Molly Keane V. S. Pritchett - Essay

V. S. Pritchett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As one who knew something of the period of Molly Keane's Good Behaviour I was astonished to find there no hint of the Irish "Troubles," the Rising of 1916, the later civil war, or the toll of burned-down houses. Was this an instance of the Anglo-Irish, indeed of the general Irish habit of euphemism and evasion? What, of course, is most real to Molly Keane is the game of manners, the instinctive desire to keep boring reality at bay yet to be stoical about the cost.

The Victorian and Edwardian codes stayed on far longer in southern Ireland than in England. Good Behaviour … is less a novel than a novelized autobiography which exposes the case of Anglo-Irish women, especially in the person of the narrator, a shy, large, ungainly, horsy girl….

Molly Keane's real novel, substantial and ingeniously organized, is the more recent Time After Time…. Now good behavior is in abeyance, although its shadow is there. We are now in a period closer to the present day. Still no politics, though there is a horrified glance at a political crime abroad, the Holocaust.

For the rest, the Irish imbroglio tells its own tale. (p. 7)

[Time After Time is a] thoroughly well-organized traditional study of intrigue, malice, and roguery. It is rich, and remarkable for the intertwining of portraits and events. It is spirited, without tears. The ingenious narrative is always on the move and has that extraordinary clean athletic animation that one finds in Anglo-Irish prose. Mrs. Keane has a delicate sense of landscape; she is robust about sinful human nature and the intrigues of the heart, a moralist well weathered in the realism and the evasions of Irish life. No Celtic twilight here! Detached as her comedy is, it is also deeply sympathetic and admiring of the stoicism, the incurable quality of her people…. [Irish] … realism, with the solace of its intrigues, dominates this very imaginative and laughing study of the anger that lies at the heart of the isolated and the old, and their will to live. (p. 8)

V. S. Pritchett, "The Solace of Intrigue," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXI, No. 6, April 12, 1984, pp. 7-8.