Today in Literary History – July 30, 2012 – Irish writer Maeve Binchy dies

The internationally popular Irish writer Maeve Binchy died in Dublin on July 30, 2012, at the age of 73. Her novels were translated into 37 languages and have sold over 40 million copies worldwide.

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Binchy published four collections of short stories and 16 novels in her lifetime. (A Week in Winter, her last novel, was published posthumously.)

Her novels include Light a Penny Candle (1982), Echoes (1985), Circle of Friends (1990), and Tara Road (1998).

Her books and stories tackle difficult themes for an Irish writer: abortion, marital infidelity, alcoholism, poverty, and serious medical problems as they all impact women’s lives.

“My own feminism,” she told an interviewer, “came from feeling that women were sometimes too humble and took themselves too timidly…and that only by being courageous and taking charge of their lives did they succeed.”

She later wrote, in opposition to what women were usually told, “Men like fat, cuddly women. Men like women without make-up. Men like women in midi-length clothes. Everyone looks better in summer than winter. Pregnant women are beautiful. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t beautiful.”

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Binchy herself was a big woman, 6 foot 1 and hefty, and proud of It. She never apologized for he appearance and said that when she was a teacher, in the years before she became a journalist and novelist:

“I was very anxious to give the girls I taught confidence…it didn’t matter about being married, or rich or good looking or thin, inner happiness is what we create for ourselves… I try to do it in my books now. Women don’t need to be rescued, they rescue themselves.”

Binchy was born in 1939 and had a conventional Irish Catholic upbringing. When she was 23 she spent time on an Israeli kibbutz.

She wrote letters back to her parents, which her father submitted to a local newspaper. The paper published them, convincing Binchy that she had a future in writing. Her experience in Israel also made her into an agnostic.

Back in Ireland, she became a teacher and lived with her parents, caring for each of them before their deaths.

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With her husband Gordon Snel

In her mid-thirties she met Gordon Snel, an English children’s book writer. They married in 1977, and had a very happy life together up until her death.

Binchy was in poor health and great pain in the last decade of her life, having to cancel many promotional appearances. She suffered from serious heart problems, osteoarthritis, and a spinal infection, before suffering a fatal heart attack.

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