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Molly Keane (M J Farrell)

Molly Keane (1904 - 1996), author of Good Behaviour and Time after Time, also wrote under the pseudonym M J Farrell, under which name she wrote several stories based on hunting life, and Red Letter Days.

Molly Keane was born Molly Skrine, and spent her childhood in Ireland and Bath. It was a lonely and miserable time. She spent her teenage and young adult years back in Ireland, in East Cork and Waterford, living the life of a “Horse Protestant”. Her social life, and that of her friends, involved entirely around the same limited circle of people, and on horses and hunting. In order to fund her hunting, Molly started writing under a pseudonym, as to have been known as a writer would have been social death. Mills and Boon published her first effort, The Knight of the Cheerful Countenance (1926), which was followed by Young Entry (E Matthews & Marrot, 1928). In the preface to the 1987 Andre Deutsch edition of Red Letter Days, she wrote: “When I was a young writer my thoughts and my books were all on foxhunting. It was a way of life and a religion with me….” She described her books as “seventy thousand words through which the cry of hounds reverberates continuously.”

Illustrator of that religion for Molly and her circle was the artist Snaffles, whom she described as “one of its highest priests”, whose pictures “canonised our closest aspirations for ourselves, for the men in our lives, and for the performance of our horses.” When they learned that Snaffles was due to stay with a local landowner for a day’s hunting with the Island Hounds, they were agog. Their first sight of Snaffles was of someone “uncertain… rather pale and distant”, having drunk rather too deep of his host’s notorious port. He improved on acquaintance: Molly Keane remembered his ability to keep up with hounds, his powers of observation, and his uncritical liking for, and sympathy with, people.

Molly married Bobby Keane in 1938. He encouraged her writing, and she wrote several plays. Her first, Spring Meeting, was well received, but those that followed it, less so. After Bobby’s death in 1946, Molly devoted herself to bringing up her children, and by the early 1950s, had written her last novel as M J Farrell. She stopped writing until the 1980s, when she published Good Behaviour in 1981, under the name Molly Keane. It took a darkly comic look at the Irish society she knew so well, and was nominated for the Booker prize.

Finding the books: first editions are generally hard to find and expensive (apart from Point-to-Point). Virago have reprinted virtually all M J Farrell’s works, and these are easy to find.

Links and sources

Obituary, The Independent, Tuesday 23 April, 1996

Preface of Red Letter Days, Deutsch edn

Polly Devlin, Introduction, MJ Farrell / Molly Keane, The Rising Tide, Virago, 1984

Bibliography - horse books only

Young Entry

E Matthews & Marrot, London, 1928, 1929, 320 pp.

Virago, London, 1989

Prudence is 19, and is the despair of her guardians. With her best friend, Peter, she rackets around
with her horses and her dogs. There is a new MFH, Major Anthony Countless, and Prudence feels
betrayed by Peter’s increasing interest in him. And then there is Prudence’s handsome neighbour,
Toby Sage…

Taking Chances

E Matthews & Marrot, London, 1929, 271 pp.

Virago, London, 1987

Roguey, Maeve, and Jer have looked after each other, and their house, Sorristown, since the death
of their parents. Their harmonious existence is shaken when Maeve is to marry Rowley, and her
bridesmaid Mary arrives to stay.


Farrar & Rinehart, New York, 1933. 280 pp.

I suspect this is one of M J Farrell’s earlier novels under a different name. There is no record of
this title in any of the UK copyright libraries.

Red Letter Days

Collins, London, 1933, illus Snaffles

Andre Deutsch, London, 1987, illus Snaffles, 81 pp plus “Leaves from my sketchbook”

The story of six different sporting days in Ireland.

Devoted Ladies

Collins, London, 1934, 296 pp.

Little, Brown, New York, 1934

Pan Books, London, 1950

Virago, London, 1984, (Intro Polly Devlin), 2006

Full House

Collins, London, 1935, 315 pp.

Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1937, 185 pp.

Virago, London, 1986

Lady Bird, “oppressively girlish”, owns the Irish mansion, Silverue. Her children are no worry to her,
except her son John, due to return from an asylum. To help her through this potentially awkward
event, she hopes for help and support from her confidante, Eliza, but that is not quite what she gets.

The Rising Tide

Collins, London, 1937, 320 pp,

Virago, London, 1984, 2006

Garonlea is ruled over by Lady Charlotte French-McGrath, until that is, her son Desmond becomes
engaged to Cynthia, whose life is a whirl of hunting and drinking. But the ghosts of Garonlea are
simply waiting.


Snaffles on Racing and Point-to-Pointing
John Welcome & Rupert Collens

Foreword by Molly Keane (M J  Farrell).

The Knight of the Cheerful Countenance

Mills and Boon, London, 1926, 254 pp.

Virago, London, 1993

Mad Puppetstown

Collins, London, 1931, 288 pp.

Virago, London, 1985

Easter lives with her Aunt Brenda, her cousins Evelyn and Basil, and their Great-Aunt
Dicksie in Puppetstown, where they have a wild and idyllic childhood. The war in
Ireland finally affects them, and they all flee to England, except Aunt Dicksie, who
stays on, kept company by Patsy, the boot boy.

Conversation Piece

Collins, London, 1932, 279 pp.

Oliver visits Pullinstown, and his cousins, where he experiences wild days of hunting and shooting.

The Welcome Collection - Fourteen Racing Stories

Authors include:

M J Farrell, Dick Francis, John Welcome, Edgar Wallace,Cecil Mann, E C Somerville, Tim Carew

Michael Joseph, London, 1972

Two Days in Aragon

Collins, London, 1941, 256 pp.

Virago, London, 1985

Virago Omnibus, 1987

Grania and Sylvia live in Aragon with their mother, aunt and Nan O'Neill, the family nurse. Grania is
having a fling with Nan's son, Foley, who breeds horses. All seems calm at Aragon, but its days
of strawberry teas are numbered, because Foley is a member of Sinn Fein.