Molly Keane (1904-96)

[Mary Nesta Keane, née Skrine; pseud. M. J. Farrell, 1928-1961;] b. 22 April 1904, at Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, Co. Kildare, dg. of Walter Skrine and Agnes Nesta Shakespeare Higginson [the poet ‘Moira O’Neill’]; brought up in Co. Wexford where the family house, purchased in 1912, was burnt in the Troubles; rebuilt nearby; ed. by governesses and later at a girls’ boarding-school in Bray, Co. Wicklow; published The Knight of Cheerful Countenance (1926), written at 17, to supplement her dress allowance - and threw cocktail parties in the Shebourne to spite of her austere mother with the £7 advance; her earlier novels published under the pseudonym of M. J. Farrell, adopted from pub-name spotted driving home, in order to ‘hide [her] literary side from my sporting friends’, were Young Entry (1928); Taking Chances (1929); Mad Puppetstown (1931); Conversation Piece (1932); Devoted Ladies (1934); Full House (1935); The Rising Tide (1937); Two Days in Aragon (1941); Loving Without Tears (1951); also plays with John Perry, Spring Meeting (1938), produced by Gielgud [var. 1930]; Treasure Hunt (1952); and Dazzling Prospect (1961);
m. Robert (‘Bobby’) Lumley Keane, a gentleman-farmer in Co. Waterford, 1938, after three years co-habitation, living in his home, a Georgian house with a double staircase in the Blackwater Valley; plays produced in London, New York and Dublin; Broadway success with Spring Meeting - co-written with John Perry, dir. by John Gielgud, and produced by Perry’s lover, Binkie Beaumont; m. Bobbie Keane, 1939; entertained celebrities incl. Peggy Ashcroft, Gielguid and Mac Liammoir, in Bellevue House, Cappoquin; her last play Dazzling Prospects, was attacked by new realists and failed at the box-office; suffered the death of Bobbie, of caardiac thrombosis following an intestinal operation in Lonon, 1946; sold Belleville and moved to Ardmore, Co. Wicklow, 1950, living with her dgs. Sally and Virginia Keane - afterwards Sally Phipps and Virginia Brownlow; she only resumed writing after twenty years; issued Good Behaviour (1981) - in which Aroon feeds her ailing mother a deadly rabbit mousse for lunch; shortlisted for the Booker Prize, but beaten by Salman Rushdie (‘He sounds a jolly good bet!’); enjoyed close friendship with Russell Harty; fnd. member of Aosdana, 1981; Time After Time (1983), filmed for television; Loving and Giving (1988); also Nursery Cooking (1985), a cookery book; issued Irish travel book with her daughter, Sally Phipps; another dg., Virginia Brownlow; her literary agent was Gina Pollinger;
d. peacefully at home, 22 April; pen-name taken from a public house sign, writing being considered not the right thing for a member of her family and class; a celebration of her writings was held for selected guests at Woodbrook House, Co. Wexford, under the aegis of Hidden Ireland and organised by Polly Devlin with Robert O’Byrne, Sept. 10-12th 2010; there is a Molly Keane file at the Victoria & Albert / Theatre Museum (Kensington); there is a life by Sally Phibbs (2016). IF DIW FDA OCIL

