Monday, April 5, 2010

Short Story Monday: "First Confession" by Frank O'Connor

March may be over, but I'm still reading Irish authors. Frank O'Connor (1903 - 1966) is best known for his short stories and memoirs. In "First Confession", I found all the elements I've come to expect in Irish fiction - religion, family disagreements, guilt, and alcohol.

The opening sentence drew me in:
"All the trouble began when my grandfather died and my grandmother - my father's mother - came to live with us."

We learn that the grandmother, a country woman, is unsuited to life in town. She walks around the house barefoot, eats with her fingers, and drinks quite a bit of porter - straight from the jug. The narrator, a seven-year-old boy named Jackie, is mortified by this behavior, while his older sister Nora "sucked up to the old woman for the penny she got every Friday out of the old-age pension..."

In one instance, we find Jackie, who refuses to eat any meal prepared by his grandmother, hiding under the table threatening to protect himself with a butter knife as Nora tries to force the food upon him.

Jackie is preparing for his first confession and communion. The teacher, who talks mostly about hell, has scared him to death. When the day of confession arrives, Jackie's mother sends Nora to accompany him to the church.
"Now that girl had ways of tormenting me that Mother never knew of. She held my hand as we went down the hill, smiling sadly and saying how sorry she was for me, as if she were bringing me to the hospital for an operation.

"Oh, God help us!" she moaned. "Isn't it a terrible pity you weren't a good boy? Oh, Jackie, my heart bleeds for you! How will you ever think of all your sins? Don't forget you have to tell him about the time you kicked Gran on the shin."

Nora goes to confession first.
"Nora's turn came, and I heard the sound of something slamming, and then her voice as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, and then another slam, and out she came. God, the hypocrisy of women! Her eyes were lowered, her head was bowed, and her hands were joined very low down on her stomach, and she walked up the aisle to the side alter looking like a saint. You never saw such an exhibition of devotion; and I remember the devilish malice with which she had tormented me all the way from our door, and wondered were all religious people like that, really."

Jackie's turn follows. The description of the confession is quite comical and well worth reading. The entire piece is about five pages long and can be found here. I loved this story and will look for others by Frank O'Connor.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.


  1. Thank you for the link! This sounds wonderful and I'm very glad to hear it's available online. *clicks*

  2. Sounds like a good story. Siblings are so good at tormenting each other.

  3. I just came back from reading the story myself. That was a wonderful and funny story. Thanks for the link. I like the way you gave me all those quotes. You suckered me right into reading the whole thing. Thanks - I loved it. Now I have to read more Frank O'Connorl.

  4. This one sounds like a hoot for sure!! Love the Irish and their guilt!!!

  5. Nymeth - You're welcome! Hope you like it.

    Carolsnotebook - They sure are, and O'Connor just nailed that relationship.

    Margot - I'm so glad you read the story! Let me know if you find more on line. I haven't had a chance to check yet.

    Staci - Ah yes... the Irish-Catholic guilt! This is a great story.

  6. Poor Jackie. :) I haven't read any Irish authors. Have you read Angelas Ashes? It's sitting on my shelf, but I haven't decided if I want to read it.

  7. Kim - I read Angela's Ashes years ago when it first came out. Thought it was good, but didn't love it like all my friends seemed to.

  8. Thanks for the link! I listened to a reading of O'Connor's story The Man of the World recently and I loved it. Very good writing :)

  9. Mark David - Thanks for mentioning The Man of the World. I was totally unfamiliar with O'Connor prior to reading First Confession, but am now looking forward to reading more of his work.


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