Born 1886, Derry, Northern Ireland; died 25 March 1952, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Married Charles O'Maher; children: a son and a daughter
The oldest of five children, Kathleen Coyle describes her youth as a "tragic Brontë sort of childhood." Educated at home by a French governess and by her father's library, Coyle started writing when she was very young.
Although Magical Realm (1943) describes her early years, Coyle was reticent about her private life and few details are known. She lived in Paris for many years before moving to New York at the beginning of World War I. She married Charles O'Maher who predeceased her; she had a daughter and a son. Although she suffered from poor health, Coyle was a prolific writer.
Coyle's first novel was published in 1923, but it was her fifth and best known novel Liv (1929) that established her reputation. It was translated into Italian as Come un Volo d'uccelli (1944). In the novel Liv Evensen asks to go to Paris to study cooking before marrying Harold Christensen. In Paris she meets the Dadaists and falls in love with Per Mazons who will not dissolve his loveless marriage because of the financial security it offers. While Liv experiences an intense relationship with Per, there is no affair. She leaves Paris and returns home to Norway to a sympathetic aunt.
Liv's life in Paris touches the expatriate experience, the moral consequences of rootlessness: "We feel that we can do what we like and people won't know, our own people I mean." Liv is passionate but reason is her greater strength.
Coyle judged A Flock of Birds (1930) to be her best book. A critical success, it is a mother's story. Catherine Munster's son Christy is sentenced to death for shooting a British soldier in Dublin in 1919. His older brother Valentine, a former British Army officer, disapproves of Christy but tries to intercede on his behalf. Christy's sister Kathleen carries a petition to well-known Dublin literary figures. Only Catherine Munster is willing to see her son die for his ideals. "He was dying at the right moment, at twenty-one, with one thing well done and nothing undone." Frank about her possessive love for her son, Catherine realizes that she'd rather see Christy die while he is hers.
Coyle was widely read but she never emerged from the ranks of minor novelists. Able powerfully to evoke emotion, she sacrificed clarity for intensity. Most of Coyle's women have too much spirit and intelligence for the lives they are given. Failing to find an acceptable focus, their energy is usually destructive. Liv, the heroine of her most successful book, is an exception; she is saved by her self-possession. It is Coyle's examination of her past, a past that was responsible for her tragic mode, that is of lasting interest. Explaining her preoccupation with the past, she says in Magical Realm (1943), "Why, at the end of life, we return so insistently to the mould of our childhood is simply because it is only at the end that we are capable of comprehending the beginning."
Picadilly (1923). The Widow's House (1923). Youth in the Saddle (1927). Shule Agra (1927). It is Better to Tell (1927). There Is a Door (1931). The French Husband (1932). The Skeleton (1933). Morning Comes Early (1934). Undue Fulfillment (1934). Immortal Ease (1939). Brittany Summer (1940). Who Dwells with Wonder (1940). Josephine (1942). To Hold Against Famine (1942). Major (1942).
West, R., preface to Kathleen Coyle's Liv (1929).
TCA (1942, 1955).
NYT (29 March 1952). WLB (May 1952).