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Plays [as M. J. Farrell]
  • with John Perry, Spring Meeting [Gielgud Productions 1938] (London: Collins 1938).
  • Ducks and Drakes (London: Collins 1952).
  • with John Perry, Treasure Hunt (London: Collins 1952).
  • with John Perry, Dazzling Prospect (London: Samuel French 1961) [adapted as novel, infra].
Fiction [as M. J. Farrell]
  • The Knight of Cheerful Countenance (London: Mills & Boon 1926), and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Virago Press 1993), 256pp.
  • Young Entry (London: Mathews & Marrot 1928; NY: H. Holt [1929]); Do. [rep. edn.], with an introduction by Diana Petre [Virago Modern Classics, 324] (London: Virago Press 1989, 1996), 336pp.
  • Taking Chances (London: Elkin Mathews & Marrot 1929); Do. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott 1930); Do., rep. (Virago 1987; 1998), 296pp.; Do. [large print edn.] (Bath: Chivers 1988), 304pp.
  • Mad Puppetstown (London: Collins [1931]); Do. (NY: Farrar & Rinehart [1932]) [var 1934]; Do. [Virago Modern Classics, 194] (London: Virago 1985), xvii, 288pp., and Do. [large print edn.] (Bath: Chivers 1986), 297pp.
  • Conversation Piece (London: Collins 1932), and do. [rep. edn.] (London: Virago Press 1991), xx, 273pp.
  • Devoted Ladies (London: Collins; Boston: Little, Brown [1934]), and Do. [rep. edn.], introduced by Polly Devlin (London: Virago 1984); Do. [large print edn.] (Bath: Chivers 1985). 310pp.; [?another edn. Tatler 1988].
  • Full House (London: Collins; Boston: Little, Brown, 1935); Do. [rep. edn.], with a new afterword by Caroline Blackwood [Virago Modern Classics, 232] (London: Virago Press 1985), 320pp.
  • The Rising Tide (London: Collins 1937; NY: Macmillan 1938), and Do. [rep. edn.], with an introduction by Polly Devlin (London: Virago 1984), xvi, 320pp.
  • Two Days in Aragon (London: Collins 1941).
  • Loving Without Tears (London: Collins 1951), and Do., issued in America as The Enchanting Witch (NY: Crowell [1951]).
  • Treasure Hunt (London: Collins 1951) [based on the play, as supra], and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Virago 1980, 1996), 264pp.
[as Molly Keane]
  • Good Behaviour (London: André Deutsch 1981), 245p.; Do. [rep. edn.], introduced by Marion Keyes (London: Virago Press 2001), 245pp.
  • Time after Time (London: André Deutsch 1983), 247pp.); Do. (NY: Knopf 1984); Do. [large print edn.] (Bath: Chivers 1984), 334pp., and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Virago 2001, 2006), 247pp.
  • Loving and Giving (London: André Deutsch 1988); Do., rep. as Queen Lear (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1988; NY: Dutton 1989), and Do. [rep. edn.], introduced by Michèle Roberts (London: Virago Press 2001), 233pp.
[ For Virago Press plot summaries, see Notes, infra. ]
  • with Snaffles, Red Letter Days (London: Collins [1933]), issued in America as Point-to-Point (NY: Farrar & Rinehart [1933]), and Do., revised rep. with new introduction by Keane (London: André Deutsch 1987).
  • Molly Keane’s Nursery Cookbook (London: Macdonald 1985), 192pp., ill. [some col.]; Do. [rep. edn.] as Molly Keane’s Book of Nursery Cooking, and Childhood Reflections, illustrated by Pauline O’Reilly (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1996), 205pp., ill.
  • Preface to Further experiences of an Irish R. M. [1908; new edn., new introduction] (Craddock: R. S. Surtees Society 1984);
  • with Sally Phibbs [her dg.], Molly Keane’s Ireland: An Anthology (London: HarperCollins 1993), xxi, 232 pp. [incls. Jon. Swift, James Joyce, J. M. Synge, Frank O’Connor, Thomas Kinsella, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Faolain, Seamus Heaney, [Joseph] Campbell Medbh McGuckian, et al. - with emphasis on God, exile, love, death, fairies, horse-racing, wit and whiskey].

See also autograph chapter [“Molly Keane”] in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, ed. John Quinn [RTE copyright 1985] (1986; Mandarin 1990), pp.63-78.

  • Audiocassette of Good Behaviour and Time After Time, abridged, from Reed Audio, 1996.

