Mary Lavin 1912–1996
American-born Irish short-story writer and novelist.
For further information on Lavin's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4 and 18.
Lavin was one of Ireland's most respected contemporary writers. Although her short stories explore everyday events in the Irish countryside, the thoughts and actions of her characters often spark a deep personal resonance with her readers. She describes convincingly the eccentricities and illogic of average people and it is this character development, rather than her plots, which gained her critical acclaim. Born in Massachusetts, Lavin immigrated to Ireland as a child and grew up in the environs of Dublin. In 1934 she received a degree in English, with honors, from University College in Dublin. She continued her studies there, earning an M.A., with honors, in 1936. While writing her dissertation, she wrote and published her first story, "Miss Holland" (1938), which received favorable attention. Lavin subsequently abandoned her graduate studies to write fiction, and, in 1942, married William Walsh, with whom she had three daughters. Widowed twelve years later, Lavin continued to write, publishing thirteen short story collections and two novels. Best known for her short stories and novellas, the form she preferred, Lavin received three Guggenheim Fellowships, the Katherine Mansfield Prize, and the Aos Dana Award. Critics praised her ability to create contained, even isolated settings for her characters with great brevity and efficiency. She often wrote about poignant moments in the lives of families; not necessarily instances of dramatic action, but moments of profound insight. The sparse style of her work and its melancholy mood lead critics to compare it to that of some Russian writers, particularly Anton Chehkov. As Jean Stubbs wrote, Lavin "invites us to contemplate with her the infinite sadness and beauty of the world, the divine inconsequences of life."