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Leland Bardwell Biography

dublin ireland poetry london

Nationality: Irish Born: Leland Hone, India, 1928. Education: Alexandra School, Dublin; London University, 1950s. Career: Various jobs, London and Paris, 1940s; playwright and writer for radio, Ireland, 1960s; poetry editor, Force 10 magazine, County Sligo, Ireland.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Girl on a Bicycle: A Novel. Dublin, Irish Writers Co-operative, 1977.

That London Winter. Dublin, Co-op Books, 1981.

The House. Dingle, Ireland, Brandon, 1984.

There We Have Been. Dublin, Attic Press, 1989.

Short Stories

Different Kinds of Love. Dublin, Attic Press, 1987.

Poetry

The Mad Cyclist. Dublin, New Writers' Press, 1970.

The Fly and the Bed Bug. Dublin, Beaver Row Press, 1984.

Dostoevsky's Grave: Selected Poems. Dublin, Dedalus, 1991.

The White Beach: New and Selected Poems, 1960-1998. Cliffs ofMoher, Ireland, Salmon Publishing, 1998.

Plays

Thursday. Dublin, Trinity College, 1972.

Open Ended Prescription. Dublin, Peacock Theatre, 1979.

Edith Piaf. Dublin, Olympia Theatre, 1984.

Other

Contributor, Ms. Muffet and Others: A Funny, Sassy, Heretical Collection of Feminist Fairytales. Dublin, Attic Press, 1986.

Editor, with others, The Anthology. Dublin, Co-Op Books, 1982.

* * *

Over the past four decades Leland Bardwell has been an important and popular presence in Irish writing. As a poet, dramatist, short story writer, and novelist, Bardwell has consistently produced work that is noted for its complexity, creativity, detail, and craftsmanship. Originally a poet, Bardwell turned to prose in the 1970s as a means of supporting her family. Girl on a Bicycle, set in 1940s Ireland, was her first novel and it introduced several of the themes that continue to resurface in Bardwell's subsequent writing. Through the character of a young Protestant woman attempting to negotiate life—ultimately unsuccessfully—in a new Catholic state, Bardwell explores both the reality of being Protestant in England, and what it means to be an individual caught up in the momentum of historical change. In both of these central thematic questions, Bardwell's own experience is evident: Protestant herself, born in colonial India and brought to Ireland at the age of two, she has not only lived through the violent political upheaval of twentieth-century Ireland, but also survived being bombed while living in London during World War II. As a former extramural student at London University, Bardwell has been able to situate these experiences in relation to the ancient history she studied, and furthermore realize their potential for literary and mythic treatment, as evident in much of her poetry, where she often incorporates mythical and historical figures in poems that signify the contemporary present.

Bardwell's best-known novel to date, The House, and her latest novel, There We Have Been, continue to probe questions of history, memory, relationships, personal identity, and Protestantism. Both of these novels reveal Bardwell's ability to convincingly create and then mine the psyches of individual characters, and the kinds of personal crises that underlie their everyday lives. In The House a middle-aged Irish Protestant man who has been living in England returns to his family home in Ireland. When confronted with the physical space of his history, memories of his childhood refuse to be contained, forcing him to confront the history of his emotional relationships as well. Those factors that are supposed to define him as an individual—familial ties, religion, etc.—are revealed to be both problematic and tenuous, and Bardwell's protagonist must reconsider just what and who has made him what he is. There We Have Been features a similar return by a protagonist to a childhood home. Just as the farm Diligence Strong returns to has been neglected, so too have her memories of, and questions about, the personal past. In struggling with the presence of her emotionally distant brother and the memories of a sister whose death has never been satisfactorily understood, Diligence must strip away the fabrications families and individuals construct in an attempt to perpetuate the illusion of coherence in their lives.

That Bardwell situates a return to home as the crucial generative action of each book suggests how fundamental she believes space and place, as mitigated by history, to be in the formation of individuals. Furthermore, it underscores how central she understands memory to be as an ordering principle of the imagination, a theme that recurs in her poetry. For Bardwell, the individual is always in some way in the process of "returning," whether it be a physical return, an emotional one, or both. In 1998 Bardwell published her fourth book of poetry, The White Beach: New and Selected Poems, 1960-1998, which is resonant with returns. Divided into four sections, each of which chronicles one of the four decades during which she has been writing, the collection poetically documents the personal and political developments of Bardwell's life to date, demonstrating their inextricability. Her poetry, so deeply personal in its reflections on her relationships and experiences, nevertheless veers away from egocentrism, documenting those she has encountered and been moved by with equal sensitivity and clarity, particularly the lives of other women. This anticipated poetic overview of four decades' experience and literary output is expected to be followed by an equally anticipated new novel.

—Jennifer Harris

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