Saints and Sinners
Little Brown and Company
Edna O'Brien
“My Two Mothers”

“My Two Mothers” is from Edna O’Brian’s collection SAINTS AND SINNERS (Little, Brown and Company). O’Brian has received numerous awards for her work, including a Kingsley Amis Award (for THE COUNTRY GIRLS), the Yorkshire Post Book Award (for A PAGAN PLACE), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990 for LANTERN SLIDES. In 2006, O’Brien was appointed adjunct professor of English Literature in University College, Dublin.


O’Brien recently spoke with interviewer Claudia FitzHerbert about innocent girls, angry husbands, and her first book, THE COUNTRY GIRLS.


EO: I wrote The Country Girls in three weeks having blown the 50 quid advance. I was young, married with two small children, and whenever I met people, I was spouting poetry. I had this thing that writing was real – I mean other people’s writing – literature, great literature, not rubbish. There’s so much rubbish written now, so much garbage, and it’s extolled. But writing was to me animate; it was real; it was as real as the people I knew. I only thought of one thing – the country, the landscape, my mother, the people I had left. Now I was dying to leave, this is not nostalgia, and I feel permanently, in life, quite isolated. I both belong very intensely to that place where I come from and I’m running from it still. So when I sat down to write, I was extremely emotional and yet the language is not emotional; it just came out. I didn’t have to call on memory. To use the cliché – it wrote itself. And that is sometimes true for a first book. I knew there’d be a storm. I was accused of betraying my country, my locality, my sex. The nuns in my convent went bonkers with rage. But the books survived. I suppose that’s what counts.


EO: Young people are innocent – maybe they’re less innocent now; it’s a pity, by the way, it’s a great pity. Innocence is not lack of intelligence. It is an openness to life and hope and love.


EO: There are certain people whom I admire very much – writers I have met – who still have an element of that innocence. Samuel Beckett had it, and he had huge intelligence, and was quite skeptical. I remember once, towards the end of his life, I was in Paris and he’d always come to the hotel, but the very last time he asked me if I wouldn’t mind going up to the arrondissement where he lived. I went and there was this hotel full of suitcases and luggage. The Pullman Hotel. Now he was a man who understood silence.

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