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  • Katherine Lilly Gibbs, An Introduction to the Fiction of Molly Keane [M. J. Farrell] (Diss., Nebraska, 1993).
  • Eibhear Walshe & Gwenda Young, eds., Molly Keane: Centenary Essays (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006), 240pp.
  • Sally Phibbs, Molly Keane: A Life (London: Virago 2016).
  • Sean O’Faolain, review of Full House in The Spectator (Aug. 23 1935), [infra].
  • Bridget O’Toole, ‘Three Writers of the Big House, Elizabeth Bown, Molly Keane, and Jennifer Johnston’, in Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill, The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985), pp.124-38.
  • Vera Kreilcamp, ‘The Persistent Pattern: Molly Keane’s Recent Big House Fiction’, in Massachusetts Review, 28 (Autumn 1987), pp.453-60.
  • James M. Cahalan, The Irish Novel: A Critical History (Boston: Twayne 1988), pp.207-09, &c.
  • E. Dermott, Study of the Big House Novel [Keane, Bowen, Farrell, and Johnson] (MA Thesis UUC 1989).
  • Alice Adams, ‘Coming Apart at the Seams: Good Behaviour as an Anti-Comedy of Manners’, in Journal of Irish Literature, 20 (Sept. 1991), pp.27-35.
  • Rüdiger Imhof, ‘Molly Keane: Good Behaviour, Time After Time, and Loving and Giving’, in Ancestral Voices: the Big House in Anglo-Irish Literature (Hildesheim: Georg Olms 1992), pp.195-203 .
  • Shusha Guppy, Looking Back, A Panoramic View of a literary Age by the Grandes Dames of European Letters (NY: Brit-Am. Publ. 1992), 308pp. [infra].
  • Rachel Jane Lynch, ‘Molly Keane’s Comedies of Anglo-Irish Manners’, in Theresa O’Connor, ed., The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers (Florida UP 1996), pp.73-98.
  • Ruth Frehner, The Colonizers’ Daughters: Gender In The Anglo-Irish Big House Novel (Tubingen: Franacke 1999), 256pp.
  • Clare Boylan, ‘Molly Keane’, obituary, in The Irish Times [q.d.; infra].
  • Colm Keenan, ‘Novelist Molly Keane dies at 92’, in The Irish Times [q.d., with obituary; infra].
  • Mary Breen, ‘Piggies and Spoilers of Girls: The Representation of Sexuality in the Novels of Molly Keane’, in Éibhear Walshe, ed., Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing (Cork UP 1997), pp.202-20.
  • Hugh Oram, [on Molly Keane,] “An Irishman’s Diary”, in The Irish Times (20 Aug. 2008), p.13.
  • Selina Guinness, ‘Molly Keane’s Anglo-Irish life: ‘Courage, glamour and fantasy’, review of Molly Keane: a Life, by Sally Phipps, in The Irish Times (30 Jan. 2017) [infra]

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Sean O’Faolain, review of Full House in The Spectator (Aug. 23 1935), [q.p.], rep. in Sunday Times (20 Aug. 1995, Magazine Section, p.7): ‘A young women [sic] wants to marry a young man, and she has a mad brother and he had a mad grandfather; they are of the class of the Irish country Big Houses, which have always been a little crazy or wild or daredevil or harum-scarum, or anything else 18th-centuryish that you may like to call them. And this Big Hosue is by the sea ... there are unmarried daughters in these houses and the mad brother, temprarily, or perhaps permanently, restored to sanity, wanders about and has a passionate love affair with a women who has had an unhappy life ... Clearly you could do anything with such material if you were able enough. It is a cosmos. It is a storm. It is a world in itself.’

A. N. Jeffares, contemp. review of Good Behaviour: ‘[...] atmospheric novel . ruthless in its black humour, irony, clarity of conception and execution. It is also profoundly sad. To tell the plot would spoil its effect, for there is a very real intellectual pleasure in store for the reader who gradually begins to realize the different planes upon which the story moves: there is the illusion of Anglo-Irish life with its well-brought-up silences, its refusal to face the facts of life. These include money, politics, religion and sex. And so the characters move in a world of faded elegance and damp decay, of luxury and extreme discomfort, taking their horses very seriously indeed. This is the world of the big house in decline and disintegration. It has a long literary history [... And] now Molly Keane has joined the tradition [...; Good Behaviour ] captures the impish quality of the humour of the Anglo-Irish and takes a detached view of their way of life [...]’ (Q. source; available at

Shusha Guppy, Looking Back, A Panoramic View of a literary Age by the Grandes Dames of European Letters (NY: Brit-Am. Publ. 1992), 308pp., in which Molly Keane is quoted as answering in interview to the question, what did her husband do?, with ‘in those days people didn’t do anything.’ [Looking Back reviewed in Times Literary Supplement (4 Sept 1992), q.p.].

