English publishing house Peninsula follow up their early-2023 reprint of Maeve Brennan’s The Springs Of Affection with an extended edition of The Long-Winded Lady, the mercurial Irish writer’s collection of observational columns for the New Yorker. Originally published in 1969, the handful of entries added by Peninsula stretch to 1981, though for Brennan the 1970s had been an effective wilderness decade from which she never recovered.
The Long-Winded Lady shares its title with that of the column, and though its length varies greatly from entry to entry (this indulgence is a clue to how valuable New Yorker editors considered Brennan, I imagine) it’s no more than self-effacing. She goes into the NYC streets alone, for dinner or a drink, and describes what she sees with balletic poise, crisp simplicity and the bare minimum of ten-dollar words, generally detached from the scenes she sketches but more shadowy spirit than booming, omniscient deity.
Some of these columns have historical import, with anti-Vietnam War protests a repeat feature of the late 60s; others describe scenes contained only within that moment, as pedestrians move through the streets like water and diners puzzle over menus. Each is given equal gravity by Brennan’s prose style, a model of levity where a tip-over into flippancy (which never happens) could be ruinous. Beyond this, The Long-Winded Lady also documents a seachange in New York’s urban design which still resonates today, with blocks levelled and repurposed for office space, and captures an era in journalism where a writer such as Brennan could have their gift put to toil-free use.
The Long-Winded Lady, Maeve Brennan (Peninsula)
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER