KEANE, Molly

(1904 - 1996)
 “Yes, we'll have to put a stop to this bookworming. No future in that.”

Novelist and playwright, Molly Keane took up writing out of sheer boredom at seventeen when she was confined to bed with suspected tuberculosis in the early 1920s – her first novel, The Knight of the Cheerful Countenance, was written under the pseudonym "M. J. Farrell", a name over a pub door that she had seen on her return from hunting.  She wanted to keep her writing secret as both her family and her social circle would have disapproved - "for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in Co. Carlow."

Born into the life of a horse-mad Anglo-Irish squirearchy, Molly [born Mary Nesta Skrine] was unusual in her family as she adored reading, and shared with her favourite author, Jane Austen, the  ability to create characters with wit and acuity and to depict the extraordinary world of the Big Houses of Ireland in the twenties and thirties, uniquely capturing her class in all its “viscous snobbery and genteel racism even as the enormous changes swept through the country”. 

Between 1928 and 1961 she wrote eleven novels and five plays (all directed by John Gielgud) under her M J Farrell pseudonym but the death of her beloved husband, Bobby Keane, in 1946 had lessened her desire to write and her final play, Dazzling Prospect [1961] was her last published work for 20 years. However, her link to the world of the theatre led to a visit by Peggy Ashcroft in 1980 who read the abandoned manuscript of Good Behaviour and persuaded Molly to get it published in 1981 – this time in her own name.  The novel was warmly received and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Molly Keane was one of the original members of the Aosdana an Irish association of artists (translated as “people of the arts”) which was formed in 1981.  It is limited to 200 members – 250 members since 2005 and by proposal only.

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