Authors: Seán O’Faoláin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Irish short-story writer

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Midsummer Night’s Madness, and Other Stories, 1932

A Purse of Coppers, 1937

Teresa, and Other Stories, 1947

The Man Who Invented Sin, and Other Stories, 1948

The Finest Stories of Seán O’Faoláin, 1957

I Remember! I Remember!, 1961

The Heat of the Sun: Stories and Tales, 1966

The Talking Trees, and Other Stories, 1970

Foreign Affairs, and Other Stories, 1976

The Collected Stories of Seán O’Faoláin, 1980-1982 (3 volumes)

Long Fiction:

A Nest of Simple Folk, 1933

Bird Alone, 1936

Come Back to Erin, 1940

And Again?, 1979


She Had to Do Something, pr. 1937


The Life Story of Eamon De Valera, 1933

Constance Markievicz: Or, The Average Revolutionary, 1934

King of the Beggars: A Life of Daniel O’Connell, 1938

An Irish Journey, 1940

The Great O’Neill: A Biography of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, 1550-1616, 1942

The Story of Ireland, 1943

The Irish: A Character Study, 1947

The Short Story, 1948

A Summer in Italy, 1949

Newman’s Way, 1952

South to Sicily, 1953 (pb. in the U.S. as An Autumn in Italy, 1953)

The Vanishing Hero, 1956

Vive Moi!, 1964

Edited Text:

The Silver Branch: A Collection of the Best Old Irish Lyrics Variously Translated, 1938


Seán O’Faoláin (oh-fuh-LAWN) was born on February 22, 1900, in Cork, Ireland, to poor but hardworking parents. His given name was John Francis Whelan, but when he began to sympathize with those who fought for an independent Ireland, he changed it to its Gaelic variant. Living near the Cork Opera House, O’Faoláin got his first taste of theater in his teens, when his parents sublet part of their living quarters to touring actors. According to O’Faoláin, his first sense of it being possible for someone to write about the everyday reality of Irish life came from seeing a performance of Lennox Robinson’s Patriots (1912) when he was fifteen years old. When the Irish began to rebel against the British in 1916, O’Faoláin became a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). During his time with the IRA, he met the patriot writer and schoolteacher Daniel Corkery. He and another new friend, Michael O’Donovan (Frank O’Connor), became staunch disciples of Corkery. O’Faoláin became disillusioned, however, when the IRA failed in their efforts to win independence for all of Ireland, and he went to the United States on a fellowship in 1926 to study at Harvard University. While living in Boston, he began his most serious and intense writing about Ireland. It was also while living there that he married Eileen Gould. In 1929, the couple returned to Cork, where O’Faoláin took a teaching job and worked on the stories that were later to appear in his first collection, Midsummer Night’s Madness, and Other Stories.{$I[AN]9810000890}{$I[A]O’Faoláin, Seán[OFaoláin, Seán]}{$S[A]Whelan, John Francis;O’Faoláin, Seán}{$I[geo]IRELAND;O’Faoláin, Seán[OFaoláin, Seán]}{$I[tim]1900;O’Faoláin, Seán[OFaoláin, Seán]}

O’Faoláin soon quit teaching to become a freelance writer, contributing essays and reviews to many journals and newspapers and working on his short stories and his first novel, A Nest of Simple Folk. In 1940, he originated and edited the influential cultural journal The Bell and established a reputation as a social critic. Although in the next several years he published travel books, biographies, and criticism, O’Faoláin’s most lasting work was in the short-story form. In his critical discussions of the short story, O’Faoláin noted that the form thrives best within a romantic framework; the more organized and established a country is, the less likely it is that the short story will flourish there. Ireland, a country that stubbornly sticks to its folk roots, has been a most hospitable place for the short-story form–as O’Faoláin, like his countrymen George Moore, James Joyce, and Frank O’Connor, proved.

Yet O’Faoláin seems to have fought constantly against the romanticism of the short story, yearning for the realism of the novel. Thus his stories reveal a continual battle between his cultural predilection for the short story (with its roots in the folk and its focus on the odd and romantic slant) and his own artistic conviction that realism rather than romanticism is the most privileged artistic convention. Consequently, O’Faoláin’s stories reside uneasily in the dualistic realm of the romanticism to which he was born and the realism for which he yearned. His basic technique might be called “poetic realism,” a kind of prose in which objects and events seem to be presented objectively yet are transformed by the unity of the form itself into meaningful metaphors. There is no doubt that O’Faoláin was a consummate craftsman and a writer with an accurate vision of his country and its people; moreover, he was extremely knowledgeable about the various conventions of the short story and its tradition. O’Faoláin was so knowledgeable, however, that he sometimes seems to be a self-conscious imitator of his more famous precursors. He never found a truly distinctive voice with which to manifest his own individual talent. Although O’Faoláin wrote well in the short-story form, most critics agree that he never achieved the excellence that will make him imitated by future writers.

BibliographyBonaccorso, Richard. Seán O’Faoláin’s Irish Vision. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. An excellent study that places O’Faoláin and his work in a social and literary context. His readings of the stories are thorough and ingenious, if not always convincing.Butler, Pierce. Seán O’Faoláin: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993. An introduction to O’Faoláin’s short fiction in which Butler claims that O’Faoláin shifts from an early focus on individuals in conflict with repressive Irish forces to more universal human conflicts. Examines O’Faoláin’s realistic style and narrative voice as it changes throughout his career. Includes O’Faoláin’s comments on the short story, some contemporary reviews, and three previously published critical studies.Davenport, Guy. “Fiction Chronicle.” The Hudson Review 32 (1979): 139-150. In a review article, Davenport has high praise for O’Faoláin’s ability as a writer of short fiction. He finds the central themes of the stories to be the Irish character and Irish Catholicism.Doyle, Paul A. Sean O’Faoláin. New York: Twayne, 1968. A life and works study of O’Faoláin in the Twayne series. It is good on the novels and the literary context in which O’Faoláin wrote but only adequate on the short fiction.Hanley, Katherine. “The Short Stories of Seán O’Faoláin: Theory and Practice.” Eire-Ireland 6 (1971): 3-11. An excellent introduction to O’Faoláin’s stories. Hanley briefly sketches the theoretical base of the stories and then traces the development of O’Faoláin from the early romantic stories to the more sophisticated ones.Harmon, Maurice. Seán O’Faoláin. London: Constable, 1994. Harmon first analyzes O’Faoláin’s biographies on Irish figures to provide a social context and then examines briefly each book of short stories. Useful for an understanding of the Irish political and social scene.Neary, Michael. “Whispered Presences in Seán O’Faoláin’s Stories.” Studies in Short Fiction 32 (Winter, 1995): 11-20. Argues that O’Faoláin confronts his Irishness in his stories in a way that refuses closure or the comfort of the telling detail. Asserts that many of his stories create a feeling of characters being haunted by some event from the past that cannot be made sense of.
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