The Admiral and the Nuns, with Other Stories, 1962
Fingers in the Door, and Other Stories, 1970
Live Bait, and Other Stories, 1978
The Collected Stories, 1984
The Animal Game, 1957
The Warm Nights of January, 1960
The Ice Saints, 1964
The writing of John Francis Tuohy (TEW-ee) is distinguished by two qualities: the excellence of his craft and the pessimism of his outlook. He was born May 2, 1925, in Uckfield, England, the son of Patrick Gerald Tuohy, Irish, and Dorothy Annandale Tuohy, Scottish. He was educated in Stowe School, King’s College, Cambridge. During World War II he was ineligible for military service because of a defective heart valve, later corrected by surgery. He graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1946, then embarked on a career teaching English language and literature in foreign countries, including Finland, Brazil, Poland, Japan, and the United States. He has also written reviews and articles for newspapers and journals. His wide travels and his interest in journalism not only provided him with the settings for his novels and many of his stories, which center on the lives of expatriates and their interaction with one another and with foreign nationals, but also were influential in his seeing himself as an observer of the world, not as a writer expressing his inner self. The chief subject of his fiction became the contrast and conflict of manners and cultures.
Tuohy’s novel The Ice Saints, set in Poland, tells the story of a Polish professor, his wife, and their son, who inherits a fortune from his mother’s English relatives. Rose Nicholson, the boy’s aunt, goes to Poland in the guise of a tourist, visits her sister’s family, and tries to persuade the boy, Tadeusz, to return to England, where he can enjoy his fortune. During her visit, Rose has an affair with a Polish government agent, who reveals the family’s secret to the government, spoiling any hope they may have had to get Tadeusz out of the country. Without descending to propaganda, The Ice Saints paints a grim picture of life behind the Iron Curtain. Tuohy’s vision of the Polish is of a people condemned to secrecy and duplicity. On the other hand, his English heroine is condemned by her own lack of discretion. The net effect is one of hopelessness, alleviated only by Tuohy’s dry humor.
Tuohy’s short stories can be categorized handily with respect to their settings: English tales and foreign tales. His collections mix both kinds. The stories set in England tend to focus on comedy of manners, in the tradition of E. M. Forster and Angus Wilson. The stories set abroad tend to be more dramatic, if more cynical. The Admiral and the Nuns, with Other Stories features pieces set in Brazil and Poland, as well as in England. The title story features the character of the daughter of a British admiral educated in English convent schools, married to a Polish pioneer living in the Brazilian jungle. Another story in this collection tells the tale of an aged Polish nobleman reduced to working as a courier in a cocaine smuggling operation. Fingers in the Door, and Other Storiesfeatures exclusively English settings, and some critics have disparaged it for lack of conflict and contrast. In Live Bait, and Other Stories, Tuohy adds Japan and America to his stable of settings, both for the same purpose of showing the discomfort created for the characters by the confrontation of cultures.
Although not favored by academic critics, Tuohy’s writing received high praise from reviewers and fellow writers. His first short-story collection, The Admiral and the Nuns, with Other Stories, received the Katherine Mansfield-Menton prize, and Live Bait, and Other Stories won the William Heinemann Memorial Award. His third novel, The Ice Saints, generally considered his best, received both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. In England he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1965. In 1972, The American Institute of Arts and Letters bestowed on him the E. M. Forster Award. In 1994, he received the $20,000 Bennett Award from The Hudson Review.
Besides his novels and stories, Tuohy also wrote a travelogue, Portugal, and a biography of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. This latter work, called simply Yeats, was praised for its concise, straightforward treatment of the poet’s life and works. The book is notable for its intelligent use of photographs and illustrations.