Kathleen Mary Louise "Kate" O'Brien was born in Limerick City in 1897. Many of her books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that were new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, was banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices was banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she wrote plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues. Throughout her life, O'Brien felt a particular affinity with Spain—while her experiences in the Basque Country inspired Mary Lavelle, she also wrote a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, and she used the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.
O'Brien wrote a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it has been argued that she was close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promoted gender equality and were mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. Kate O'Brien's determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity — several of her books include positive gay/lesbiancharacters —, make her a pioneer in queer literary representation.
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