Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 February 2020
Seán O’Faoláin is the embodiment in twentieth-century Irish cultural life of a version of the European public intellectual. A commentator on Irish and world affairs, he responded frequently to the political directives of the mid-century decades, pushing against the pressures towards insularity and clerical nationalism and recruiting literary culture to his cause. Co-founder of the influential journal The Bell, he was also a journalist and essayist, the author of fiction, several major biographies, travel writer and literary critic. Across this eclectic oeuvre O’Faoláin advanced his sense of a world in which the writer worked to maintain connections with English and Continental culture, claiming for Ireland a European position. In the 1940s his voice was perhaps at its most impressive and diverse, culminating in the publication in 1947 of The Irish: A Character Study, his vibrant diagnosis of the emerging nation. This chapter reassesses O’Faoláin’s role as a European public intellectual in a time of global crisis, drawing new comparisons between O’Faoláin and a diverse array of contemporary commentators including Jean-Paul Sartre, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Karl Popper and Hannah Arendt.