Notes and Narratives
Edited By Una Hunt and Mary Pierse
Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour: When Words and Music Chime
The Irish writer Kate O’Brien (1897–1974) is a significant literary figure of the 1930s, 40s and 50s in particular, decades during which she produced such classic novels as Without My Cloak (1931), The Ante-Room (1934), Mary Lavelle (1936), and The Land of Spices (1943). She also wrote plays and short fiction and was highly regarded as a travel writer. Music was a constant in O’Brien’s life and this emerges very clearly in her final novel, As Music and Splendour (1958), which she had originally intended to entitle My Redeemer Liveth, after the aria from Handel’s Messiah. While this chapter will concentrate on As Music and Splendour, it will also dwell briefly on The Ante-Room and The Land of Spices, both works wherein music plays a significant role.
Born on 3 December 1897, the seventh child of a comfortable Limerick bourgeois family, O’Brien was educated from an early age by the Faithful Companions of Jesus, a French order of nuns to whom she felt greatly indebted and who are evoked in the most wistful and laudatory manner in The Land of Spices. Éibhear Walshe notes how O’Brien’s educators had to be politically astute to survive the religious fanaticism that dominated the writer’s youth:
The nuns at Laurel Hill, the ‘French’ convent, had to tread a very careful line in relation to this religious extremism and also in relation to the emergent cultural nationalism of Ireland in the early twentieth century. Ireland was still part...
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