A Family of His Own
A Life of Edwin O'Connor
Charles F. Duffy
When The Last Hurrah was published in 1956, the obscure Edwin O'Connor (1918-1968) gained sudden wealth and fame with his elegiac novel about a veteran political campaigner. Six years later O'Connor's intimate portrait of a recovered alcoholic priest in The Edge of Sadness won a Pulitzer Prize. The different worlds of these two novels highlight a striking contrast in their author. O'Connor was a witty, affable man with many devoted friends, from a president to street eccentrics. Yet, he was an intensely private man. For this biography, the first to be written of Edwin O'Connor, Charles F. Duffy interviewed O'Connor's family, friends, and associates. He also investigated O'Connor's worlds in Rhode Island, Notre Dame, Boston, Dublin, and Wellfleet. In addition, he makes the most extensive use to date of the Edwin O'Connor Papers, a valuable collection containing many unpublished works.
A Family of His Own covers O'Connor's comfortable upbringing in Rhode Island, his formation at Notre Dame, his obscure years in radio and the Coast Guard during World War II, his adoption of Boston, his long association with his publishers at Atlantic Monthly and Little, Brown and Company, his toil in journalism and television reviewing, his several sojourns in Ireland, and his extraordinary dedication to his craft while living close to poverty. For the years after The Last Hurrah, Duffy examines O'Connor's handling of newfound wealth and celebrity, his growing loneliness, the surprise and fulfillment of a late marriage, his failure on Broadway, and his return to fiction. Throughout his writing O'Connor's major subject was the family, especially the gains, losses, and conflicts within assimilated Irish America. Duffy examines the complex ways by which O'Connor's own experience of family and friendship formed essential patterns in his works.
Charles F. Duffy is Professor of English at Providence College.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK:
"Duffy's study is particularly valuable because it is the first full biography of O'Connor. Duffy draws upon all the relevant sources and witnesses in his clearly written 'book about a good man' and succeeds in making his case, though at times the reader might think the cautious, conservative, pious, and prematurely elderly O'Connor 'perhaps too nice,' as Mary McCarthy nastily cracked. Still, Duffy, who grants O'Connor's limits, is right in noting that 'O'Connor' novels certainly helped to interpret important parts of Irish America, especially its difficult family life following upon a remarkable assimilation. At his best he wrote with great ethical integrity, with an unusual warmth toward his characters, with elegant wit.' "--Shaun O'Connell, Globe Correspondent, The Boston Globe
"An exemplary work. Mr. Duffy has created an unusually rich, faithful, and readable account of the life, writings, and times of a devoted writer of fiction whose inner life was unusually private but whose genial personality made him widely loved. I saw Edwin O'Connor almost every working day for the last dozen years of his life; and Mr. Duffy has left out nothing that matters."--Peter Davison, Atlantic Monthly
"Duffy deserves praise for rediscovering a writer who shouldn't be forgotten and for enhancing our perspective on the Irish American Catholic experience. A Family of His Own is worth a look."--Chris Byrd, National Catholic Reporter
"Duffy offers a last hurrah for an author keenly aware that a society short on memory was dimming its own hopes. A Family Of His Own is decidedly worthy of library lists for both undergraduate and graduate students of Irish Studies or Catholic Studies."- Patrick Nolan, American Catholic Studies
"Charles Duffy has written a definitive, and overdue, critical biography of the novelist Edwin O'Connor--one of the most enigmatic Americans ever to gain prominence for his Irishness. . . . This biography goes far to making a sensible whole of O'Connor's life and his uneven literary achievement."--James Silas Rogers, Irish Literary Supplement
"Edwin O'Connor was a premier author in his day. This lovely book tells how and why, and remembers a major literary figure of the last century."--John Kenneth Galbraith
"Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah is the most acute, hilarious, and vivid American political novel of the twentieth century; and Charles F. Duffy's thoughtful biography renews the memory of Edwin O'Connor, that witty and elegant man, and illuminates the dilemmas of Iirsh American writers coming to terms with American society."--Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
"Biographer Charles Duffy has guided us toward an appreciation of O'Connor's considerable growth and development as an excellent writer who, we trust, will not again become lost in any era's literary forest."--Philip Armstrong, Cistercian Studies Quarterly