Cover image for Brendan Behan : a life
Brendan Behan : a life
O'Sullivan, Michael.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boulder, CO : Roberts Rinehart, 1999.
Physical Description:
xviii, 334 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Originally published in Dublin Ireland 1997 by Blackwater Press.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6003.E417 Z83 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PR6003.E417 Z83 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Brendan Behan -- self-described drinker with a writing problem -- is in the same league as literary legends T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Dylan Thomas. Drawing on a major collection of Behan's prison correspondence and documents, the author also interviewed family members, friends, writers, as well as Behan's editors and producers.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Writer, playwright, braggart, wit, liar, drunkard, quarreler, shit--Brendan Behan was a mass of contradictions. Simultaneously creative and destructive, funny and offensive, charming as heck and hell to get along with, he made friends easily and enemies almost as quickly. He packed so much into his short life--smuggling bombs for the IRA in his teens, international recognition as a writer in his early 30s, death at 41--that a biographer is hard-put to contain him in a mere book. Still, O'Sullivan pressed on, valiantly collecting every scrap of information he could about Behan, including lost letters from prison, hitherto inaccessible files in Britain, forgotten articles, and personal interviews, and reporting everything of interest and then some. At times the mass of facts and memories threatens to overwhelm, and O'Sullivan, a graceful, forceful writer, labors like the devil to find order in the chaos of Behan's life. Find an order he does, though, transforming the heap of letters, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and transcriptions Behan left behind into a life story as compelling as the one Behan actually lived. --Jack Helbig

Library Journal Review

Irish writer Brendan Behan (1923-64) was adored unconditionally by his beloved Granny, endowed with a great love of the written word by his father, and inspired to embrace republicanism and the IRA by his mother. During his internment for the attempted shooting of two policemen, he began the writing that would bring him world renown. Once out of prison, he found literary recognition in Paris with his short stories while continuing to work as a Dublin house painter; he also launched on the legendary drinking that led to his diabetes and death. His prison drama, The Quare Fellow, was produced in Dublin in 1954, and in 1955 he married Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, who suffered intense emotional and physical abuse at his hands. O'Sullivan, a broadcaster and the literary editor of the Irish political magazine Magill, accessed archives heretofore untouched to offer the best biography of Behan since Ulrick O'Connor's Bendan (LJ 8/71). He considers Behan in all his contradictions: both shy and spirited, he was a show-off and a vicious drunk who nevertheless possessed a remarkable ear for the language of the ordinary man. O'Sullivan also addresses Behan's rumored bisexuality. What results is a disturbing and enlightening biography.√ĄRobert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

People generally get the biographers they deserve, and O'Sullivan's study of Behan seems about right. Although much more scholarly than Ulick O'Connor's biography Brendan (CH, Sep'71), it does not significantly advance the reader's understanding of Behan. But what more can one say about a life conducted so much on the public surface of its excesses? Both biographies are journalistic rather than analytic, paying scant attention to the literary qualities of Behan's slender oeuvre. Thanks to his access to British government files, O'Sullivan reveals more about Behan's experiences in police and prison custody and about his early IRA activities, and he provides more detail than does O'Connor about Behan's occasional homosexual liaisons. Still, the overall analysis proves frustratingly vague. The author describes Behan's sexuality as "ambiguous" and "paradoxical" and says that his relationship to Catholicism "remained troublesome throughout his life," that he suffered from a "confused sense of self," and that his life reveals a "tragic-epic nature." Much of Behan's legend has been developed by the many people who witnessed his brilliant but self-destructive pub extravaganzas, and so O'Sullivan's biography, like O'Connor's, offers many contemporary anecdotes. The sameness of the stories, however, begins to grow tiresome. For comprehensive undergraduate and advanced collections. W. E. Hall; University of Cincinnati