ACIS Logo Saucy Independence: Maeve Brennan Imagined in Fiction by Brendan Gill, Truman Capote, and St. Clair McKelway

By Sheila McAvey

In April of 2016, in her inaugural lecture as the Laureate for Irish Fiction, in New York, Anne Enright, traced the decline into madness of Maeve Brennan, discussing the “great social uncertainty” that Brennan felt in America, as well as her guilt about her choice to live apart from her mother and family. Enright’s talk touches on Maeve’s angry, perhaps bitter persona, of the rage within Brennan (an observation made by Christopher Carduff in his 2000 introduction to “The Visitor‚” a ravenous grudge, a ravenous nostalgia, and a ravenous need for love”). There were a number of works fiction and nonfiction that reveal the sharp edges of Brennan’s personality. Gardner Botsford, a writer and editor at the New Yorker, wrote affectionately about working with her and reading her letters. Brendan Gill, a lover and colleague at the magazine, wrote about this “fiery Irish woman” in his 1990 book A New York Life: Of Friends and Others. Edith Konechy’s A Place at the Table (1989), and Emma Donoghue’s play‚ “The Talk of the Town” (2012)‚ depict the incisive, mad, and homeless Brennan and the New Yorker writer Brennan, respectively. I do not intend a biographical overlay of Brennan onto fiction by the men she loved or befriended. I wish to focus on is the male imaginative depictions of Brennan, particularly her very independent sexual choices, that arise in Brendan Gill’s The Trouble of One House (1950); Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1958); and in her former husband, St. Clair McKelway’s story “First Marriage”(1960). The male narratives convey variously hostility, bemusement, and measured sympathy towards the unmarried woman whose saucy independence baffles them.

Published on: March 31, 2020