Kate O’Brien was born on December 3, 1897, at Limerick, the “Mellick” of her novels. She was educated at a convent boarding school and at University College, Dublin. Going to London as a young woman, she wrote for newspapers, and from journalism she turned to drama. Her first play, Distinguished Villa, was staged successfully in London in 1926; it was followed the next year by The Bridge. After moving to Spain, where she lived until the Falangist Civil War, O’Brien achieved her more substantial reputation as a novelist. Her first novel, Without My Cloak, established her literary reputation; it was awarded the Hawthornden Prize. She continued to write for the theater, however, and adapted to that medium three narratives of her own, including her historical novel, That Lady.
A psychological novelist, O’Brien was expert in her handling of modern techniques. Thematically, The Last of Summer is characteristic: The heroine, an actress reared in France, visits for the first time her father’s childhood home in Ireland, where she is forced to cope with the family of her domineering aunt. The tension between the girl’s warm, equable temperament and the neuroses of the cousin with whom she falls in love causes an inevitable exposure of divided emotional loyalties. O’Brien also frequently was concerned with failures of the artistic spirit to quicken sympathy in the conservative, Catholic Irish middle class.