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Giving Shape to the Moment

The Art of Mary O'Donnell: Poet, Novelist and Short Story Writer


Edited By Maria Elena Jaime de Pablos

This is the first book to provide a critical assessment of the work of the Irish author Mary O’Donnell. The essays collected here engage with O’Donnell’s writing across multiple genres and explore the themes and preoccupations that have characterized her oeuvre. Alongside her creative work, O’Donnell’s has been a steady and continuing voice for many years within the world of theatre criticism, book reviewing, essay writing, radio broadcasts and cultural commentary.

As a writer, O’Donnell’s principal themes include contemporary Irish society, the position of women in Ireland and the role of the artist. Throughout her career, her approach has been unconventional and her work has sometimes presented a challenge to the status quo. The contributors to this volume illuminate O’Donnell’s role as a humanist writer searching for truth at all costs, through the fictive lives of her often unusual characters, and through the emotional range and depth of her poetry.

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2 Straddling Words: Mary O’Donnell’s Cultural Critique (Manuela Palacios)


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2   Straddling Words: Mary O’Donnell’s Cultural Critique1

Writers’ non-fiction usually receives little critical attention. This is a phenomenon that exposes the current hierarchy of artistic value in literary criticism, where creative and imaginative writing is privileged over analytical and/or evaluative non-fiction. This has not always been the case, however, and the literary canon of previous centuries often presented a selection of belles lettres which included both so-called creative writing and essays.2 A crucial turn in the essay form took place in the early eighteenth century, when Joseph Addison and Richard Steele cultivated, for the periodicals The Tatler and The Spectator, a type of essay that combined both fictional and analytical features. Later, in the twentieth century, Virginia Woolf would also contribute to this genre by writing subjective essays, such as her famous A Room of One’s Own (1929), which encompassed imaginative passages – with her invention, for instance, of the character of Judith Shakespeare – and sections which actually provided us with what Morag Shiach has called ‘the first essay of feminist literary theory’ (1992: xii). It is also significant that modernist writers often turned to the essay form in order to elaborate on their creative material and their conception of ← 21 | 22 → literature, as T. S. Eliot, for instance, did in his ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919) and Virginia Woolf did in essays such as ‘Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown’ (1924) and ‘The Art of Fiction’ (1927).


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