he sometimes uses an ironic structure in which author and reader share, from early on, knowledge a story's protagonist lacks. In “The Forty-Seventh Saturday,” we know as Mavie does not, ever, that her “married” lover is not married at...
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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 tragedy. But if he climbs a tree to rescue a kitten, and falls to his death, it could be a tragedy.
Every one of Trevor's stories is a tragedy. In each case, the protagonist could have chosen another direction, and the outcome would have been quite different. Belle, the piano tuner's second wife, did not have to spend her precious time with her husband resenting his first wife. Timothy could have visited his parents on his birthday as planned, instead of avoiding the lunch for no good reason and sending the message with such a disreputable friend. Catherine did not have to pay the fraudulent Leary. She knew the money was not owed. Her husband (were he still alive) would not have paid it. Yet she decided to pay it, knowing...
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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 of an outsider, but with a native's appreciation of its social and political complexities.
In common with other countries of the Western world, Ireland had experienced great social changes during the 1960s. There was relative prosperity with increased employment and a higher standard of living for all. The rate of emigration began to fall significantly and the population of the country grew for the first time since the Great Famine of the 1840s. There were new faces in the political arena and the first signs of co-operation between North and South appeared when the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Sean Lemass, and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O'Neill, met together first in Belfast and later in Dublin. It...
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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 English. In drama, John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey are major world playwrights. (And there is Samuel Beckett, sui generis, writing in French but Irish-born and arguably, in the cadences of his unique voice, never other than “Irish”.) Yet it would seem that the short story is the blessed Irish genre, on the evidence of the number of brilliant Irish short-story writers of the twentieth century: Joyce, Mary Lavin, Frank O'Connor, Sean O'Faolain, Elizabeth Bowen, Benedict Kiely, William Trevor, Edna O'Brien, Desmond Hogan, Colum McCann.
Among these, William Trevor (born in 1928 in County Cork) has the unusual distinction of being as accomplished in longer forms of fiction as in shorter. Dauntingly prolific, Trevor...
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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 recognition.
The stories, a dozen in this collection, are set in Ireland, England, and France, and many of them gently unravel mysteries. Following Horace's recipe for effective narration, they drop us—in medias res—into situations already defined. Then, in the reticent modern manner established by Chekhov and Joyce, they provoke us to ask the questions that Homer and Virgil (Horace's reference points) explicitly put to the muse: what is this scene that we have happened upon and what brought (what brings) these characters to it? In some of the stories, the characters themselves ask this question, and the crisis, usually muted, is their discovery of the answer. In others the characters know the answer only too well and...
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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 about their lives.”
———. “Man's Fate, Through Dry but Sorrowful Irish Eyes.” New York Times (17 October 2000): E7.
Offers a favorable assessment of The Hill Bachelors.
Lesser, Wendy. “The Casualties of Deception.” New York Times Book Review (20 October 1996): 15.
Discusses the unifying themes of the stories comprising After Rain.
Pritchard, William H. “The Art of the Glimpse.” New York Times Book Review (22 October 2000): 11.
Contends that in The Hill Bachelors Trevor's narrative style “has become exploratory, rather than clinically diagnostic or satiric, and in so...
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