William Trevor, KBE (born 24 May 1928), is an Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer. One of the elder statesmen of the Irish literary world, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of short stories in the English language.
A member of Aosdána, Trevor has resided in Devon, South West England, since the 1950s. Over the course of his long career he has written several novels and hundreds of short stories, for which he is best known. He has won the Whitbread Prize three times and has been nominated five times for the Booker Prize, most recently for his novel Love and Summer (2009), which was also shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2011. His name has also been mentioned in relation to the Nobel Prize in Literature. Tim Adams, a staff writer for The Observer, described him as “widely believed to be the most astute observer of the human condition currently writing in fiction”.
Born as William Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland, to a middle-class Protestant family, he moved several times to other provincial towns, including Skibbereen, Tipperary, Youghal and Enniscorthy, as a result of his father’s work as a bank official. He was educated at St. Columba’s College in Dublin, and at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he received a degree in history. Trevor worked as a sculptor under the name Trevor Cox after his graduation from Trinity College, supplementing his income by teaching. He married Jane Ryan in 1952 and emigrated to Great Britain two years later, working as a copywriter for an advertising agency. His first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, was published in 1958, but had little critical success. In 1964, at the age of 36, Trevor won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature for The Old Boys. The win encouraged Trevor to become a full-time writer. He and his family moved to Devon in South West England, where he has resided ever since. In 2002, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom for services to literature. Despite having spent most of his life in England, he considers himself to be “Irish in every vein”.
Works and themes:
He has written several collections of short stories that were well received. His short stories often follow a Chekhovian pattern. The characters in Trevor’s work are typically marginalised members of society: children, the elderly, single middle-aged men and women, or the unhappily married. Those who cannot accept the reality of their lives create their own alternative worlds into which they retreat. A number of the stories use Gothic elements to explore the nature of evil and its connection to madness. Trevor has acknowledged the influence of James Joyce on his short-story writing, and “the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal” can be detected in his work, but the overall impression is not of gloominess, since, particularly in his early work, the author’s wry humour offers the reader a tragicomic version of the world. He has adapted much of his work for stage, television and radio. In 1990, Fools of Fortune was made into a film directed by Pat O’Connor, along with a 1999 film adaptation of Felicia’s Journey, which was directed by Atom Egoyan.
Trevor’s stories are set in both England and Ireland; they range from black comedies to tales based on Irish history and politics. Common themes in his works are the tensions between Protestant (usually Church of Ireland) landowners and Catholic tenants. His early books are peopled by eccentrics who speak in a pedantically formal manner and engage in hilariously comic activities that are recounted by a detached narrative voice. Instead of one central figure, the novels feature several protagonists of equal importance, drawn together by an institutional setting, which acts as a convergence point for their individual stories. The later novels are thematically and technically more complex. The operation of grace in the world is explored, and several narrative voices are used to view the same events from different angles. Unreliable narrators and different perspectives reflect the fragmentation and uncertainty of modern life. Trevor has also explored the decaying institution of the “Big House” in his novels Fools of Fortune and The Story of Lucy Gault.
Awards and honours:
Trevor is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and Aosdána. He was awarded an honorary CBE in 1977 for “services to literature”, and was made a Companion of Literature in 1994. In 2002 he received an honorary knighthood in recognition of his services to literature.
Trevor has been nominated for the Booker Prize five times, making the shortlist in 1970, 1976, 1991 and 2002, and the longlist in 2009. He has won the Whitbread Prize three times and the Hawthornden Prize for Literature once.
In 2002, non-American authors became eligible to compete for the O. Henry Award. Trevor has won the award four times, for his stories “Sacred Statues” (2002), “The Dressmaker’s Child” (2006), “The Room” (2007), a juror favourite of that year, and for “Folie à Deux” (2008).
Trevor was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2011.
1964: Hawthornden Prize for Literature for The Old Boys
1964: Hawthornden Prize for Literature for The Boarding House
1970: Mrs. Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize
1975: Royal Society of Literature for Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories
1976: Whitbread Award for The Children of Dynmouth
Allied Irish Banks Prize for fiction
Heinemann Award for Fiction
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize
1980: Giles Cooper Award for Beyond the Pale
1982: Giles Cooper Award for Autumn Sunshine
1982: Jacob’s Award for TV adaptation of The Ballroom of Romance
1983: Whitbread Prize for Fools of Fortune
1991: Reading Turgenev was shortlisted for the Booker Prize
1994: Whitbread Prize Best Novel for Felicia’s Journey
1999: David Cohen Prize by the Arts Council of England in recognition of his work.
2001: Irish Literature Prize
2002: Irish PEN Award
2002: The Story of Lucy Gault was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award
2003: Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award at the Listowel Writers’ Week
2008: Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award in Irish Literature
A monument to Trevor – a bronze sculpture by Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring in the form of a lectern, with an open book incorporating an image of the writer and a quotation, as well as the titles of his three Whitbread Prize-winning works, and two others of significance – was unveiled in Trevor’s native Mitchelstown on 25 August 2004.
On 23 May 2008, the eve of his 80th birthday, a commemorative plaque, indicating the house on Upper Cork Street, Mitchelstown where Trevor was born, was unveiled by Louis McRedmond.