do thorn birds kill themselves

Colleen McCullough, the Australian author of the best-selling novel “The Thorn Birds,” an epic story of illicit love in the outback that became one of the most successful television miniseries ever, died Jan. 29 at a hospital on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific. She was 77.

Published by Harper and Row in 1977, “The Thorn Birds” was a multi-generational saga that traced a sheep-farming family from 1915 to 1969 and that featured a heroine, Meggie Cleary, who falls desperately and impossibly in love with a Catholic priest, Ralph de Bricassart. It has sold 30 million copies around the world.

At the time of its publication, the novel was compared to Margaret Mitchells “Gone with the Wind” — more recently, People magazine called it the ” Fifty Shades of Grey of its time” — and sparked breathless excitement among its many female readers, as well as among publishing executives.

Months before the novel’s official release, Avon Books paid $1.9 million — a record at the time — for paperback rights.

The book’s 500-plus pages became the 10-hour TV version that appeared on ABC in 1983, featuring Richard Chamberlain as Father Ralph, Rachel Ward as Meggie and Christopher Plummer as the archbishop. With tens of millions of viewers, “The Thorn Birds” joined such programs as “Roots” and “The Winds of War” in the front rank of miniseries juggernauts.Advertisement

The whole affair, book and TV show, might never have been if Ms. McCullough had not been allergic to soap.

After what she described as a miserable childhood, she aspired to a career in medicine but was forced to discard that ambition when she developed an intolerance to antiseptic scrub. In the 1960s, her interest in neurophysiology took her to Yale University as a researcher.

Financial worries, along with her grief over a failed relationship, propelled her to start writing there. “I have found that writing is the only thing I can do that obviates that kind of misery,” she once told an interviewer, according to the reference guide Current Biography.

Her first book, called “Tim,” was published in 1974 and became the 1979 movie starring actor Mel Gibson in the title role, a man modeled on one of Ms. McCulloughs patients who embarked on a romance with an older woman despite his developmental disabilities.Advertisement

Ms. McCullough said that she wrote an early draft of “The Thorn Birds,” her second book, in six weeks while holding down her position at Yale. The title, she said, came from a Celtic legend about a bird that impales itself on a thorn tree “and in its dying agony sings out beautifully.”

“I was midway through writing my book, when I realized this is what my characters were doing,” she told an interviewer in 1977. “You know there are people like that. Their tragedies are self-induced. They bring it all on themselves and are terribly heroic about it.”

In the nearly 40 years since the book was released, few if any critics have cited it as a masterpiece of high literature. Paul Gray, a reviewer for Time magazine, described its “perfervid prose,” replete with exclamations. “What a father youd have made, Father!” was one of them.Advertisement

“To expect The Thorn Birds to be a Great Book would be unfair,” Alice K. Turner, best known as the fiction editor at Playboy magazine, wrote in the New York Times. “There are things wrong with it, stock characters, plot contrivances and so forth. But to dismiss it would also be wrong. . . . It offers the best heartthrob since Rhett Butler, plenty of exotic color, plenty of Tolstoyan unhappiness and a good deal of connivance and action. “

The feminist writer Germaine Greer called it “the best bad book I had ever read.”

The miniseries collected a raft of Emmy and Golden Globe awards and a massive number of fans, although Ms. McCullough was not among them. She called the TV version “instant vomit.”

Nothing if not industrious, Ms. McCullough said that she sometimes wrote as many as 20,000 words in a workday, which could last as long as 18 hours. She produced more than 20 books, including a seven-volume series of historical fiction called “Masters of Rome” and a series of crime stories centered on the fictional detective Carmine Delmonico.Advertisement

Colleen Margaretta McCullough was born June 1, 1937, in Wellington, in New South Wales. The family moved frequently to find work for her father.

“Get out and get a job as a mangle hand in a laundry,” she recalled her father telling her. “That’s all you’re good for — you’ll never get a husband, you’re too big and fat and ugly.”Advertisement

After university studies in Sydney, she worked in London before landing at Yale, where she stayed for a decade in the 1960s and ’70s.

Ms. McCullough infused her fiction with some of her own experiences, including the loss of her brother, who rescued two women from drowning and then died in what Ms. McCullough suspected was a suicide. Dane, a character in “The Thorn Birds,” dies under similar circumstances. Besides her fiction, Ms. McCullough wrote a memoir, “Life Without the Boring Bits.”

