Penguin General author Sir William Trevor has died
Sir William Trevor passed away on 20 November 2016. He was 88 years old. He is survived by his wife Jane and their two sons, Patrick and Dominic.
Born as William Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland in 1928, William Trevor was educated at St. Columba's College in Dublin. After graduating in history from Trinity College, Dublin, Trevor married Jane Ryan whom he’d met at university and to whom he dedicated many of his books and the couple moved to England where Trevor set himself up as a sculptor ‘rather like Jude the Obscure without the talent’ as he once described himself. The first of two sons was born in London where Trevor got a job as copywriter and it was only when he took a full-time job at a London advertising agency that he really began writing. His first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, which he subsequently disowned and refused to have republished, came out in 1958. In later years he chose to describe The Old Boys, which was published in 1964 and went on to win the Hawthornden Prize for Literature, as his first novel. In its comedic portrayal of unseemly, sometimes desperate behaviour hidden beneath a thin veil of decorum, it prefigured the theme of most of his early and middle-period novels, many of them set in a rundown, post-War London. Later he turned his attention to his native Ireland, and in particular the tensions between the fading Anglo-Irish gentry and their Catholic neighbours. These were more complex books, exploring ideas of loyalty and betrayal, loss and belonging, often through multiple viewpoints, but always with a deeply felt compassion for all his characters.
Trevor went on to write over fifteen novels, which were garlanded with awards: he won the Whitbread Prize three times and was short-listed for the Booker Prize four times, most recently with The Story of Lucy Gault in 2002, which was a favourite for the Prize but lost out to The Life of Pi. Trevor’s novels are widely admired but it is perhaps on his short stories that his literary reputation will come to rest. For many years a contributor of stories to the New Yorker, he had a firm belief that the short story was as great an art form as the novel, and as difficult to write. His Collected Stories, published by Viking in two volumes in 2009, runs to almost 2000 pages, and the best of them, including ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, ‘Kathleen’s Field’ and ‘Cheating at Canasta’, are among the greatest stories of the last half-century, drawing comparison with the earlier masters of the form, Chekhov, Maupassant and Joyce.
A modest and private man, Trevor disliked talking about his books and abhorred any personal publicity, believing that the work should stand for itself. He lived for many years in a secluded house in Devon, visiting Ireland frequently, taking walking holidays in Italy, and pursuing his passions of gardening and watching sport – especially rugby, cricket and tennis. But it was writing that truly absorbed him.
In September 2015, in a ceremony presided over by the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, Trevor was elected Saoi of Aosdána, an honour which has previously been bestowed on writers such as Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. President Higgins paid tribute to Trevor as ‘a writer of world renown, of great distinction, of towering achievements, of elegance and grace’.