Fitz-James O'Brien Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111207202-Obrien.jpg Fitz-James O’Brien Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Fitz-James O’Brien’s “Oh: Give a Desert Life to Me” in the Irish nationalist newspaper The Nation (1845) was the first of hundreds of his poems published in Irish, English, and American newspapers, journals, and literary magazines. Many poems can be read with pleasure by the modern reader; “The Finishing School,” a long satiric poem on Madame Cancan’s New York School for women, is one example. O’Brien wrote at least six plays; A Gentleman from Ireland (1854), a two-act comedy, is the best known, having been staged at Wallack’s Theatre in New York during his lifetime. He also wrote innumerable essays, dramatic reviews, articles on varied subjects, and narratives for periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Knickerbocker, Putnam’s Magazine, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Harper’s Weekly, Vanity Fair, The American Whig Review, Lantern, and Home Journal.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although Fitz-James O’Brien was born in Ireland and began his literary career there and in England before emigrating to the United States, his short stories are more within the American than the Irish tradition of that genre. Some critics have labeled O’Brien a minor Edgar Allan Poe. A figure of New York’s bohemian literary scene in the 1850’s, he wrote much poetry, several plays, and a number of short stories that appeared in many of the popular newspapers and magazines of the day. Although one of his plays was produced as late as 1895 and his verse was widely published in his own lifetime, his literary reputation had declined even before his death. Several of his short stories, however, possibly influenced later writers such as Ambrose Bierce and Guy de Maupassant, and the application of his gothic imagination to science and pseudoscience, placed within a realistic setting, has influenced such modern practitioners of science fiction and fantasy as H. P. Lovecraft and Abraham Merritt.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Franklin, H. Bruce. Future Perfect. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Franklin, in his introduction to “The Diamond Lens,” stresses O’Brien’s great inventiveness as his major quality in becoming one of the seminal figures in the early era of science-fiction writing. He also discusses “How I Overcame My Gravity” and “What Was It?,” which he argues influenced later stories by Ambrose Bierce, Guy de Maupassant, and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Color Out of Space.”

Hoppenstand, Gary. “Robots of the Past: Fitz-James O’Brien’s ‘The Wondersmith.’” Journal of Popular Culture 27 (Spring, 1994): 13-30. Discussion of the way O’Brien blends realistic immigrant fiction with nineteenth century German fairy tale; notes how O’Brien parodies romantic conventions; suggests that O’Brien helped to establish the robot as an important literary motif.

Moskowitz, Sam. Explorers of the Infinite. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1963. In a work that discusses writers of fantasy and science fiction from Cyrano de Bergerac to the mid-twentieth century, the author devotes one chapter to O’Brien, titled “The Fabulous Fantast—Fitz-James O’Brien.” In Moskowitz’s opinion, O’Brien was not only one of the significant early figures in the genre of fantasy but also one of the most important short-story writers of the nineteenth century.

Tremayne, Peter, ed. Irish Masters of Fantasy. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1979. In his introduction to O’Brien’s “The Wondersmith,” Tremayne discusses several of O’Brien’s most important stories, including “The Diamond Lens,” “Jubal the Ringer,” “What Was It?,” and “From Hand to Mouth.” He also comments upon O’Brien’s influence on Ambrose Bierce and Guy de Maupassant.

Wentworth, Michael. “A Matter of Taste: Fitz-James O’Brien’s ‘The Diamond Lens’ and Poe’s Aesthetic of Beauty.” American Transcendental Quarterly, n.s. 2 (December, 1988): 271-284. Analysis of one of O’Brien’s most famous stories, arguing that it manifests the transcendent theory of beauty articulated by Edgar Allan Poe in his aesthetic theory.

Wolle, Francis. Fitz-James O’Brien: A Literary Bohemian of the Eighteen Fifties. Boulder: University of Colorado, 1944. The first full biography of O’Brien’s short but eventful life. Originally a doctoral dissertation, this study’s approach and emphasis, which include a scholarly discussion of all O’Brien’s writings, is suggested in the book’s subtitle. Supplemented by a bibliography.