Ms. McCullough said that she amassed a library that included several thousand books on ancient Rome.

“Like Caesar, I think its an eternal sleep,” she told an Australian interviewer, referring to death. “I dont think theres anything to be scared of.”A note to our readers

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She had wanted to become a doctor after what she called a terrible upbringing, but she had to give up that dream after discovering she was allergic to antiseptic scrubs. Her passion for neurophysiology led her to study as a researcher at Yale University in the 1960s.

On June 1, 1937, Colleen Margaretta McCullough was born in Wellington, New South Wales. The family moved frequently to find work for her father.

“The Thorn Birds,” a multigenerational story that followed a sheep-farming family from 1915 to 1969 and was published by Harper and Row in 1977, starred Meggie Cleary as the protagonist, who has an uncontrollably strong romantic attachment to Ralph de Bricassart, a Catholic priest. It has sold 30 million copies around the world.

At the time of its publication, the novel was compared to Margaret Mitchells “Gone with the Wind” — more recently, People magazine called it the ” Fifty Shades of Grey of its time” — and sparked breathless excitement among its many female readers, as well as among publishing executives.

In 1977, she said during an interview, “I realized this is what my characters were doing halfway through writing my book.” “You know there are people like that. Their tragedies are self-induced. They are incredibly heroic about it and bring it all on themselves. ”.

Plot edit

The story opens in New Zealand on December 8, 1915, Meghann “Meggie” Cleary’s fourth birthday. She is the only child of Irish farm laborer Padraic (“Paddy”) and his wife Fiona (“Fee”). Meggie, who has curly red-gold hair and is gorgeous, is not given much attention and has to work hard to be accepted by her family, which at the time consisted of five older brothers. Frank, the oldest brother and her favorite, is a disobedient young man who is obligingly training to become a blacksmith. Though much smaller than his other brothers, he possesses great strength. He is thought to have inherited his black hair and eyes from his Maori great-great-grandmother, in contrast to the other Clearys.

Mary Carson, Paddy’s affluent sister, is a widow who resides on the massive sheep station of Drogheda in New South Wales, Australia. The Cleary family relocates from New Zealand to Australia in 1921 after Paddy accepts Mary’s offer of a job on her estate one day.

The family meets Ralph de Bricassart, a young, gifted, and driven priest, in Drogheda. He was banished to a secluded parish in Gillanbone, a town close to Drogheda, as retribution for insulting a bishop. In the hopes that Mary Carson’s sizeable donation to the Catholic Church would free him from his banishment, Ralph has made friends with her. Mary goes to tremendous measures to entice Ralph, who she describes as “a beautiful man,” to break his vows. Ralph ignores her advances and ploys and carries on with his visits. He looks after all of the Clearys, but he especially treasures little Meggie, who is abandoned.

Franks relationship with his father, Paddy, has never been peaceful. The two vie for Fees attention. Frank is angry at Paddy for making her endure so many pregnancies. The two men fight savagely, Fee, who is now in her 40s, admits she is pregnant once more, and Paddy tells Frank he is not his biological son. It is revealed that Fee, a well-known New Zealand citizen’s daughter, had an affair with a married politician. Frank, the outcome, was just 18 months old when Fee wed Paddy. Fees’s favorite child has always been Frank because he reminds her of her lost love. Following their disagreement, Frank leaves to pursue a career as a prizefighter. Fee gives birth to James and Patrick (Jims and Patsy), twin boys, but doesn’t seem to care much for them. Shortly afterward, Meggies beloved little brother, Hal, dies.

Meggie clings to Ralph de Bricassart, her steadfast friend and mentor, now that Hal and Frank have passed away. Some people, including Ralph and Meggie, start to doubt their close relationship as she matures into a woman. Inspired by a combination of Machiavellian cruelty and jealousy, Mary Carson comes up with a scheme to break Ralph and Meggie apart by luring Ralph with a position of authority within the church. Despite the fact that her original will names Paddy as the primary beneficiary, she secretly drafts a new one designating Ralph as the executor and the Roman Catholic Church as the primary beneficiary.

