Born Mary Nesta Skrine in Ireland, Keane did not have literary aspirations as a child. Yet, after finding herself bed bound due to suspected tuberculosis, Keane wrote and published her first book - The Knight of Cheerful Countenance - under the pseudonym 'M J Farrell' and began her successful and prolific literary career. Keane explained that she used a pseudonym because 'for a women to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house'. She went on to published numerous other novels and was one of the leading playwrights of the 1930s.
Compared to the likes of Nancy Mitford and Jane Austen, Keane's literary talents centre on her ability to create characters and along with her wit and keen understanding of what lay beneath the façades of people's actions, allowed her to depict the middle-class world of 1920s and 1930s Ireland with such brutal honesty. Perhaps Keane is now best known for Good Behaviour which tells the story of the St. Charles family and was nominated for the Booker Prize. Narrated by the daughter of the family, nothing is as it initially seems: a cold mother, gay brother and similarly inclined love interest all go unseen because society is focused on preserving good behaviour.
Devoted Ladies - Published in 1934, Devoted Ladies focuses on Jessica and Jane who have been living together for six months and are devoted friends – or are they? Jessica loves her friend with the cruelty of total possessiveness; Jane is rich, silly, and drinks rather too many brandy-and-sodas. Watching from the sidelines, their friend Sylvester regrets that Jane should be loved and bullied and perhaps even murdered by that frightful Jessica, but decides it’s none of his business. When the Irish gentleman George Playfair meets Jane, however, he thinks otherwise and entices her to Ireland where the battle for her devotion begins.