Novelist Edna O'Brien
Edna O'Brien has been called the doyenne of Irish Literature, with around twenty novels, numerous plays, screenplays and poetry anthologies to her name. She came to prominence in 1960 with her novel The Country Girls – which was regarded as scandalous in Ireland and was both banned and publically burned. O’Brien has now written a memoir – entitled Country Girl in which she describes her Irish childhood, her unhappy marriage to an older man and her life in London in the Swinging Sixties. She said many times that she would never write a memoir, so I wondered what had prompted her to do it now.
EO'B: What prompted me, I think, was age. I was in my 78th year when I began it, two and a half years ago. It occurred to me one day that many people have written about me and have assumed a narrative about my life which is not accurate. And I thought only I know, not just the facts of my life... they can be researched...but only I know the impact that the narrative of my life has had on me. Only i know what I feel. A journalist, whether well intentioned or maliciously intentioned, can impose an idea. And I felt that I had been regarded in some quarters - forgive the word - as somewhat glamorous and had led this Mata Hari type existence...ha-ha.
TE: A lot of that stems from your first novel, The Country Girls - and it was regarded as somewhat scandalous - had you become a bit of a traitor in a way to your Irish origins?
EO'B: Well, I'd become a bit of a rebel. And, indeed when I wrote my first book - it's laughable now, Tim...it was banned and six of my books were banned in fact. And it had its little pathetic parochial burning in the grounds of the chapel where I come from - a beautiful but backward place. There's been no tradition of writing there...and far more there had been no tradition of a woman writing. So - the fact that I was a woman, and wrote what seemed to be in a confidential tone of voice...not so much a novel, as just telling things as fact...well, people took that very personally and they felt that I had either mocked or, more importantly, humiliated or betrayed them. In those days the Catholic Church in Ireland was vigilant..unbelievably so. I personally had betrayed them even though it was not what I thought. The Country Girls is an elegy to my own land. Because I love my own land...
TE: You write about one or two love affairs - and you write openly about your unhappy marriage, and movingly about the separation from your children. You convey the passion of love affairs, but you keep the gossippers happy - you've got a list of famous people - you crossed paths with big names and you mention an affair with Robert Mitchum.
EO'B: Robert Mitchum - who wouldn't? What woman wouldn't. I saw an old film of his the other day and I looked at his face and I thought., 'Ah yes I remember that face'. He wasn't ostensibly vain....that was during what I call the 'giddy season'...it lasted only about 18 months but because the parties were every Saturday - they were a fixture, like football matches - people could come and they brought other people. It's true, I would look up and I would see Lee Marvin or Judy Garland arriving...or someone else...so i got the name and the reputation for these very exciting parties. Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda were there and indeed Marlon Brando came....but I met him privately at Leslie Caron's, he drove me home and insisted on coming in. He was indeed a magic - no, that's not the right word. He was magnetic. Nothing he did was not not arresting....everything about him. His whole body, his animal like body. Hands. Face. Eyes. Everything he did you saw. You noticed. He was also a charmer...full of stories.
TE: But, you didn't fall for him?
EO'B: I didn't. There are two types of men for me - the brother figures like Richard Burton or Marlon Brando or whoever who can beguile one with stories and feel totally enchanted by. It's like a magic garden. And there are others who are more formidable if not to say unattainable and they're the ones I fell in love with.
TE: But was Robert Mitchum someone you could talk to?
EO'B: Oh, he was full of conversation - about the chain gang he was on, the drugs he took. He was very dismissive of Hollywood. He thought acting was a mug's game. He was somone who had so much going on inside him - in his psyche. So much turbulence. No, he was talkative - someone with so much going on inside his psyche, so much turbulence and wildness and talent that you wondered if he got any sleep at night. Such talent.
This is an extract from an interview with the award winning Irish author, Edna O’Brien - In Conversation with Tim Ecott.
Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/uk/news/2013_10_07/Irish-novelist-Edna-OBrien-literature5990/