Clare Boylan, ‘Molly Keane’, obituary, Irish Times, [q.d.]: contemporary and ‘great chum’ of Elizabeth Bowen; recalls sex instruction by her mother (‘There’s a thing men do, and you won’t like it’; ‘we had a governess who told us everything in the most ghastly way’); ‘I have come to believe that the two strongest motivations in life are sex and snobbery and I do most awfully believe in love’; returned to writing at 76 with Good Behaviour (‘too old to ride to hounds, too poor to pay a gardener, but possessed of a rattling good idea’).

Colm Keenan, ‘Novelist Molly Keane dies at 92’, Irish Times [q.d.]: cites James Agate: ‘I would back this impish writer to hold her own against Noel Coward himself.’; Polly Devlin: [M. J. Farrell] wrote on the whole, of the lives, preoccupations and pastimes of that moneyed, hunting, curiously dislocated class of people in Ireland, the Anglo-Irish, skpping over the political angry geographical reality that was Ireland in the first quarter of this century’; her novels ‘deliver a remarkable and vivid social history, an impeccably observed, occasionally delinquent record, full of relevance and revelation of a way of life and a vanished world that has not otherwise been given its due recogntion int he country where it existed.’; Keane resumed writing, acc. to interview in Virago edn. of Conversation Piece (in which Devlin’s commentary appears), ‘when the children had grown up and I was doing nothing’; a visit from Peggy Ashcroft, who was in bed with flu, caused Keane to give her a copy of Good Behaviour, which had already been rejected once (‘I know its absolutely ghastly); ‘And you know she was absolutely crazy about it, thought it was wonderful’.

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Bridget O’Toole, reviewing Eibhear Walshe & Gwenda Young, eds., Molly Keane: Centenary Essays (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006; quoted in Bridget O’Toole, review, in Books Ireland (Dec. 2006), p.284: Deferring from the postcolonial approach - which purportedly reflects a latter-day Anglo-Irish authors’ “anguished interrogation” of “the Anglo-Irish problematic” that focuses on their relationship with Irish land - remarks: ‘[...] Keane describes the rooms and stables and gardens [of the big house] with great energy and their aesthetic appeal can mask their social place and function. But surely what she is really interested in is the people who live there, the passions that drive them, their greed, jealousy, or spite.’ She goes on to cite exceptions to the rule, Ellen O’Brien and Kelly McGovern, who ‘have described these people in terms of abjection. Abjection theory is concerned with vomit, excrement, bodily decay,, rotting and death. We have only to think of Aroon St Charles filling the solicitor’s car with vomit, or cousin Leda desecrating her aunt’s wardrobe to see how relevant such a theory might be to Molly Keane’s fiction. O’Brien argues that in emphasising this subject matter in relation to her Anglo-Irish characters,, Keane has reversed the centuries old perception of the Protestants as civilised and the Catholics as dirty: ‘To purge a tradition which after two hundred years must dramatically rethink itself, Keane offers us the abject Anglo-Irish wallowing in self-produced filth in their “very nasty” Big Houses while the formerly abject Catholic looks on and proclaims, “that’s dirty”.’

Selina Guinness, review of Molly Keane: a Life, by Sally Phipps, in The Irish Times (30 Jan. 2017): ’The bar is set high for Sally Phipps. Keane wrote the most spectacularly “nasty” black comedies in Irish Big House fiction. These late novels satirise the style and manners of Big House fiction; and merit comparison with Kingsley Amis and perhaps John Osborne. Mother/daughter hostilities, savagely waged over food and flowers, provide a constant theme. Aroon, in Good Behaviour (1981), feeds her ailing mother a deadly rabbit mousse for lunch. In Time after Time (1983), Leda, the Swifts’ Jewish cousin, returned from the dead, defecates on the evening gowns that used to clothe their mother, her long-dead rival. Nicandra, the unloved child of Loving and Giving (1988), is tied to a chair and force-fed spinach as punishment for revealing her mother’s affair with a servant. This battlefield seems to have loomed larger in fiction than life. Even so, Phipps’s warm and vivid study is written on the psychological frontline.

