Authors: Edwin O’Connor

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Oracle, 1951

The Last Hurrah, 1956

Benjy: A Ferocious Fairy Tale, 1957

The Edge of Sadness, 1961

I Was Dancing, 1964 (adaptation of his play)

All in the Family, 1966

The Best and the Last of Edwin O’Connor, 1970

Short Fiction:

“The Gentle, Perfect Knight,” 1947

“The Inner Self,” 1950

“Parish Reunion,” 1950

“A Grand Day for Mr. Garvey,” 1957


I Was Dancing, pb. 1966


Edwin Greene O’Connor was a widely popular novelist in the 1950’s who also served as a social historian, focusing on the Irish American experience. Born to Dr. John V. O’Connor and Mary Greene O’Connor, he received his education at both a public and a parochial school. Upon high school graduation in 1935, he enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where he majored in English. Active in baseball, campus radio, and the literary magazine, O’Connor also spent time with Irish American students whose families were politically active. He enjoyed his studies in English so much that he decided to become a graduate student in preparation for a career in writing. However, he left his graduate studies after a short time and gained his first employment as a radio announcer, a job that would become a collection of experiences in Providence, West Palm Beach, Buffalo, and Hartford. These posts taught him to listen carefully to others’ use of language. During this time he wrote short stories but was not successful in selling any. In 1942 he enlisted in the Coast Guard, becoming a public information officer stationed in Boston.{$I[A]O’Connor, Edwin[OConnor, Edwin]}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;O’Connor, Edwin[OConnor, Edwin]}{$I[tim]1918;O’Connor, Edwin[OConnor, Edwin]}

After he was discharged from the service, he stayed in Boston. Having decided in 1946 to leave the radio business and support himself solely through writing, he established his daily routine of writing in the morning, walking through Boston, visiting regularly the offices of The Atlantic Monthly in the afternoon, and preparing notes in the evening for the next morning’s writing session. In September, 1947, The Atlantic Monthly published his first short story, “The Gentle, Perfect Knight.”

His relationship with The Atlantic Monthly was highly supportive: The magazine published O’Connor’s articles and short stories, providing a financial base that allowed him to concentrate on writing novels. His first novel, The Oracle, published in 1951, was the portrait of a self-deluded radio oracle named Christopher Usher. Benjy, published in 1957, was a cautionary fairy tale about a good little boy whose wish came true.

A 1952 trip to Ireland convinced the author that he would devote his writing to describing the Irish American community in the United States, a task that he accomplished with the immensely successful The Last Hurrah, a best-seller, and The Edge of Sadness. The Last Hurrah, made into a movie featuring Spencer Tracy, focuses on Irish American politics in a fictional eastern city. The portrait of Frank Skiffington was so lively and authentic that many readers and critics suggested that it was patterned on James Michael Curley, the Boston mayor. The novel won the Atlantic Prize. With the publication of The Edge of Sadness, a novel narrated by Father Hugh Kennedy, O’Connor reaped high accolades. In his portrayal of a conflicted priest, O’Connor broke the stereotype of an infallible religious leader. Although The Last Hurrah had been an unsuccessful contender for the Pulitzer Prize, The Edge of Sadness received this honor. With this novel, O’Connor was acknowledged as one of the most skillful and accomplished writers of the day, recognized especially for his keen use of dialogue, sharp characterization, and narrative style.

Late in his life, O’Connor in 1962 married Veniette Caswell Weil, a divorced woman with a son. They had no children together. By all accounts of their friends, they were joyously happy. O’Connor’s last two novels, I Was Dancing (originally a play) and All in the Family, include warm portrayals of women, characterizations he had avoided previously. All in the Family repeats a device O’Connor used in The Edge of Sadness: the use of a narrator who observes a family in trouble.

Edwin O’Connor died on March 23, 1968, of a cerebral hemorrhage. While the literary acclaim he enjoyed during his life has not endured, and some have charged him with popular commercialism, O’Connor is recognized as a social historian for his contribution to Irish American literature and his portrayal of Irish American middle-class life.

BibliographyFanning, Charles. “These Traits Endure.” In The Irish Voice in America: American Fiction from the 1760’s to the 1980’s. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. Fanning’s thesis is that O’Connor provided influential precedents for younger writers of Irish American literature.Milne, Gordon. “Professionals: Warren, O’Connor, and Drury.” In The American Political Novel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966. Provides a through description of O’Connor’s major works.O’Connor, Thomas D. The Boston Irish: A Political History. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995. Using a general historical approach, the author examines the political influence of the Irish in Yankee Boston.Rank, Hugh. Edwin O’Connor. New York: Twayne, 1974. This biography of the novelist aims to give a proper assessment of O’Connor’s real talents.
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