Cen­sored ge­nius

No­rah Hoult, a for­got­ten Ir­ish great

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

No­rah Hoult pub­lished 24 nov­els and four col­lec­tions of short sto­ries. She was born in Dublin in 1898 and died in Grey­stones in 1984. Have you ever heard of her?

Why has she been for­got­ten? She had the dis­tinc­tion of reg­u­larly ap­pear­ing on the Cen­sor’s List dur­ing the 1940s and 1950s. About 10 of her books rubbed shoul­ders with those of Frank O’Con­nor and Seán Ó Faoláin and dozens of other great writ­ers – and with ti­tles such as Bound An­kles and Sasha Gets Rav­aged.

Although we dis­miss the dark days of cen­sor­ship with re­marks such as “You were no­body if you weren’t cen­sored”, at the time it wasn’t fun and ob­vi­ously dam­aged your sales as well as your rep­u­ta­tion – the lat­ter pos­si­bly a more se­ri­ous prob­lem for a woman. Frank O’Con­nor wrote that “English pub­lish­ers are no longer pre­pared to pub­lish the work of an Ir­ish author. They re­alise that nearly all se­ri­ous work will be banned in Ire­land.”

Cock­tail Bar is a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries that was first pub­lished in 1950, and that has been reis­sued in a new edi­tion with an ex­cel­lent fore­word by Sinéad Glee­son, who may be cred­ited with the re­cent re­vival of in­ter­est in No­rah Hoult. The sto­ries are set in Eng­land, Ire­land and Italy. The ma­jor­ity, and the best, are about women. Ir­ish women and English women and one Welsh woman. Young women and quite a few old women. Hoult her­self was just 52 when the col­lec­tion first ap­peared but sev­eral sto­ries fo­cus on el­derly women of lim­ited means.

The un­named pro­tag­o­nist of Ex­pa­tri­ate lives in a tiny room in Rome and can barely af­ford to eat. Miss Ches­sum, an 81-year-old in­hab­i­tant of a bed­sit in an English town, is happy with her lot, but it is very cir­cum­scribed fi­nan­cially. One of the most en­gag­ing sto­ries,

Three Peo­ple and Jane, a sharp ac­count of the role of a bossy do-gooder in a well-to-do sub­urb, tells of Mrs Tem­ple, who is bul­lied into hand­ing over money she can ill af­ford for one of Jane’s pet char­i­ties.

DSOH Hoult has a dark sense of hu­mour, and the sto­ries are writ­ten in strong prose, some­times in a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Ir­ish di­alect – as in Ir­ish Wed­ding.

Most rely on char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and sto­ry­line for their im­pact; oc­ca­sion­ally Hoult wraps up a story with a neat clos­ing state­ment that jars on a mod­ern reader (for ex­am­ple, His Best Friend

Was His News­pa­per). But not of­ten, and three or four sto­ries are nu­anced and sub­tle, lend­ing them­selves to more than one in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and would hold their own in any lit­er­ary com­pany.

Among these, Which Bright Cup? stands out. Its clas­sic theme, the pull of home ver­sus the call of away, re­calls Joyce’s Eve­line, and could be a har­bin­ger of Brook­lyn. But Sally is no Eve­line or Eilis Lacey: she’s a brash, vain, am­bi­tious vil­lage beauty, not un­like Baba in

The Coun­try Girls, although more shrewd and less crazy. The story il­lus­trates that it is as hard to choose be­tween two promis­ing fu­tures as be­tween two po­ten­tially gloomy ones: “And look­ing back on that won­der, and feel­ing it walk away from her into the blue dis­tance, she felt dimly in a way that couldn’t be ex­pressed that from now on she’d be a poorer, smaller, more ev­ery­day sort of per­son to her­self than she’d ever fan­cied be­fore. And she clenched her hands over that thought at the very mo­ment he was kiss­ing her more pas­sion­ately than he had ever done be­fore.” Hav­ing tea Also strik­ing are The Holy Pic­ture, Af­ter­noon in the Asy­lum, and the de­light­ful When Miss

Coles Made the Tea. Hoult’s wry ob­ser­va­tions on of­fice life in Miss Coles will res­onate with any­one who has been a young per­son cooped up in a work­place: “Now there is in of­fices, and other places where toil­ers are gath­ered to­gether, an in­sti­tu­tion known as ‘hav­ing tea’.

“Those who are in­car­cer­ated in em­ploy­ment vile for most of the day­light hours know how dear the out­side world can ap­pear for but a brief glimpse . . .”

This story would have been a per­fect choice for in­clu­sion in the famed an­thol­ogy Ex­plor­ing

English, which I loved when I was do­ing the In­ter Cert, but which on re-read­ing I found dis­ap­point­ingly, over­whelm­ingly bi­ased in favour of male writ­ers. How en­chant­ing When Miss Coles Made the Tea would have been to

teenagers. Or Three Bright Cups with its sassy hero­ine.

But, like most sto­ries by Ir­ish women, they were not on the cur­ricu­lum. Bet­ter late than never, I sup­pose. Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s lat­est book is Se­lected Sto­ries (Dalkey Archive Press, 2017) She has a short story in The Long Gaze Back (New Is­land, 2015), One City One Book choice 2018

No­rah Hoult: sev­eral sto­ries fo­cus on el­derly women of lim­ited means

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.