Night Characters (Edna O’Brien)

Edna O’Brien

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The aggressive, spirited, courageous Mary is a splendid creation, with all of her senses alert. O’Brien expertly depicts her reveling in the tastes, touches, sights, and sounds of nature, not only in the sexual. In a world full of birds, roses, and mirrors, Mary likes her own image, most of the time. She does include within herself some of the obverse characteristics of her extroverted personality—the “alternate characteristics” which she reads in the teacloth (as opposed to the tea leaves) that her father gave her for Christmas. Her former apartment-mate, Madge, who “riled against her maker that all her buzzies [her husband and men-friends] were hapless losers,” specifically brings out this darker side of Mary. Yet always she felt “there’s some valuable inside me. I will laugh and I will cry. There is little difference. What more do I want?” She has so successfully integrated the romantic side of her personality into the whole that, at her best, she is like the very minor character she remembers meeting in a queue, who said to her: “I am earthy but I dream sometimes.” When she is not recollecting her family in Ireland, to the chagrin of ultrafeminist critics, Mary’s dreams are most often linked to her memories of previous loves and her hopes for a man in her life.

This circle of men, now dwindling, includes in it the following characters: Nick Finney of the London Irish; the crooner back in the West with whom she first had sexual...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mary Hooligan

Mary Hooligan, a feisty, fortyish, Irish divorcée, currently house-sitting in London. Over the course of one winter night, she reviews, from her employers’ four-poster master bed, her life and loves. Hers is a philosophy celebrating excess. An indomitable spirit, her story is similarly aggressive and witty, even zany, in its content and form. All of her senses are alert. Mary’s robust handling of language is as forceful and exuberant as is her optimistic attitude toward life. Moved to launch into her soliloquy by approaching middle age and possible loneliness, she reveals herself to be in rude, good health. She is a rebel and a fighter, so she admires the idea of the Irish Republican Army man, McKann, whom she has never met. Sensually, she enjoys nature and the natural, celebrating birds, animals, flowers, and honest sexuality. She expects and uses no euphemisms or baby talk. In the course of her freewheeling associations, she sketches the people important in her life: her parents, husband, and son, and a parade of lovers. She also sketches her Irish homeland, where she has chosen her grave site, though she is in no hurry to take up residence in it. She has no Irish Catholic obsession and concomitant guilt. She is pleased enough with what she sees in her mirror. Mary enjoys life. She enjoys being a woman; unlike her former apartment mate, Madge, she is no whiner. Mary thinks that she will probably seek out her stonemason friend,...

(The entire section is 578 words.)