The bad girl of Irish (or anybody’s) fiction, Edna O’Brien, was born December 15, 1930. She scandalized Irish readers and especially non-readers from her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), with the astonishing assertion that women might be interested in sex. I think she is the most banned contemporary writer, which never dissuaded her. She has an amazing ear for the English language, as anyone who has read Night, her feminist (and hilarious and heartbreaking) rejoinder to Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, can attest. In addition to a long list of novels, she has proved herself a master of the short story, and her memoir, called Country Girl (appropriately), explains much about her life and motivations. I don’t believe she’s capable of being less than interesting. Once upon a time she was described as the best Irish woman writer or the best woman novelist in English, but critics eventually wised up and dropped the gender modifier. Here’s her Paris Review interview:
Prodded by recent events, I’ve been mulling this over since those thought-leaders of the 1950s, novelist J. P. Donleavy and publisher Hugh Hefner died within a couple of weeks of one another in September (having been born that close together in April of 1926). Why is it that those writers and thinkers of the Fifties and Sixties who championed “freedom” conceived of it entirely in terms of masculine freedom, which resulted in treating women so shabbily? I don’t mean to pick on these two, although they commend themselves to the role. Consider the work and thought (and in some cases, lives) of John Cheever, John Updike, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Alan Sillitoe (in case you thought I was letting the Brits off the hook), Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Fowles, Kingsley Amis, Anthony Burgess–the list goes on and on. And let’s not start on rock stars or we might never finish. Some might argue (I would be one) that not all of these are created equal. Burgess’ preferred monster, Alex in A Clockwork Orange, is held up not as a model but as a cautionary tale: if we believe in free will, we’re stuck with him. And Fowles’s buttheads are at least problematic within their respective texts. Still, even if some might have been diagnosing a problem rather than presenting their males-run-amok for approval, the trend was, and remains problematic. And it lives on. How many of Jim Harrison’s heroes, nearly all surrogates for the author, were bedding women far too young for them? Once or twice, maybe, but come on! I’m all for freedom, but all too often it comes for one group at the expense of someone else. That doesn’t sound all that free.