Authors: Frank O’Connor

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Irish short-story writer

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Guests of the Nation, 1931

Bones of Contention, and Other Stories, 1936

Crab Apple Jelly, 1944

Selected Stories, 1946

The Common Chord, 1947

Traveller’s Samples, 1951

The Stories of Frank O’Connor, 1952

More Stories, 1954

Stories by Frank O’Connor, 1956

Domestic Relations, 1957

My Oedipus Complex, and Other Stories, 1963

Collection Two, 1964

A Set of Variations, 1969

Collection Three, 1969

Collected Stories, 1981

Long Fiction:

The Saint and Mary Kate, 1932

Dutch Interior, 1940


In the Train, pr. 1937 (with Hugh Hunt)

The Invincibles: A Play in Seven Scenes, pr. 1937 (with Hunt)

Moses’ Rock, pr. 1938 (with Hunt)

The Statue’s Daughter: A Fantasy in a Prologue and Three Acts, pr. 1941


Three Old Brothers, and Other Poems, 1936


Death in Dublin: Michael Collins and the Irish Revolution, 1937

The Big Fellow, 1937

A Picture Book, 1943

Towards an Appreciation of Literature, 1945

The Art of the Theatre, 1947

Irish Miles, 1947

The Road to Stratford, 1948

Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, 1950

The Mirror in the Roadway, 1956

An Only Child, 1961

The Lonely Voice, 1963

The Backward Look: A Survey of Irish Literature, 1967

My Father’s Son, 1968


The Wild Bird’s Nest, 1932 (of selected Irish poetry)

Lords and Commons, 1938 (of selected Irish poetry)

The Fountain of Magic, 1939 (of selected Irish poetry)

Lament for Art O’Leary, 1940 (of Eileen O’Connell)

The Midnight Court: A Rhythmical Bacchanalia from the Irish of Bryan Merryman, 1945 (of Brian Merriman’s Cuirt an mheadhoin oidhche)

Kings, Lords, and Commons, 1959 (of selected Irish poetry)

The Little Monasteries, 1963 (of selected Irish poetry)

A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry, 1967 (with David Greene)


Michael Francis O’Donovan, who later took the name Frank O’Connor, was born in 1903, the only child of a poor laborer and a cleaning woman. Some knowledge of O’Connor’s childhood is important for an understanding of his fiction, for he later wrote several of his most memorable stories about his ambiguous relationship with his alcoholic father and his orphaned mother. O’Connor was a sickly and frail misfit among the other boys in the slums, rejected as a sissy and a snob, a child who lived primarily in his fantasy world. He entered St. Patrick’s National School in Cork in 1914, where he met patriot teacher and writer Daniel Corkery, whom both he and his friend Sean O’Faoláin viewed as a literary and political mentor. O’Connor left school in 1917 and joined the Irish Republican Army. He was captured and interned as a rebel in 1923; upon his release, he worked as a librarian for a few years. At this time O’Connor began his life as a writer, took his new name, began to write reviews and poems for the Irish Statesman, and attempted to revive drama in Cork.{$I[AN]9810000901}{$I[A]O’Connor, Frank[OConnor, Frank]}{$S[A]O’Donovan, Michael Francis[ODonovan, Michael Francis];O’Connor, Frank}{$I[geo]IRELAND;O’Connor, Frank[OConnor, Frank]}{$I[tim]1903;O’Connor, Frank[OConnor, Frank]}

Frank O’Connor

(Library of Congress)

This life began to quicken considerably when he left Cork for Dublin to become a librarian there in 1928. During the next ten years, O’Connor worked with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, published his first novel and his first collection of poems, and produced four plays. At the age of thirty-four, he retired from the library, resigned from the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre, and retreated to a small mountain village to begin writing full-time. Although O’Connor (in spite of his relative lack of formal education) wrote poems, plays, novels, travel books, and literary criticism, his place in twentieth century literature is most assured by his work in the short-story genre.

Of the nearly one hundred short stories he wrote, the best known are “Guests of the Nation,” “The Drunkard,” “My Oedipus Complex,” and “First Confession.” The first, published in 1931, when O’Connor was a young man, is a stark and violent story about two British soldiers reluctantly executed by Irish rebels, whereas the other three are hilariously comic stories about the problems of a sensitive child’s relationship with his parents and his first encounter with formal religion.

