Mary Lavin Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mary Lavin has an illustrious place among the handful of Irish women writers of short stories. Unlike other members of that group—for example, Elizabeth Bowen and Edna O’Brien—Lavin has devoted virtually all of her creative energies to short fiction, her novels having little to contribute to an overall assessment of her artistic achievement.

At the age of nine, Lavin was brought by her Irish emigrant parents from her native America back to Ireland. For a time the family settled in Athenry, County Galway, in circumstances which have haunted the author’s work. The special place occupied by houses in her fiction and the stolidly repressive conformity they connote reflect this place and time. Stories such as “The Becker Wives,” the Grimes family sequence, and the novel The House in Clewe Street have their origins in these formative experiences. In 1922, the family moved to Dublin, where the author was educated. Four years later, her father began to work as the manager of Bective House, an estate in County Meath, north of Dublin. This position and locale had a number of important consequences for Lavin, not least for providing the landscape of many of her stories—“In the Middle of the Fields” is a noteworthy example.

In 1936, after completing an M.A. thesis on Jane Austen, Lavin left Dublin’s University College and took a teaching position. She later began to study for a Ph.D. but abandoned a thesis on Virginia Woolf in favor of creative work. Her first story, “Miss Holland,” was published in 1939. Marriage to a university classmate, William Walsh, a lawyer, followed in 1942, the same year that her first book of stories, Tales from Bective Bridge, was published. The book came with a preface by a famous Bective neighbor, the author Lord Dunsany, and in 1943 Lavin received the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

In 1946, following the death of her father (see the story “Tom” in The Shrine, and Other...

(The entire section is 812 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born in East Walpole, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1912, and the only child of Irish-born Nora Mahon and Tom Lavin, Mary Lavin emigrated to Ireland in her ninth year. Educated at Loreto Convent in Dublin and University College, Dublin, she wrote her M.A. thesis on Jane Austen; she then taught French at Loreto Convent for two years while preparing her unfinished Ph.D. thesis on Virginia Woolf. In 1942, she married William Walsh, and they had three daughters: Valentine, Elizabeth, and Caroline. After the death of her husband in 1954, Lavin had little time to write fiction since she had to bring up her children and run the farm at Bective. A John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1959, however, and another in 1962, gave her the time and confidence to create fiction once more. She published a number of stories that were then collected in The Great Wave, and Other Stories. Thereafter, the years became serene and productive. Lavin received a number of awards and prizes, including a third Guggenheim Fellowship, in 1972, and a D.Litt. from the National University of Ireland in 1968. In 1969, she married an old friend from her university days, Michael MacDonald Scott, a laicized Jesuit.

Lavin, who had been living in a nursing home in Blackrock, a southern suburb of Dublin, died March 24, 1996, at the age of eighty-three. She was praised by both the president of Ireland, Mary Robison, and the Taoiseach, John Bruton, who said her life was characterized by the ability to “make the ordinary extraordinary.” She was eulogized in Irish and English newspapers by many of the most famous Irish critics and authors, such as William Trevor, Clare Boylan, W. J. McCormack, and Maurice Harmon. Publication of the first full-length biography of Lavin was stalled in May, 1998, because one of her daughters was unhappy with her portrayal in the book.


(Short Stories for Students)

Mary Lavin Published by Gale Cengage

Mary Lavin was born in East Walpole, Massachusetts in 1912 to Thomas and Nora Lavin, who were both Irish immigrants. The family moved back to...

(The entire section is 399 words.)