Elizabeth Cullinan joins company with other important Irish American writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Brendan Gill, and James T. Farrell. She was born in 1933 to Irish parents and raised in New York City where she attended Catholic schools and, later, Marymount College in Manhattan. Many of her early experiences as an Irish American Catholic inform her writing. In 1955, Cullinan began working for New Yorker magazine as a secretary while at the same time launching her literary career. Her early stories were published in the New Yorker; these were later collected in The Time of Adam (1971). During the 1960s, Cullinan lived for several years in Ireland. Throughout the 1960s–1970s, she continued to publish stories in the New Yorker as well as in other magazines. In 1970, her first novel, House of Gold, appeared; it was the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Novel for that year. In 1977, Cullinan became a faculty member at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where she taught for one year. A second collection of short stories, Yellow Roses, was published that year. Cullinan’s second novel, A Change of Season, a story of an Irish American woman’s sojourn in Dublin, appeared in 1982.
Elizabeth Cullinan’s most important work, House of Gold, develops the themes that are found throughout the author’s canon. These include the domineering Irish American matriarch, the dutiful daughter, and the strong influence of ritual Catholicism on the Irish American family. Catholic themes and symbols abound in Cullinan’s works and are interconnected, lending her writings a sense of continuity.
The basic premise of House of Gold revolves around the death of the elderly matriarch of a large Irish American family, Mrs. Julia Devlin. Although the events of the novel occur at an unspecified time, the atmosphere evoked is