One of O’Connor’s best-known books is his study of the short-story genre, The Lonely Voice, in which he argues that, as opposed to the novel, the short story takes as its primary subject the experiences of what he calls a “submerged population group,” such as the peasants of Ivan Turgenev and Anton Chekhov and the small-town folk of Sherwood Anderson and James Joyce. For O’Connor, the short story does not deal with human experience within the context of a fully organized social world but rather within the broader and more universal context of Blaise Pascal’s “eternal silence of those infinite spaces.” Although most critics agree that O’Connor never perfected the short story to the degree that Joyce did, O’Connor’s profound understanding of the secret of the short story’s inherent difference from the novel, as well as his ability to capture what he called “the Irish middle-class Catholic way of life” in delightful comic vignettes, has assured him a permanent place in the history of twentieth century Irish literature.

BibliographyAlexander, James D. “Frank O’Connor in The New Yorker, 1945-1967.” Eire-Ireland 30 (1995): 130-144. Examines how O’Connor changed his narrative style during the twenty years he was writing for The New Yorker–contracting the presence of a narrator to a voice and developing a double-leveled view of “experienced innocence” in his young boy stories. Argues that O’Connor created a genial persona in his stories that diverted attention from his more serious subject matter of Irish social problems.Bordewyk, Gordon. “Quest for Meaning: The Stories of Frank O’Connor.” Illinois Quarterly 41 (Winter, 1978): 37-47. Discusses O’Connor’s concern with fundamental qualities of everyday life and his sense of wonder in the mundane in four major groups of stories of war, religion, youth, and marriage. Examines how the search for meaning changes the lives of characters in these four groups.Davenport, Gary T. “Frank O’Connor and the Comedy of Revolution.” Eire-Ireland 8 (Summer, 1973): 108-116. Davenport analyzes some of O’Connor’s early stories on the Irish Civil War and points out the persistence of comedy even in tragic situations. He claims that O’Connor sees revolution as farcical.Evans, Robert C., and Richard Harp, eds. Frank O’Connor: New Perspectives. West Cornwall, Conn.: Locust Hill Press, 1998. Fresh, thoughtful interpretations of O’Connor’s works.McKeon, Jim. Frank O’Connor: A Life. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1998. A brief, readable life of O’Connor; comments on the biographical sources of some of the short stories; discusses O’Connor’s literary career.Matthews, James H. Frank O’Connor. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1976. This book is an excellent introduction to O’Connor’s fiction since it deals with the social context of the stories and the critical theory underlying them. Part of the Irish Writers series.Matthews, James H. Voices: A Life of Frank O’Connor. New York: Atheneum, 1983.Neary, Michael. “The Inside-Out World in Frank O’Connor’s Stories.” Studies in Short Fiction 30 (Summer, 1993): 327-336. Discusses O’Connor’s use of smallness to accent the collision between the world of the self and the vast world outside. Discusses “The Story Teller” as the most emphatic embodiment of this tension in O’Connor’s stories, for the protagonist confronts characters who refuse to take her quest for magic and meaning seriously.Renner, Stanley. “The Theme of Hidden Powers: Fate vs. Human Responsibility in ‘Guests of the Nation.’” Studies in Short Fiction 27 (Summer, 1990): 371-378. Argues that the story’s moral design emphasizes the existence of mysterious “hidden powers” or forces of chance and fate that control human lives. Suggests that the moral judgment of the story is against the protagonist-teller Bonaparte, who contributes to the world’s brutality by mistakenly believing people have no choice.Steinman, Michael. Frank O’Connor at Work. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990. A study of O’Connor’s life and works.Tomory, William M. Frank O’Connor. Boston: Twayne, 1980. An introductory book on O’Connor that briefly sketches his life and then gives an overview of his work. Tomory touches on a few stories, but most of the analysis is on themes and character types.Wohlgelernter, Maurice. Frank O’Connor: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. A full critical study on O’Connor’s fiction available. The author is especially good at articulating O’Connor’s theory of the story and in applying those concepts to individual short stories.
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