I've been thinking lately that I'd like to reread some of Maeve Brennan's stories. I went through a phase when I entirely loved her, perhaps over-identified her as I was trying to find a way to understand what I was doing with myself. It was a phase when I found it difficult to reconcile journalism with my aspirations as a writer, when I found myself wincing explaining to former academic colleagues that I now wrote about fashion and beauty.
I was clearly at odds with myself... on the one hand vigorously defending these things as important modes of aesthetic expression, as extensions of ourselves and ways of communicating our personality to the world. But I was also wary of the pure materialistic connotations, the shallowness of the style world, all the conspicuous consumption that goes with it.
I still have a tug-of-war relationship with fashion and decor in this respect, perhaps even more, as I age. I find myself filled with wonder that people can sustain those conversations for decades, beyond arriving at their own happy home and sense of style. My passion always seems so much more subjective and mutable.
Anyway, as I felt all these things I was drawn to Maeve Brennan. She worked at Harper's Bazaar in the 1940's but also wrote lovely wistful stories. Of course, we share a motherland and a North American migration, perhaps also heartbreak at a young age that drove us to strike out further than the rest of our family. It was an instant and obvious kinship that served a purpose when I was a certain age, at a certain time.
I don't identify with her in that way anymore. But I do still admire her writing. And I feel like she's sadly forgotten and uncelebrated. She had a little resurgence when the Bourke biography came out, but seems to have faded just as fast. It's easy to lead with the rumour that Brennan was the inspiration for Truman Capote's Holly Golightly. But she was also a serious writer striving to make her mark on the literary world of the 1940’s and 50’s. If you're unfamiliar with her work, it's worth taking a dip into.
Books: The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from The New Yorker | The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin | The Rose Garden: Short Stories (Scarcrow)
Biography: Maeve Brennan: Homesick at the New Yorker by Angela Bourke
Images via Life Archive, here, here and here.