Thomas McCarthy: ‘[...] There are some novelists who write as a kind of career choice, there are others who must write or they’ll die -- Rhys was in the latter category. Fiction was the most coherent fact in her life and in making fiction she confirmed who she was. Luck touched her twice from a literary point of view - she encountered Ford Madox Ford and, later, Diane Athill. I remember Molly Keane talking enthusiastically about Wide Sargossa Sea in the late 1970s, before she had begun to write fiction again forcefully. Rhys’ long silence and obscurity appealed to Mrs Keane, and must have inspired her to continue working on Good Behaviour in her house in Ardmore. And when the manuscript of Good Behaviour finally began the rounds of London publishers and agents, it eventually found the legendary Diane Athill. Mrs Keane was every bit as adept an expert at myth-making and mystification as Jean Rhys. [...]’ (Facebook post - 01.01.2018.)

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Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985); lists The Knight of Cheerful Countenance (1926), Young Entry (1928), Taking Chances (1930), Mad Puppetstown (1934), Conversation Piece (1937), Devoted Ladies (1934), Full House (1937), The Rising Tide (1937), Two Days in Aragon (1941), Loving Without Tears (1981), and Treasure Hunt (1952). Bibl. dates from Aosdana. Also Good Behaviour (1981); Time after Time (1983); , and Molly Keane’s Nursery Cookbook (1985). ALSO A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, ed. John Quinn [RTE copyright 1985] (1986; Mandarin 1990), pp.63-78. Pseud. Mrs Robert Keane; The Knight of the Cheerful Countenance (Mills&Boon 1926), 254pp [sporting novel, Leinster, c.1923; Englishman in Ireland, Ballinrath House, daughters, and romance]; Young Entry (Elkin Mathews & Marrot [sic] 1928), 320pp [Irish country life, strictly Anglo-Irish; heroine Prudence physically fearless]; Taking Chances (Mathews&Marrot 1929), 272pp. [Maeve, dg. Sir Ralph Sorrier about to marry Maj. Rowland Arthur Fountain of Castle Fountain, Co Roscommon [‘Westcommon’]; Mary Fuller, her bridesmaid, encourages young men]; Mad Puppetstown (Collins 1931), 288pp. [Easter Chevington and her twin cousins in Irish mansion, World War I; Major Chevington killed in France in 1916; house in delapidation when cousins return]; Conversation Piece (Collins 1932), 280pp [Oliver visits Pullinstown, Co. Roscommon [?’Westcommon’], home of Sir Richard Pulleyn and two children Willow and Dick; horseflesh]; Devoted Ladies (Collins 1934), 286pp. [smart set in Ireland, 2930s]; Full House (Collins 1935) [big house chars. ‘mentally unbalanced and uncouth’, acc. Clarke]; The Rising Tide (Collins 1937), 320pp. [French-McGraths; escape of daughters from ruthless domination of mother, Cynthia, and English sister-in-law]; Two Days in Aragon (Collins 1941), 256pp. [Aragon is a big house of the Fox family; British officers captured by IRA and released by outwitting Foxes, and more; well described]; Loving Without Tears (Collins 1950), [n.p.] [reviews quoted, presposterously silly ... splendidly English; set in Ireland]; Treasure Hunt (1952), 256pp. [big house in decline, economies of Philip and cousin Veronica Howard, with older generation, Aunt Consuelo and Uncle Hercules, and staff, clinging to old ways]. See also Brian Cleeve & Anne Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985).

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3: references restricted to apologies p. 937, ‘a selction of this fiction that, unfortunately, cannot spare room for Bryan MacMahon, Molly Keane, and John Broderick (among others) [and] clearly embarrassed by riches.’ (JW Foster).

Kevin Rockett, et al., eds., Cinema & Ireland (1988), notes that a play by Molly Keane and John Perry was adapted as Spring Meeting, dir. Walter C. Mycroft, 1941, Britain (p.57); also, Treasure Hunt, 1952, a film taken from the play of M. J. Farrell and John Perry, was dir. by John Paddy Carstairs (p.113).

Helena Sheehan, Irish Television Drama: A Society and Its Stories (RTÉ 1987), lists (RTÉ), Good Behaviour [3 pts] (1983), adpt. by Hugh Leonard, dir. Bill Hays.

