The Book Show S4 #2 Kate O’Brien

This week The Book Show celebrates the life and writing of Limerick born writer Kate O’Brien. She was the author of numerous novels and plays and was a celebrated critic in her day.
She was born to a prosperous Catholic middle class family in 1897 and was educated by nuns at Laurel Hill in Limerick from a very early age, following the death of her mother.

This experience fed directly into her work – especially her 1941 novel The Land of Spices.
Sinéad Gleeson travels to Limerick to the house where Kate O’Brien was born and she meets UCC’s Dr. Eibhear Walshe and Limerick writer Mary Coll to hear more about her upbringing and how it influenced the books she wrote. They discuss censorship which was to plague O’Brien throughout her life and Sinéad also hears how sexuality was a very important theme in O’Brien’s writing – unusual in the 40’s and 50’s.

Kate O’Brien’s first novel, Mary Lavelle, tells the story of a young Irish woman who travels to Spain to be a governess there. She embarks on a passionate relationship with a married man, all the while intoxicated by a sense of her own independence. Dr. Aintzane Legarreta (UCD/IMMA) has studied the influence the Spain exerted on O’Brien’s life and writing and she tells The Book Show about some of the background to Mary Lavelle and why for its time (1936) it was a very brave and bold work.

Sinéad travels to the library at the University of Limerick to meet librarian Ken Bergin and with UL’s Dr.Margaret O’Neill. The library there hosts a number of collections which contain images, letters, documents and unfinished work by Kate O’Brien. By looking at these we can get a greater sense of her remarkable personality as well as her talent and her commitment to her work.