Brigid (Antonia) Brophy 1929–7 August 1995
Anglo-Irish novelist, critic, essayist, journalist, short story writer, and dramatist.
Brophy presents unconventional and controversial views with outspoken wit. In general, Brophy's work portrays modern society as too complacent and overly rationalistic and she proposes freedom from traditional middle-class values.
With her first novel, Hackenfeller's Ape (1953), Brophy won praise for her wit, technical control, and command of language. This novel depicts a scientist whose attempts to civilize an ape result in problems both for himself and the ape. Her novel Flesh (1962) examines eccentricities of human behavior by depicting the transformation of an introverted young man into a hedonist. These novels, along with The Snow Ball (1964), a comedy of manners that parallels themes in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, established Brophy as a critic of middle-class morality and hypocrisy. Like Bernard Shaw, whom she has acknowledged as a major influence, Brophy writes social criticism with the moral intent of promoting a better world. Brophy's style has been compared with the satirical elegance of Ronald Firbank, who was the subject of Brophy's critical biography The Prancing Novelist (1973).
In the early 1960s, Brophy began to express her social views in works of nonfiction, with mixed results. Black Ship to Hell (1962), a sweeping historical analysis of the human impulse toward violence, is heavily influenced by Freudian theories. The collected essays and reviews in Don't Never Forget (1966) are drawn from her work on various English periodicals. The book that provoked the greatest response was Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without (1967), in which she collaborated with her husband, art historian Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne of London Magazine. While critics agreed that a few of the "classics" debunked in this study were unworthy of the high literary status they enjoyed, they also derided the trio's reliance on facetious analysis based on subjective opinion.
Brophy's later fiction is marked by experiments with language, structure, and narrative. Of these novels, In Transit (1969) and Palace without Chairs (1978) are considered most significant. While critics continued to compliment Brophy as a witty and clever novelist, many were of the opinion that her experimentalism intruded upon the themes of these novels. Brophy's recent work, The Prince and the Wild Geese (1982), is a commentary accompanying a series of watercolors by a nineteenth-century Russian prince that depicts his unsuccessful attempts to woo a young Irish woman. Set in Italy, The Prince and the Wild Geese is a comedy of manners that contains the wit and social criticism that many critics have acknowledged to be Brophy's major strength as a writer.
(See also CLC, Vols. 6, 11; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 14.)