"Christmas Eve" By Maeve Brennan (1972-Podcast-25 minutes)
The New Yorker
"Christmas Eve" by Maeve Brennan (Dublin-1917 to 1993) is just a wonderful story about a family on Christmas Eve. I love this story so much I have already listened to the podcast of the story four times. (The reader is Roddy Doyle. Brennan was his second cousin and she lived with his family for a while. He has an perfect accent for this story.)
After hearing the story, I read the Wikipedia article on her
. I will retell her life a bit as I think it is worth knowing and tells us something about the millions of Irish who left Ireland never to return but never really found another home.
Brennan's life should have been a fairy tale of one happy and exciting day followed by another. It was not.
Brennan's father was the first Irish Ambassador to the United States. Her father fought for freedom from British rule in the Irish War for Independence. The British imprisoned him for a while. Brennan and her family lived in Washington DC until 1944 when her father returned to Ireland. She stayed on in the US and moved to New York City where she got a job writing copy for Harper's Bazaar.
She also wrote a society column for an Irish publication. She began to write occasional articles for The New Yorker.
In 1949 she was offered a job on the staff of the magazine. She was incredibly beautiful, very intelligent, witty, petite, always perfectly dressed and made up. She moved about frequently and had extravagant tastes. Some people feel she was the inspiration for Holly Golightly, the lead character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's
(1958). In the 1960s people began to observe that she was now beginning to appear unkempt. In the 1970s Brennan became paranoid and was an alcoholic. She began to drift in and out of reality and was hospitalized several times. She ended up living either in transit hotels or in the ladies room at the offices of The New Yorker.
(I also read William Maxwell's introduction to one of her collections of short stories published posthumously and learned that to its great credit the magazine had secured for her a place where she could stay and be fed but she rarely went there.) In the 1980s she all but disappears. She died in 1993 in the Lawrence hospital, a ward of the state. As I read this I could not help but be reminded of Jean Rhys but I think the story of Brennan is more tragic in that Rhys partially recovered from her years of darkness and was seen as a great writer while still alive.
"Christmas Eve" is a very supple simply told in almost a child like way story (though it a daemon child as might be found in an Irish fairy tale) about a family on Christmas Eve. The father has just gotten home from work. The mother is preparing the house for tomorrow. The young children are concerned with being sure there is a snack left out for Father Christmas. The parents each have their own room. The reason for this is that the father's job (we do not learn what it is) sometimes keeps him out late and he does not want to disturb his wife. Or so they say but really each is quite happy to have their own room. Somehow I could relate when I heard the father was happy he could have his books in his room with him. Parts of the story are very moving. When the parents kiss each other under the mistletoe plant, the children cheer them on for more. The parents are a bit embarrassed and pull apart. This is a world of restrained emotions. There are some wonderful touches in the story. I really liked what the wife says about her cats and her dog. "Christmas Eve" should be listed among the very best Christmas short stories of all time.
Google books has six or so of her stories online in their previews of her two short story collections. I will go back and read them soon. William Maxwell said her longest story, "Springs of Affection" should be included among the great short stories of the century.
Resources for the Week
It is not to late to participate. Just post on one Irish short story and link it to me in a comment anywhere on my blog. I will keep the week open for a few days to let people join in before I do the master post.
Thanks VERY much to all those who have joined in. I will say this has worked out better than I had ever hoped and I plan, providence willing, to make this an annual Reading Life event.
Thank you, Mel, so much for this. I knew NOTHING of Maeve Brennan. What a sad sad life. Will definitely seek out her books.
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