William Trevor 1928–
(Full name William Trevor Cox) Irish short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.
The following entry presents an overview of Trevor's career through 1998. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 9, 14, 25, and 71.
Considered one of the premier writers in English alive today, Trevor has earned the highest praise from critics who compare him to fellow Irishman James Joyce. Trevor is known for his skill in describing the lives of unhappy, unloved, self-delusional characters, and evoking sympathy and humor rather than pity or ridicule for his misfits. Although his short stories and novels are not widely known outside Britain, Trevor has consistently won numerous awards and has enjoyed a prolific career.
Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland on May 24, 1928. Born into a Protestant family in a predominantly Catholic area, Trevor moved frequently as a result of his father's job. Attending thirteen schools throughout his youth, Trevor claims that he felt like an outsider and this gave him a greater ability to observe others, a talent he would later use in his writing. He attended Sandford Park School in Dublin and St. Columbia's College in Dublin before receiving a B.A. in history from Trinity College in 1950. In the early 1950s Trevor took a number of teaching posts in Northern Ireland and England while also pursuing a successful career as a sculptor. He married Jane Ryan in 1952, with whom he had two sons, Patrick and Dominic. After becoming disillusioned with sculpting, he published his first novel, A Standard Behaviour, in 1958. Through the early 1960s he worked as a advertising copywriter while simultaneously pursuing his writing career. He quit the advertising job to pursue writing full time in 1965, the same year he won the Hawthornden Prize for literature for his second novel Old Boys (1964). Since then, he has won the Benson Medal in 1975 for Angles at the Ritz and Other Stories (1975), an Allied Irish Bank Prize for Literature in 1976, the Heinemann Award for fiction in 1976, the Whitbread Prize in 1978 for The Children of Dynmouth (1976) and again in 1983 for Fools of Fortune (1983), the Irish community Prize in 1979 and the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award in 1994 for Felicia's Journey (1994). In addition, he was awarded honorary doctorates of literature from University of Exeter; Trinity College, Dublin; Queens University, Belfast, and National University of Ireland, Cork, as well as being awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Many of Trevor's works have been adapted into popular and award winning television movies and radio and theater plays. He continues to live and write in England.
Trevor is known for his short stories and novels about people on the fringe of society, living in old boarding houses and hotels, who are unhappy and lonely. Set in England, novels such as The Boarding House (1965), Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel (1969), and The Children of Dynmouth (1976) as well as his early short story collections deal with "the theme of loneliness and hunger for love …" to quote Julian Gitzen. In his novels and stories his characters search for the truth, although not all of them are willing to accept it. Particularly well known, Trevor's story "The Ballroom of Romance" recounts a young woman's decision to accept her fate and marry an alcoholic bachelor rather than continue to dream of a better life. In the 1980s Trevor turned his attention to Ireland and the political turmoil there. Setting many of his works in the past, he focused on themes of retribution, forgiveness, conflict, and isolation. Fools of Fortune (1983) centers upon a man living in self-imposed exile in Italy after the death of his family in the Anglo-Irish war. The novel links the importance of history, both personal and national, in shaping destiny, as well as the ways in which people create their own isolation. Stories in his collections The News from Ireland (1986) and Beyond the Pule, and Other Stories (1981) such as "Attracta", "Beyond the Pale", "Another Christmas," and "The News From Ireland" explore the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, arguing that while the past cannot be forgotten, forgiveness can bring restitution. After Rain (1996), a collection of short stories, and Felicia's Journey (1994) constitute Trevor's later works. The former centers on revelations of truth in twelve stories which are thematically connected, while the latter focuses on the destruction of a young unwed pregnant Irish girl and the forces who prey upon her.
Critics of Trevor's work contend that he is among the greatest short story writers of the late twentieth century. Compared with James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Henry James, and Samuel Beckett, Trevor is praised for his dark humor, his intimate portraits of sad, delusional characters, and his skill at evoking commonplace but lonely settings. Gary Krist writes that Trevor is "arguably the English-speaking world's premier practitioner of a certain brand of artistically distanced fiction …" and Stephen Schiff contends that "Trevor is probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language…." Suzanne Morrow Paulson holds that not enough attention has been paid to Trevor's novels. She and other critics assert that within his novels Trevor perfects his character development and merges the tragic and comic. However, others argue that Trevor's work is uneven. James Lasden states: "A faltering muse seems to preside over [Trevor's] work, with the habit of bestowing superb openings, then disappearing, sometimes to return at the last moment, sometimes not." Other critics of Trevor's Collected Stories agree that the quality of his work fluctuates and that some of his characters fail to capture Trevor's interest and falter. However, Lasden concludes that "(w)hat Trevor does have … is something approaching genius for conveying ordinary human unhappiness."