Booksellers, HYLAND (Cat. No. 214) lists , Taking Chances (1st ed. 1929). HIBERNIA (Cat. No. 19) lists Loving and Giving (London: Deutsch 1988).

Belfast Public Library holds Mad Puppetstown (1935); Rising Tide (1937); Taking Chances (1929); Two Days in Aragon (1941); Red Letter Days [1933]

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Virago Press Blurbs ...

Young Entry (1928): Prudence, at nineteen, is reckless, laughing, wild; the despair of her elderly guardians. With her best friend, the subversive but very female Peter, she rackets round the Irish countryside among her beloved horses and dogs. But she feels betrayed by Peter’s growing interest in the new Master of Hounds, ’Saxon’ Major Anthony Countless. And what is Prudence to make of handsome Toby Sage, neighbour, huntsman and accredited flirt? Or of an inexplicable haunting? First published in 1928, this high-spirited novel with its subtle erotic undercurrents, is a glorious story of a ramshackle, tolerant society and of Prudence’s turbulent coming of age.

Mad Puppetstown (1931): In the early 1900s Easter lives with her Aunt Brenda, her cousins Evelyn and Basil, and their Great-Aunt Dicksie in an imposing country house, Puppetstown, which casts a spell over their childhood. Here they spend carefree days taunting the peacocks in Aunt Dicksie’s garden, shooting snipe and woodcock, hunting, and playing with Patsy, the boot boy. But the house and its inhabitants are not immune to the ’little, bitter, forgotten war in Ireland’ and when it finally touches their lives all flee to England. All except Aunt Dicksie who refuses to surrender Puppetstown’s magic. She stays on with Patsy, living in a corner of the deserted house while in England the cousins are groomed for Society. But for two of them those wild, lost Puppetstown years cannot be forgotten.

Conversation Piece (1932): When Oliver visits Pullinstown, he is introduced to wild days of hunting and shooting, and to characters like his cousins, with their passion for horses and trickery, and Sir Richard, elderly, but a match for his headstrong offspring. The author has also written under the pseudonym, M.J. Farrell.

Devoted Ladies (1934): Jessica and Jane have been living together for six months and are devoted friends - or are they? Jessica loves her friend with the cruelty of total possessiveness; Jane is rich, silly, and drinks rather too many brandy-and-sodas. Watching from the sidelines, their friend Sylvester regrets that Jane should be ’loved and bullied and perhaps even murdered by that frightful Jessica’, but decides it’s none of his business. When the Irish gentleman George Playfair meets Jane, however, he thinks otherwise and entices her to Ireland where the battle for her devotion begins.

Full House (1935): Silverue - an enchanting Irish mansion poised between hills and the sea - is owned by one of the most frightening mothers in fiction - the indomitable, oppressively girlish Lady Olivia Bird. Blessed with wealth and beautiful children she has little to worry about except the passing of the years and the return of her son John’s sanity. To help her through the potentially awkward occasion of John’s return from the asylum she has enlisted the support of Eliza, a woman she believes to be her confidante. But Eliza has her own secrets and John’s homecoming will prove the catalyst for revelations which Lady Bird would much rather leave buried. In this family of complicities, each member has his secret. (Combines COPAC notice.)

The Rising Tide (1937): One glorious gothic mansion - Garonlea - and two rather different ladies who would be Queen ...Lady Charlotte French-McGrath has successfully ruled over her family with a rod of iron until the arrival of Cynthia: beautiful, young, talented, selfish - and engaged to her son Desmond. When Cynthia enters the Jazz Age, on the surface her life passes in a whirl of hunting, drinking and romance. But the ghosts of Garonlea are only biding their time: they know the source of their power, a secret handed on from one generation to the next.

Two Days in Aragon (1941): Grania and Sylvia Fox live in the Georgian house of Aragon, with their mother, their Aunt Pidgie and Nan O’Neill, the family nurse. Grania is conducting a secret affair with Nan’s son, Foley, a wily horse-breeder, whilst Sylvia who is ’pretty in the right and accepted way’ falls for the charms of Captain Purvis. Attending Aragon’s strawberry teas, the British Army Officers can almost forget the reason for their presence in Ireland. But the days of dignified calm at Aragon are numbered, for Foley is a member of Sinn Fein.

