Trevor, William 1928-
(Full name William Trevor Cox) Irish short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.
Trevor is acknowledged as one of Ireland's finest contemporary short story writers. Often compared to James Joyce and Frank O'Connor, he skillfully blends humor and pathos to portray the lives of people living on the fringe of society. While many of his early works are set in England, his most recent fiction incorporates the history and social milieu of his native Ireland. In works such as The Ballroom of Romance, and Other Stories, Trevor explores the importance of personal and national history as he focuses on lonely individuals burdened by the past.
Born in Country Cork to Protestant parents, Trevor moved frequently while growing up and attended thirteen different schools before entering St. Columba's College in Dublin in 1942. Shortly after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, he left Ireland to accept a position teaching art in England, where he currently resides. While he was in his mid-thirties, he abandoned a successful career as a sculptor to pursue writing full-time. His first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, was generally dismissed as imitative and pretentious. The Old Boys, proved significantly more successful, winning the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1964. In the years that followed, Trevor continued to write novels and also produced a number of well-received plays. However, it is as a writer of short fiction that he has received the most critical and commercial attention. The publication of his first collection of short stories, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, was soon followed by the highly popular works The Ballroom of Romance and Angels at the Ritz, and Other Stories. One story in particular—"The Ballroom of Romance"—established Trevor's reputation as a talented short fiction writer, inviting comparisons to works by Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Muriel Spark. Trevor's most recent short fiction collections, The News from Ireland, and Other Stories, Family Sins, and Other Stories and Two Lives: Reading Turgenev; My House in Umbria continue to generate popular and critical acclaim.
Major Works of Short Fiction
In his works Trevor typically focuses on eccentric individuals isolated from mainstream society. For example, in "The General's Day" a retired British army officer living in a shabby apartment falls victim to his housekeeper who exploits his loneliness and steals from him. Many of Trevor's characters are imprisoned by the past, such as the title character of the short story, "In Love with Ariadne" who cannot bear the shame of her father's suicide and rumors of his pedophilia. As a result, she enters the convent, refusing a future with a man who loves her. Other Trevor characters, dissatisfied with their present lives, relive the past. In "Virgins," two women who are unhappy in their marriages recall their youth when they fell in love with the same man, while the protagonist of My House in Umbria confuses memories from her past with the present. Trevor's recent short fiction incorporates these thematic concerns with the history and political turmoils of Ireland. Beyond the Pale, and Other Stories and The News from Ireland, and Other Stories address more directly the troubles in Ireland and its tenuous relationship with England. For instance, in the title story of Beyond the Pale, and Other Stories English tourists are exposed to terrorist violence while staying at an isolated resort in Northern Ireland. While initially rationalizing the event, the vacationers are eventually forced to confront their own roles in perpetuating the Anglo-Irish conflict.
While some critics have praised Trevor's emphasis on the past, others have found his subject matter tiresome. Anatole Broyard lamented: "Too many of Trevor's characters are haunted by the past. After a while, when I grew tired of them, they reminded me of the sort of people who sentimentalize in attics. Although nothing demands deftness so much as nostalgia, Mr. Trevor is sometimes content just to shamble around it." Despite the often bleak tone of his work, Trevor has been lauded for his compassionate characterizations; in particular, many commentators have noted and commended his sensitive treatment of female characters. Trevor's restrained writing style and subtle humor have also received favorable attention. The last few years have seen the publication of several full-length studies of Trevor, expanding critical analysis of his work to include such topics as gender relations, religious symbolism and the context of Irish literature.