British and Irish Literature Frank O'Connor
Paul Delaney
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0171


“O’Connor was, above all, a short story writer,” Maurice Sheehy proposed in the first extended bibliography of the writer’s work (Sheehy 1969, 168). Criticism over the last fifty years has generally endorsed this claim and has concentrated on O’Connor’s work as a practitioner and critic of the genre. Frank O’Connor (b. 1903–d. 1966) was the author of six volumes of short stories, the first of which, Guests of the Nation, appeared in 1931; his last volume, Domestic Relations, was published in 1957. He edited several collections of his own work, beginning with The Stories of Frank O’Connor in 1952, and additional collections were published posthumously; he was also the author of an influential study of short fiction, The Lonely Voice (1962) (see introduction to O’Connor as Short-Story Writer). Broadly speaking, O’Connor’s stories can be grouped into the following clusters: His stories of the 1930s engage with the fight for Irish independence and the subsequent disappointments of life in the newly emergent Free State; they also explore the uneasy relationship between traditional practices and modernizing values. His stories of the 1940s continue this concern with cultural clashes, intensifying the themes of frustration, provincialism, and loneliness, and dramatizing the power and the habitus of the Catholic Church in Ireland. In the late 1940s, O’Connor began writing for the New Yorker, and the impact of this magazine’s style can be seen in his short fiction of the 1950s and early 1960s; a number of stories from this period are narrated from the perspective of a child, many are nostalgic or whimsical, and some carry an autobiographical element. In addition to his short fiction, O’Connor was a novelist, dramatist, essayist, and literary critic; he had varying levels of success in each of these genres. Largely self-taught, he was fluent in Irish, and he was a distinguished translator of texts from the 7th and 8th centuries through to the modern period; his most famous translations include The Lament for Art O’Leary (1940) and The Midnight Court (1945). He was also a memoirist of note, and his first volume of autobiography, An Only Child (1961) is justly acclaimed. O’Connor wrote under the name “Frank O’Connor” throughout his life; this was a pseudonym of sorts, derived from his middle name (Francis) and his mother’s maiden name (O’Connor). His birth name was Michael O’Donovan.

Reference Works

Short biographical essays can be found in most dictionaries of Irish literature, and brief overviews of O’Connor’s life are included in many surveys of 20th-century Irish culture. These works are of varying quality: Matthews 1979 is purposeful and clear, while Ostrom 2004–2011 is interesting but underdeveloped; Sherry 2009 is perhaps the finest place to start, combining a concise outline of O’Connor’s career with a succinct account of the preoccupations that motivated his writing. Larger studies of O’Connor generally include similar material: Lennon 2007 (cited under Critical Collections), for instance, incorporates considerable biographical detail as well as information on O’Connor’s critical reception. A chronology of O’Connor’s writing life is provided by John M. Burdett and Robert C. Evans in Evans and Harp 1998 (cited under Critical Collections); shorter accounts are provided in Matthews 1976 (under Critical Monographs) and Sherry 1980 (under General Critical Studies); an extensive chronology and biographical essay is also included in the online Frank O’Connor Research Website, curated by Hilary Lennon. A preliminary bibliography of works by O’Connor is sketched in Sheehy 1969 (cited under Critical Collections); this is reproduced in McKeon 1998 (under Biography). Alexander 1987 was one of the first annotated bibliographies about O’Connor. A more extensive critical bibliography is included in Evans and Harp 1998 (under Critical Collections).

  • Alexander, James. “An Annotated Bibliography of Works about Frank O’Connor.” Journal of Irish Literature 16.3 (September 1987): 40–48.

    Early annotated bibliography that focuses on criticism between the 1950s and late 1970s, divided into three sections: “Criticism” (essays on O’Connor), “Journalism” (reviews of O’Connor), and “Doctoral Dissertations.” Although superseded by more recent bibliographies, most notably in Evans and Harp 1998 (cited under Critical Collections), it still includes much of interest. Ten of the twelve PhD theses listed were awarded by US universities, illustrating the focus of O’Connor criticism during this period.

  • Frank O’Connor Research Website. Curated by Hilary Lennon. Cork, Ireland: School of English and Boole Library, University College Cork, 2011.

    Digital archive that draws on the impressive O’Connor holdings at UCC, with photographs, audio recordings, video clips, manuscripts, and private papers; also includes a detailed chronology and an extensive biographical essay by Lennon. Unfortunately, the resource is incomplete, with several pages “under reconstruction” at the time of writing. It is unclear whether this website remains live or whether pages will continue to be populated and updated. Available online without subscription.

  • Matthews, James H. “Frank O’Connor.” In The Macmillan Dictionary of Irish Literature. Edited by Robert Hogan, 500–505. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1979.

    Snapshot of the life and career by O’Connor’s biographer, with emphasis placed on the short stories and on the translations from Irish. Sees O’Connor as “a person of fierce sympathies” who worked in a highly pressurized environment; also identifies the “struggle for artistic integrity and personal freedom” as the key concern which underpins the oeuvre (p. 500).

  • Matthews, James H. “Frank O’Connor.” In Dictionary of Irish Literature. 2d ed. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert Hogan, 932–937. London: Aldwych Press, 1996.

    Reprint of Matthews 1979, included in a revised two-volume edition of Hogan’s seminal Dictionary. Repeats the suggestion that O’Connor is—and should be—best remembered for his short fiction, and that integrity is a keyword in any analysis of the writer’s career. Remains a useful and succinct introduction to O’Connor’s life and oeuvre, notwithstanding the fact that the piece was first produced over forty years ago.

  • Ostrom, Hans. “Michael Francis Xavier O’Donovan [pseud. Frank O’Connor].” In The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004–2011.

    Decent overview that is clearly indebted to the two volumes of autobiography (1961 and 1968) as well as to Matthews 1983 (cited under Biography). Particular attention is given to O’Connor’s childhood and early career; information about the life and work post-1940 is thin by contrast, perhaps because O’Connor’s memoirs conclude with the death of Yeats in 1939. Closing comments on short fiction are desultory. Available online by subscription.

  • Sherry, Ruth. “Frank O’Connor (Michael Francis O’Donovan).” In The Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography. Vol. 7. Edited by James McGuire and James Quinn, 249–251. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Model essay that, in many respects, provides the finest short introduction to O’Connor. In addition to offering a sketch of the writer’s life, makes authoritative pronouncements on his interest in narrative practice, realist literary modes, and Irish-language culture, as well as his suspicion of modernist and symbolist methods. Suggests that “an elegiac and philosophical aspect is at least as characteristic” of O’Connor’s work as the much-heralded “comic element” (p. 250). Also available online by subscription.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.