Edna O’Brien

(* 1930)

Edna O'BrienBiographical Sketch

Edna O’Brien (born Tuamgraney, County Clare, Ireland, December 15, 1930) is an Irish novelist, playwright, poet and short story writer whose works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole. Her first novel, The Country Girls – the first part of what would eventiually become a trilogy of novels (collected as The Country Girls Trilogy), which also included The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964) – is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II. The Country Girls was banned, burned and denounced from the pulpit, and O’Brien left Ireland behind. She now lives in London.

Other notable works include Virginia (1981), a play about Virginia Woolf that was staged originally in Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, starring Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips; the novels House of Splendid Isolation (1994) – about a terrorist who goes on the run (part of her research involved visiting Irish republican Dominic McGlinchey, later shot dead, whom she called “a grave and reflective man”)–, Down by the River (1996), which concerned an under-age rape victim who sought an abortion in England, the “Miss X case,” and In the Forest (2002), which dealt with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducted and murdered a woman, her three-year-old son and a priest in rural Ireland; as well as her biographies of James Joyce, published in 1999, and of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009).

She has received numerous awards for her works, including a Kingsley Amis Award in 1962 (for The Country Girls), the Yorkshire Post Book Award in 1970 (for A Pagan Place, a novel based on her own repressive childhood experience), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990 for her short story collection Lantern Slides. In 2006, O’Brien was appointed adjunct professor of English Literature in University College, Dublin. In 2009, she was honoured with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at a special ceremony for the year’s Irish Book Awards in Dublin. She won the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for her collection Saints and Sinners, with judge Thomas McCarthy referring to her as “the Solzhenitsyn of Irish life”. RTÉ aired a documentary on her as part of its Arts strand in early 2012. Philip Roth wrote in 2012 that he considers her “the most gifted woman now writing in English”, and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, in a 2012 article published in The Irish Times, called her “one of the great creative writers of her generation.”

Read more about Edna O’Brien on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

Irish Book Awards
  • 2009: Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2012: Best Irish Non-Fiction Book – “Country Girl”
Irish PEN Award for Literature
  • 2001
Ulysses Medal
(University College Dublin, Ireland)
  • 2006: In recognition of her contribution to Irish literature over five decades.
Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award (Ireland)
  • 2011: – “Saints and Sinners”
Royal Society of Literature (Great Britain)
  • 2011: Fellow
Kingsley Amis Award for Fiction (Britain)
  • 1962: “The Country Girls”
British Writers’ Guild Awards
  • 1992: Best Fiction – “Time and Tide”
European Prize for Literature
  • 1995: “House of Splendid Isolation”
    and in recognition of her life’s work.
Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy)
  • 1991: Best Foreign Fiction – “Girl with Green Eyes”
Los Angeles Times Book Prizes
  • 1990: Best Work of Fiction – “Lantern Slides”
Yorkshire Post Book Awards (Great Britain)
  • 1970: Book of the Year – “A Pagan Place”



Novels and Novellas
  • The Country Girls Trilogy & Epilogue (1987):
    • The Country Girls (1960)
    • The Lonely Girl (1962)
    • Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964)
  • August Is a Wicked Month (1965)
  • Casualties of Peace (1966)
  • A Pagan Place (1970)
  • Zee & Co. ( 1971)
  • Night (1972)
  • Johnny I Hardly Knew You (1977)
  • Collector’s Choice (1978):
    – 7 novels and 2 collections of short stories.
  • The High Road (1988)
  • Far from the Land (1989)
  • On the Bone (1989)
  • Time and Tide (1992)
  • An Edna O’Brien Reader (1994):
    • August Is a Wicked Month
    • Casualties of Peace
    • Johnny I Hardly Knew You
  • House of Splendid Isolation (1994)
  • Down by the River (1996)
  • Wild Decembers (1999)
  • In the Forest (2002)
  • The Light of Evening (2006)
  • The Little Red Chairs (2015)
  • Girl (2019)
Short Story Collections
  • The Love Object (1968)
  • A Scandalous Woman and Other Stories (1974)
  • A Rose in the Heart: Love Stories (1978)
    A/K/A: Mrs. Reinhardt and Other Stories
  • Some Irish Loving (1979)
    – Anthology; also includes translations.
  • Returning (1982)
  • A Fanatic Heart (1985)
  • Lantern Slides (1990)
  • Irish Revel (1998)
  • Saints and Sinners (2011)
  • The Love Object: Selected Stories, a fifty-year retrospective (2013)
Plays and Screenplays
  • Keys of the Cafe (1965)
  • I Was Happy Here (1965)
  • Three Into Two Won’t Go (1969)
  • Zee & Co. (1971)
  • A Pagan Place (1974)
  • Virginia (1981)
  • Love (1982)
  • Iphigenia (2003)
  • Haunted (2009)
  • Saints and Sinners (2011)
  • On the Bone: A Poem (1989)
  • Watching Obama: A Poem (2009)
Books for Children
  • The Dazzle (1981)
  • A Christmas Treat (1982)
  • The Rescue (1983)
  • Tales for the Telling:
    Irish Folk & Fairy Stories (1986)
  • Mother Ireland (1976)
  • Country Girl: A Memoir (2012)
  • James and Nora: A Portrait of Joyce’s Marriage (1981)
  • James Joyce: A Biography (1999)
  • Irish Women’s Letters (1999)
  • Byron in Love (2009)
Prefaces to Collections of Photography
  • Arabian Nights (1978)
    – Photography by Gerard Klijn.
  • Vanishing Ireland (1986)
    – Photography by Richard Fitzgerald.
  • Irish Dreams (1998)
    – Photography by Steven Rothfeld.


A Selection of Quotes

A Fanatic Heart: Sister Imelda

“In our deepest moments we say the most inadequate things.”

Find more quotes by Edna O’Brien on Wikiquote and Goodreads.