Lynne Kelleher, ‘Edna O’Brien laments her “punishing” marriage’, in The Sunday Times (21 Feb. 2010)

Source: TIMESONLINE [online; 23.05.2010]; with photo-port [image]. For a similar report by Kelleher in the Mail on Sunday (21 Feb. 2010), go online, or see copy, infra.


Edna O’Brien has accused Ernest Gebler, her deceased husband, of being a “judgmental ... punishing figure” and complains that she has been “unlucky in love”.

The author, who recently signed a deal to pen her memoirs, has claimed that her marriage to Ireland’s first bestselling author was marred by his consuming jealousy of her literary success.

“I have not been lucky, certainly in the case of Ernest Gebler. I chose a judgmental or punishing figure; not obviously religious, in fact irreligious, but with the same strictures.

“Some people call it masochism, I object to the word. I think religion had been so instilled into me that I did not think or feel that earthly love should be anything but in some form punishing.”

O’Brien made her comments to Gay Byrne, who interviewed her for The Meaning of Life, his RTÉ series, recorded last autumn. “I didn’t feel marriage should be a romp. Now I am 78 years of age and I haven’t met the man with whom my whole being, heart, soul and body would be miraculously entwined. I didn’t. My prayer has not been answered in that, nor is it likely to be,” she said.

O’Brien scandalised Catholic Ireland with her books in the 1960s. Her Country Girls trilogy, which exposed female sexuality, was banned and burnt by a priest in her native Clare.

In her memoir, O’Brien is expected to detail her dealings with a “who’s who” of 20th-century figures including Marlon Brando, Jackie Onassis, Samuel Beckett and Bill Clinton.

In her interview with Byrne she reveals she is not sure if she was in love with Gebler when she married him. “I had erred and fallen. I had married a divorced man in a very grim little wedding in the sacristy of a Catholic church in Blanchardstown and the witnesses were two builders,” she said.

“I’m not sure [if it was love]. I had burnt my boats [with her family] by going with the man I later married.”

Gebler was Ireland’s first international bestselling author. The Plymouth Adventure, published in 1947, was later made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy. But despite that, he could not accept his young wife’s success in the 1960s when she broke into the literary scene.

Gebler met and married O’Brien in 1954 shortly after his first marriage to an American heiress had ended. He and O’Brien subsequently had two sons, Carlo and Sasha.

When they moved to London in 1960, the Clare-born writer became a renowned author as her husband’s career was starting to fail.

“It undermined him. It undermined his own sense of himself, his own gifts. It is very sad for him. He’s dead. But that is the truth. He said, 'you can do it’, meaning write, 'and I will never forgive you’,” she said.

In the show she also tells how her father and a priest visited her and Gebler in the Isle of Man before they married and gave him a beating for living with her outside of marriage.

“My own family pursued us and were violent towards my future husband. I wasn’t married then, just living with him. There was a fight so he was hit or kicked. That evening he had wounds and was livid. My father came with a priest. It was like something out of the Middle Ages. It was the same as if I were a witch but instead of being a witch I was a fallen woman,” she said.

“But by then I knew that I had cast my lot. I think he did love me but was also determined to control me.” She said Gebler also looked down on her farming background and her strict Catholic upbringing.

“He said I came from ignorance and peasants. I did come from peasants and they had some ignorance but they also had great stock and great determination, which I got some of.

“He didn’t put me off God; if anything he put me more slightly on God. I hate people telling you how you must think or how you must feel even though I have been, if you like, subservient to it.”

Last July Carlo Gebler claimed that her volatile marriage to his father broke up because of bitter rows over who wrote her bestselling novels. He said his father was so intensely jealous of his mother’s sudden rise to fame that at one point in the 1960s he even came to believe that he had written her books.

 

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