Good Behaviour (1981): ’I do know how to behave - believe me, because I know. I have always known ...’ Behind the gates of Temple Alice the aristocratic Anglo-Irish St Charles family sinks into a state of decaying grace. To Aroon St Charles, large and unlovely daughter of the house, the fierce forces of sex, money, jealousy and love seem locked out by the ritual patterns of good behaviour. But crumbling codes of conduct cannot hope to save the members of the St Charles family from their own unruly and inadmissible desires. This elegant and allusive novel established Molly Keane as the natural successor to Jean Rhys.

Loving and Giving (1988): In 1914, when Nicandra is eight, all is well in the grand Irish estate, Deer Forest. Maman is beautiful and adored. Dada, silent and small, mooches contendedly around the stables. Aunt Tossie, of the giant heart and bosom, is widowed but looks splendid in weeds. The butler, the groom, the landsteward, the maids, the men - each as a place and knows it. Then, astonishingly, the perfect surface is shattered; Maman does something too dreadful ever to be spoken of. ’What next? Who to love?’ asks Nicaranda. And through her growing up and marriage her answer is to swamp those around her with kindness - while gradually the great house crumbles under a weight of manners and misunderstanding. [See index of motifs, infra.]

Taking Chances (1930): Those who suffered because of her might think of Mary that she hurt others, herself she could not hurt; but Jer, knowing her better...knew she hurt herself perhaps most deeply. Since the death of her parents, Roguey, Maeve and Jer have cared for one another and for Sorristown, their elegant home. Together they have fished and hunted, unravelled secrets by bedroom fires and sipped gin cocktails. But this pattern of intimacy is about to be broken by Maeve’s marriage to Rowley. A week before the wedding, her bridesmaid Mary arrives. Meeting her for the first time Rowley describes Mary as a ’factor for disturbance’, little realising the extent to which his prophecy will prove true for each of them.

Time After Time (1983): Durraghglass is a beautiful mansion in Southern Ireland, now crumbling in neglect. The time is the present - a present that churns with the bizarre passions of its owners’ past. The Swifts - three sisters of marked eccentricity, defiantly christened April, May and Baby June, and their only brother, one-eyed Jasper - have little in common, save vivid memories of darling Mummy, and a long lost youth peculiarly prone to acts of treachery. Into their world comes Cousin Leda from Vienna, a visitor from the past, blind but beguiling - a thrilling guest. But within days, the lifestyle of the Swifts has been dramatically overturned - and desires, dormant for so long, flame fierce and bright as ever.

Note: The plot-account of The Knight of Cheerful Countenance (1926) accidentally replaced by a study of the Thames by another author on the Virago website. Similarly, the account of Loving Without Tears (1951) is blank.

Loving and Giving (London: Deutsch 1988) - An indexed list of motifs: Big House [80]; loving and giving [97 (106,) 127, 165, 182, 183, 203, 212, 217]; preserved in the dignity of absolute uselessness [104]; Maman followed her love gallantly [108]; love and its cold aftermath [109]; who to love? [29]; nobody to love [109; 125]; terrible hazards of loving [116]; reassuring love [117]; blunder in loving [126]; total generosity [128]; integral to her loving [130]; love had failed [157]; readiness to give [?182]; great store of love unswent [210]; sterile return ot her loving [183]; importance [147]; unimportance [157]; reasons for loving [212]; encroaching love [212]; forgetfulness, remembrance, love [210-12]; in thrall of that terrible wish to give and please but the revenge life takes on those who give and please too much was far beyond her understanding [217]. (Prepared on inside cover by BS.)

Big houses: Molly Keane described the big houses of Ireland as ‘houses built for parties’; see Clare Boylan, reviewing Herbert Ympa, Irish Georgian (Thames & Hudson 1998), photo. ills., in an article by René Stoeltie article of that title in The Independent, Tuesday Review (12 June 1998), p.12.

John Perry, the Anglo-Irish co-author of Spring Meeting, was a partner of “Binkie” Beaumont, the theatrical impressario, and an Intelligence Officer in the Second World War, in which capacity he met Brian Inglis in Gibraltar. (See Inglis, Downstarts, London: Chatto & Windus 1990, p.131.)

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