James Joyce has a rival in Maeve Brennan. In her first work, "The Visitor," Brennan creates a chilling portrait of a young woman, Anastasia King. But Anastasia is no Stephen Dedalus. Unlike Stephen, she is uneducated and has limited opportunities. Crossing the channel in opposite directions, for opposite reasons, Anastasia and Stephen have visions of different destinies.
"Somewhere in her mind a voice was saying clearly, 'Ireland is my dwelling place, Dublin is my station. . . .Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty, it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and times gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness. . . . Comical and hopeless, the long gaze back is always turned inward."
"Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated consciousness of my race" ("A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man").
For Joyce and Brennan, Dublin proved to be a cold inhospitable place from which they chose to escape--Joyce to Paris and Brennan to the United States. Here, in her new "station," Brennan created a perfect novella, "The Visitor." This undiscovered masterpiece will now take its place besides Joyce's perfect novella, "The Dead."
To say a novella is perfect is to say that one has no words to add nor subtract, for the work is rare, beautiful, and truth-telling. "The Visitor" speaks volumes about the Irish temper; the icy chill that greets Anastasia shivers through one's soul.
Christopher Carduff adds an insightful Editor's Note to the novella. In it, he says, "In the music of Maeve Brennan, three notes repeatedly sound together-a ravenous grudge, a ravenous nostalgia, and a ravenous need for love. In `The Visitor' she plays this chord for the first time, announcing the key of all the songs to follow." What follows are: "The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin," "The Rose Garden: Short Stories," and "The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker."
Read "The Visitor" first: an entrée into the mind of a mistress of manners, Maeve Brennan.