DUBLIN / NEW YORK
1917 – 1993
The world has a fascination with the city that never sleeps and few have captured its contradictions but one who did was a character known only as "The Long Winded Lady", a lady who must've seemed to her readers to be the definitive New Yorker but was actually a Dubliner called Maeve Brennan.
Maeve was born in Dublin to Úna and Robert Brennan in 1917. Hers was a Republican household and with both parents being involved in the struggle, the young Maeve witnessed many house raids and arrests that no doubt left an impression. Maeve's family left Dublin in 1934 when her father was offered a post in the US legation in Washington. Maeve completed her studies in the US, graduating with a degree in English and when her parents returned to Ireland in 1944, Maeve and her sisters remained in America.
Maeve started her career working as a copywriter in Harpers Bazaar, holding her own in a largely male workforce. She was known for her wit and her distinctive style. One of Maeve's colleagues at this time was Truman Capote who, some say, based his famous character Holly Golightly on the charming Maeve who too always seemed to live beyond her means.
It was, however, in her role at the literary magazine The New Yorker that Brennan really found fame, albeit under a pseudonym. The New Yorker had a section called "The talk of the town" and Maeve contributed to it under the name of the Long Winded Lady. The Lady's articles were a snapshot of life in the small restaurants, busy streets and cheap hotels across the city of New York. Brennan was fascinated with people and was always completely detached in her writing, she was the observer or the outsider looking in and her writing was a tribute to what she called the most "reckless, most ambitious, most confused, most comical, the saddest, the coldest and most human of cities". Brennan also published short stories within the New Yorker, the majority being set in her beloved Dublin and although these stories were published in book form in the US, they unfortunately were never published in Ireland.
Maeve continued to submit stories and columns to the New Yorker up until the late 1970s but her battle with mental illness meant that she was not as prolific as she had been. For Maeve things that had once been eccentricities became obsessions. Eventually Maeve became destitute and homeless and in 1981 she largely disappeared from New York life. A few years later she was found lodging in a nursing home, and in 1993 she died of a heart attack.
Maeve Brennan was a literary treasure that few of us knew we had. She is a reminder to us all that there is a story behind the face of everyone you see, be they the rich people you see entertaining in restaurants or the poor homeless woman you see wandering the streets.
Thanks to Herstorian Gráinne Kennedy for this herstory.
Photo credit: Karl Bissinger