Womens History Month: Maeve Brennan (Author)

Maeve Brennan (January 6, 1917 – November 1, 1993) was an Irish short story writer and journalist. She moved to the United States in 1934 when her father was appointed to the Irish Legation in Washington. She was an important figure in both Irish diaspora writing and in Irish writing itself. Collections of her articles, short stories, and a novella have been published.

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She was born in Dublin and grew up at 48 Cherryfield Avenue in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh. Her parents, Robert and Úna Brennan, both from County Wexford, were Republicans and were deeply involved in the Irish political and cultural struggles of the early twentieth century. They participated in the 1916 Easter Rising but while Úna was imprisoned for a few days, Robert was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to penal servitude. His continuing political activity resulted in further imprisonments in 1917 and 1920. Maeve was born while he was in prison. He was director of publicity for the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army during the Irish Civil War. He also founded and was the director of The Irish Press newspaper. His imprisonments and activities greatly fragmented Maeve Brennan’s childhood. In her story The Day We Got Our Own Back she recounts her memory of how, when she was five, her home was raided by Free State forces looking for her father, who was on the run.

Robert Brennan was appointed the Irish Free State’s first minister to the United States, and the family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1934, when Maeve was seventeen. She attended the Sisters of Providence Catholic school in Washington, Immaculata Seminary, graduating in 1936. She then graduated with a degree in English from American University in 1938.  Maeve and two of her sisters remained in the United States when her parents and brother returned to Ireland in 1944.

Brennan moved to New York and found work as a fashion copywriter at Harper’s Bazaar in the 1940s. She also wrote a Manhattan column for the Dublin society magazine Social and Personal, and wrote several short pieces for The New Yorker magazine. In 1949, she was offered a staff job by William Shawn, The New Yorker‘s managing editor.

Brennan first wrote for The New Yorker as a social diarist. She wrote sketches about New York life in The Talk of the Town section under the pseudonym “The Long-Winded Lady”. She also contributed fiction criticism, fashion notes, and essays. She wrote about both Ireland and the United States.

The New Yorker began publishing Brennan’s short stories in 1950. The first of these stories was called “The Holy Terror”. In it, Mary Ramsay, a “garrulous, greedy heap of a woman” tries to keep her job as a ladies’ room attendant in a Dublin hotel.

Brennan’s work was fostered by William Maxwell, and she wrote under The New Yorker managing editors Harold Ross and William Shawn. Although she was widely read in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, she was almost unknown in Ireland, even though Dublin was the setting of many of her short stories.

A compendium of her New Yorker articles called The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker was published in 1969. Two collections of short stories, In and Out of Never-Never Land (1969) and Christmas Eve (1974) were also published.

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“It is necessary to find one’s own way in New York. New York City is not hospitable. She is very big and she has no heart. She is not charming. She is not sympathetic. She is rushed and noisy and unkempt, a hard, ambitious, irresolute place, not very lively, and never gay. When she glitters she is very, very bright, and when she does not glitter she is dirty. New York does nothing for those of us who are inclined to love her except implant in our hearts a homesickness that baffles us until we go away from her, and then we realize why we are restless. At home or away, we are homesick for New York not because New York used to be better and not because she used to be worse but because the city holds us and we don’t know why.”

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The Palm Beach Post
West Palm Beach, Florida
16 Jan 2005, Sun  •  Page 171

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