Aidan Higgins Critical Essays

Introduction

Aidan Higgins 1927–-

Irish novelist, short story writer, diarist, travel writer, essayist, and autobiographical fiction writer.

Higgins is recognized for his short stories that often involve Irish characters living abroad or in relationships with non-Irish characters. He is regarded as an internationalist writer, in that he grounds his fiction in his Irish heritage but embraces cosmopolitan settings and universal themes. His work is viewed as an important link between the modernist period and contemporary Irish literature.

Biographical Information

Higgins was born on March 3, 1927, in Celbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, which has been a recurring setting in his work. He attended Celbridge Convent and Kilashee Preparatory School before going on to Clongowes Wood College, a private boarding school run by the Society of Jesus. After graduation, he worked as a copywriter for the Domas Advertising Agency in Dublin. Hospitalized for scarlet fever, he became interested in writing during his convalescence. In 1955 he moved to London and worked as a laborer. A year later he joined John Wright's Marionette Company as a puppet operator and toured Europe and Africa for two years. He then settled in Johannesburg as a scriptwriter for Filmlets, an advertising company. During this time he began corresponding with Samuel Beckett, who recommended Higgins to his London publisher John Calder. In 1959 Higgins's short story “Lebensraum” won second place in a competition run by the London Observer. Besides writing short stories, novels, and autobiographical fiction, Higgins has written for BBC radio, including some plays and a documentary on Brian O'Nolan. He currently lives in London.

Major Works of Short Fiction

In 1960 Higgins's first short story collection, Felo De Se, was published. The next year Grove Press published the collection under the title Killachter Meadow. In 1978, the collection was revised and re-released as Asylum, and Other Stories. Many of the stories comprising the volume feature Irish characters abroad or in relationships with non-Irish characters and focus on frustrated or deviant sexuality. The story entitled “Nightfall on Cape Piscator” is replete with images of death associated with sex. In “Tower and Angels,” the protagonist links sex with the act of a butcher cutting up meat. In one of his best-known stories, “Killachter Meadow,” Higgins focuses on a quartet of sisters living in various stages of sexual frustration. His most recent collection of short fiction and prose, Flotsam and Jetsam (1997), includes stories written from the years 1960 to 1989 and is perceived as a fitting introduction to his work.

Critical Reception

Reviewers commend Higgins's portrayal of emotionally intense characters who tend to live on the margins of society. Stylistically, they note his utilization of plain syntax and detailed narrative, which has been described as Germanic in nature. Although a few critics have asserted that Higgins is careless with details at times, they view Higgins as an important author: he is perceived as an integral link between Irish modernist literature and contemporary writing. Commentators have investigated the influences on Higgins's literary career, particularly that of James Joyce, Brian O'Nolan, and Samuel Beckett. Higgins's fiction has been compared to that of Joyce, Djuna Barnes, and William Trevor. He has received several awards for his work, including a German Academic Scholarship in 1969 and the Award of the Irish Academy of Letters in 1970.