The World Seen and Half-Seen

Death in Summer (1998)

by William Trevor
Penguin, 214 pp., $12.95 (paper)

After Rain (1996)

by William Trevor
Penguin, 224 pp., $11.95 (paper)

Excursions in the Real World (1994)

by William Trevor
Penguin, 200 pp., $10.95 (paper)

Felicia's Journey (1994)

by William Trevor
Penguin, 212 pp., $12.95 (paper)

The Collected Stories (1993)

by William Trevor
Penguin, 1,261 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Two Lives (1991)

by William Trevor
Penguin, 375 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Nights at the Alexandra (1987)

by William Trevor
Harper, 80 pp. (out of print)

Fools of Fortune (1983)

by William Trevor
Penguin, 238 pp., $11.95 (paper)

William Trevor is an Irish writer by birth, and I take it he considers himself an Irish writer still, although he left Ireland in 1954 and has settled in Devon. He was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, on May 24, 1928 (but I have seen another birthday ascribed to him), to a family Protestant andmiddle-class. His father was a bank official with enough money to send his son to school at Sandford Park, Dublin, and later to St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, a school “with a reputation for aloofness, and skill on the hockey field.” At Trinity College, Dublin, he read history but not with particular zeal. He left with an undistinguished degree and eventually found a reliable job in an advertising agency in London. In Excursions in the Real World (1994) Trevor writes with equanimity of his early years:

I was born into a minority that all my life has seemed in danger of withering away. This was smalltime Protestant stock, far removed from the well-to-do Ascendancy of the recent past yet without much of a place in de Valera’s new Catholic Ireland. The insult and repression that for centuries had been the response to Irish aspirations, the murders perpetrated by the Black and Tans, the heartbreak of the Civil War, were all to be expunged in de Valera’s dream of a land “bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths, the laughter of comely maidens; whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of old age.”

Trevor has never objected to de Valera’s dream of Ireland: he approves of it, apparently, and regrets only that it could not be fulfilled. He seems to have had no objection to de Valera’s determination to keep Ireland out of World War II. These sentiments may help to explain why his fiction exhibits none of the ressentiment of a diminished Anglo-Irish gentry or the lurid fantasy of Catholic power resorted to by other Protestant writers of similar background, such as Charles Maturin, Bram Stoker, and Sheridan LeFanu. The rise of Catholics to high place in Ireland does not seem to arouse in Trevor any special bitterness: he assumes that it was historically inevitable and therefore appropriate. He has seen the Protestant landed class in Ireland lapsing into a social existence mostly picturesque and decorative, but he has accepted this change with good grace and as patiently as other changes.

In the novel Fools of Fortune (1983) Trevor presents with appropriate dismay the burning of the fictitious Kilneagh House, described as a great house near Fermoy, County Cork, but he does not rail at the men who have burned it, a squad of Black and Tans led by Sergeant Rudkin. A few of his stories, including “The Hotel of the Idle Moon,” “The Distant Past,” and “Mr. McNamara,” can be read as allegories of the rise of Catholic Ireland and the fall of…

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