The extent of Mary’s wealth is finally disclosed in the new will. Contrary to what Ralph and Paddy have long assumed, Drogheda is only her pastime and a distraction from her real financial interests. Mary’s wealth comes from a sizable international financial empire valued at more than 13 million pounds, or 200 million Australian dollars, today. The magnitude of Mary’s bequest alone will ensure Ralph’s quick ascent in the church. She also ensures that, initially, only Ralph will be aware of the new will, forcing him to decide between Meggie and his own goals. Additionally, she takes care of her disinherited brother by guaranteeing him and all of his grandchildren a house on Drogheda for as long as any of them live.

Ralph goes to tremendous measures to stay away from Meggie, who is now 17 and wearing a stunning rose-pink evening gown, at Mary’s 75th birthday celebration. Afterwards, he tells Meggie that not everyone will view his attention as innocent. Ralph discovers of the new will after Mary passes away later that evening. He immediately recognizes the subtle brilliance of Mary’s plan, and despite his tears and denunciation of her as “a disgusting old spider,” he promptly takes the new will to her attorney. Outraged, the attorney begs Ralph to obliterate the will, but in vain. The 13 million pound bequest has the desired effect, and Ralph quickly departs for Sydney to start moving up the church ladder.

Meggie tells him she loves him before he leaves, and the two of them kiss passionately. But, Ralph withdraws due to his priestly responsibilities and begs Meggie to find someone suitable to date.

The Clearys find out that Frank killed someone during a fight and was found guilty of murder. Frank spends three decades in prison.

More tragedy strikes when son Stu is killed by a wild boar not long after discovering his father’s body and father Paddy perishes in a lightning fire. Ralph, meanwhile, is traveling back to Drogheda after learning of the fire and is not aware of Paddy and Stus’s deaths. When his plane bogs in the mud, he sustains minor injuries. Their love is rekindled as Meggie tends to his wounds, but Ralph rejects Meggie once more, and he only stays in Drogheda long enough to oversee the funerals.

After three years, Meggie is courted by Luke ONeill, a sheep shearer. She marries him because he somewhat resembles Ralph, even though his motivations are more mercenary than romantic; additionally, Luke is not Catholic, and she has no interest in religion; this is her own way of exacting revenge on Ralph. She soon realises her mistake. Following a brief honeymoon, Meggie is hired as a live-in maid by the kind Muellers, who are skinflints who view women as sex objects and prefer the company of men. Luke then departs to join a group of itinerant sugarcane cutters in North Queensland. Prior to his departure, he pilfers all of Meggies’ savings and makes arrangements for her salary to be sent to him directly. He tells her he’s saving for a homestead, but he soon develops an obsession with the competitive labor of cane cutting and doesn’t really intend to give it up. Meggie purposefully obstructs Luke’s usual contraception in an attempt to curb his ambition and settle him down. As a result, Luke has a red-haired daughter named Justine. The new baby, however, makes little impression on Luke.

Father Ralph visits Meggie during her difficult labour. He is leaving Australia for Rome, so this is his last chance to say goodbye. He sees Meggies unhappiness and pities her. When Justine turns out to be a difficult baby, the Muellers send Meggie to a remote island resort to relax. After returning to Australia, Father Ralph finds out where Meggies is from Anne Mueller and spends a few days with her. When the couple finally achieves their passion there, Ralph realizes that, in spite of his desire to be the ideal priest, his love for Meggie makes him a man like other men. After he leaves the church, Meggie—who is now expecting Ralph’s child—chooses to break up with Luke. She tells Luke how she truly feels about him, has one last sleep with him to make sure her child’s paternity won’t be questioned, and then leaves him to his cane-cutting in Drogheda.

She gives birth to a gorgeous boy back at home, whom she names Dane. Fee, who has knowledge of these things, recognizes Dane’s similarity to Ralph from the moment of his birth. Something positive happens in Meggie and Fee’s relationship. Justine develops into a self-reliant, sharply intelligent young woman who adores her brother. She doesn’t really need anyone else, though, and she politely rejects Meggies’ attempts at maternal affection. Meggies’ remaining brothers never marry, and Drogheda progressively fills with elderly residents.

