William Trevor 1928-
(Full name William Trevor Cox) Irish short fiction writer, novelist, playwright, essayist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents criticism of Trevor's short fiction works from 1990 to 2001. For discussion of Trevor's short fiction career prior to 1990, see SSC, Volume 21.
Trevor is acknowledged as one of the finest contemporary Anglo-Irish 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 recent fiction incorporates the history and social milieu of his native Ireland.
Born in Country Cork, Ireland, 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 Trevor was in his mid-thirties, he abandoned a successful career as a sculptor to pursue writing. Trevor's first novel, A Standard of Behaviour (1958), was generally dismissed as imitative and pretentious. His novel The Old Boys (1964) 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 (1967) was soon followed by the highly popular works The Ballroom of Romance (1972) and The Angels at the Ritz (1975). Trevor continues to write novels and short stories. His longtime interest in art has led to one-man exhibitions of his artwork in Dublin and Bath, England.
Major Works of Short Fiction
In his writing, 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 the novella My House in Umbria (1991; included, along with the novella Reading Turgenev, in Two Lives) confuses memories from her past with the present. Several of Trevor's stories incorporate these thematic concerns with the history and political turmoils of Ireland. Beyond the Pale (1981) and The News from Ireland (1986) address more directly the troubles in Ireland and its tenuous relationship with England. After Rain (1996) and The Hill Bachelors (2000) revisit Trevor's dominant themes of failed relationships and missed opportunities.
While some critics have praised Trevor's emphasis on the past, others have found his subject matter tiresome and without humor. Despite the often bleak tone of his work, Trevor has been lauded for his compassionate characterizations; in particular, many commentators have commended his sensitive treatment of female characters. Trevor's restrained writing style and subtle wit have also received favorable attention. The last several 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. His short stories have often been compared to those of such writers as Muriel Spark and Anton Chekhov. Trevor is recognized as one of the best contemporary short story writers today and his work is generally highly regarded. In 2002, Trevor was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain for his service to literature. Furthermore, in 2002, Trevor's novel The Story of Lucy Gault (2002) was shortlisted for Great Britain's Whitbread Prize for best novel.