Fitz-James O'Brien: Selected Literary Journalism, 1852-1860

Fitz-James O'Brien: Selected Literary Journalism, 1852-1860

Fitz-James O'Brien: Selected Literary Journalism, 1852-1860

Fitz-James O'Brien: Selected Literary Journalism, 1852-1860

Synopsis

In the decade that followed his arrival in the United States in 1851, the transplanted Irishman Fitz-James O'Brien (1828-1862) was an active literary journalist, producing a steady stream of contributions to newspapers, weeklies, and monthly magazines, in New York and elsewhere. As poet, short story writer, essayist, dramatist, and critic he won a reputation as one of the ablest of the young writers in the city of New York. This book reintroduces O'Brien to modern readers, bringing together thirty-four of his writings, all but two of which are reprinted here for the first time. "Fitz-James O'Brien promotes renewed recognition of its subject as a man strikingly attuned to the fashions, enthusiasms, and concerns that manifested themselves in his adoptive country during the years that preceded the Civil War. It makes the case that, not only for his vivid contemporaneity but also for his originality, range, and technical skill, the young author's hope for lasting memory as a man of letters was well founded. A checklist of the author's published writings between 1852 and 1864 provides a useful basis for further inquiry.

Excerpt

“No more electric and versatile genius had ever appeared among American authors,” Fred Lewis Partee wrote of the transplanted Irishman Fitz-James O’Brien (1828–1862). in the decade that followed his arrival in the United States in 1851 O’Brien produced a steady stream of contributions to newspapers, chiefly the New York Times, and to weekly and monthly magazines. As poet, short story writer, essayist, dramatist, reporter, reviewer, drama critic, and editor he won reputation as one of the ablest of the young writers in the city of New York. “As a literary man,” a Times editor wrote in an obituary tribute, “O’Brien was completely successful.. .. His fertility was extraordinary” (10 April 1862, p. 5).

The full range of O’Brien’s talents was apparent only to his immediate contemporaries, who encountered his latest productions as they appeared in print from week to week, year after year. Soon after his early death the sense of wonder at his abilities began to dissipate. Readers during the Civil War turned their attention to matters of more pressing concern, and, meanwhile his works lay outside easy reach, buried in old periodical files. in 1881, William Winter, assisted by some of the late author’s colleagues, brought out a one-volume collection, The Poems and Stories of Fitz-James O ‘Brien (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company). and for more than a century that single volume, with several shorter reprintings derived from it, has almost by itself formed the basis for O’Brien’s continuing reputation. Thanks chiefly to the intervention of Winter, O’Brien was spared the oblivion that so often awaits even the ablest literary journalists. Early in the twentieth century he continued to be generally admired—not, indeed, for the variety of his achievements, but as an innovator in the short story. Henry Seidel Canby and others considered him the most significant practitioner of the form in the United States during the 1850s. However, in more recent decades O’Brien’s reputation has dimmed and become more narrowly specialized. He is now remembered, if at all, as the author of a few landmark tales of the macabre and the supernatural, including “What . . .

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