After a protracted absence, Ralph returns to Drogheda and first encounters Dane. Despite feeling an odd attraction to the boy, he is unaware that the two are father and son. Thanks to Ralph’s intervention, the long-incarcerated Frank is also finally granted parole at this time, and he returns to Drogheda a broken man. Meggies is shocked when Dane grows up and chooses to become a priest. Fee informs Meggie that she has to return the things she took from God. Meanwhile, Justine makes the decision to pursue a career in acting and departs from Australia to pursue it in England. Now a cardinal, Ralph helps Dane grow up, but he doesn’t realize that the young man is actually his son. Dane is also unaware of their true relationship. Ralph looks after him well, and people mistake them for uncle and nephew due to their similarity. Ralph and Dane encourage the rumour.

Even though her brother is frequently taken aback by her sexual exploits and carefree way of life, Justine and her brother are still close. She makes friends with Rainer Hartheim, a German politician who is very close to Ralphs and Dane and who develops feelings for her. When tragedy strikes, their friendship becomes the most significant thing in her life and is about to grow into something more.

Dane is on vacation in Greece after being ordained as a priest. He attempts to save two women from a dangerous current one day while swimming there and drowns. Meggie reveals before Danes funeral that Dane is Ralphs son. Ralph dies in Meggies arms after the funeral.

After cutting off all contact with Rainer, Justine descends into a melancholy, routine life. After a while, they get back in touch purely on a platonic level, and then Rainer goes to Drogheda by himself to beg Meggie to assist him in asking Justine to marry him. As the only living grandchild of Fee and Paddy Cleary, Justine eventually comes to terms with her true feelings for Rainer, and the two get married.

List of characters edit

  • The main character, Meghann “Meggie” Cleary, is the only girl in a large family of sons. The novel takes her from early childhood to old age.
  • Meggies real love, Father Ralph de Bricassart, is an attractive, driven Irish Catholic priest.
  • Meggies’ father, Padraic “Paddy” Cleary, was a humble and benevolent laborer from Ireland.
  • Fiona “Fee” Armstrong Cleary is the mother of Megg and Paddy’s wife. She is an aristocratic woman who had an extramarital child before she married Paddy Cleary.
  • Meggie and Fee both adore Francis “Frank” Armstrong Cleary, who is their eldest brother, Fee’s first son from an illicit relationship, and Paddy’s stepson. He becomes a prizefighter.
  • Mary Elizabeth Cleary Carson, the owner of Drogheda, Paddy’s incredibly wealthy older sister, was a benefactor of Father Ralph.
  • Luke ONeill – Meggies husband and the father of Justine
  • Meggie and Ralph ONeill’s son Dane drowns in Greece when he is 26 years old.
  • Justine ONeill is a bright, self-reliant girl and the daughter of Meggie and Luke.
  • Meggies’ employers during her marriage to Luke, Luddie and Anne Mueller, become lifelong friends.
  • Three of Meggies’ older brothers, Bob, Jack, and Hughie Cleary, all have a resemblance to Paddy and spend their single lives on Drogheda
  • Stuart “Stu” Cleary is a kind, quiet boy who looks like his mother. He is the brother Meggies is closest in age to out of her five older brothers.
  • Harold “Hal” Cleary, Meggies beloved younger brother, passes away at the age of four
  • The twin boys, James and Patrick “Jims and Patsy” Cleary, are Meggies’ younger brothers.
  • Rainer “Rain” Moerling Hartheim is a member of the West German Parliament, a friend of Ralphs and eventually Danes, and the future husband of Justine.
  • Ralph’s mentor and Rainer and Dane’s friend was Archbishop (later Cardinal) Vittorio di Contini-Verchese.


How does Thornbirds end?

Justine, now the sole surviving grandchild of Fee and Paddy Cleary, finally accepts her true feelings for Rainer, and they marry.

Is Thorn Birds a true story?

Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is not a true story. The story is set in Drogheda, Austrailia which is a town that does not actually exist but is based on the remote towns that were created in the Northwest Territory. All of the characters were created but some were based on people McCullough knew.

What happens in The Thorn Birds?

Plot Summary The Thorn Birds traces the lives of the members of the Cleary family over the course of three generations, from their poor existence in New Zealand to their eventual move to Australia when a distant relative summons them and promises them a more stable life.