Pakenham, Christine Patti (‘Christine Longford’) (née Trew) (1900–80), countess of Longford, novelist, and playwright, was born 6 September 1900 at Cheddar, Somerset, England, only child of Richard Trew, a naval officer who drowned at sea during the first world war, and Amy Trew (d. 1944). Christine's paternal grandmother had emigrated to England from her native Youghal, Co. Cork; her parents separated when she was 3 owing largely to her father's alcoholism. A lonely child who cultivated self-reliance and a passion for reading, she attended Wells high school, near Cheddar, before moving with her mother to Oxford (1914), where she attended Oxford high school; her mother derived an income by taking in paying guests in both locations. Winning a classical scholarship, Christine went up to Somerville college, Oxford (1918–22), where she studied Greek, Latin, ancient history, and philosophy, taking a third-class degree in greats, and receiving an MA. She was part of the brilliant post-war generation of Oxonians, her university friends including Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, and Harold Acton. She contemplated a career in publishing, but remained at home in Oxford, giving lessons in various subjects to university students, and cultivating a romance with an Oxford undergraduate, Edward Arthur Henry Pakenham (qv) (1902–61), 6th earl of Longford. On his coming of age and university graduation, they married on 18 July 1925; they would have no children.
Assuming residence in the Longford family seat, Pakenham Hall – a castellated, neo-gothic structure on the 1,600-acre Tullynally estate, near Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath – the couple also maintained a Dublin residence, firstly at 143 Leinster Rd, Rathmines (1927–31), then at Grosvenor Park, 123 Leinster Rd (1931–61). Identifying enthusiastically with the young Irish state, they both learned the Irish language (though speaking it with Oxford accents), supported Gaelic sporting and cultural activities, and encouraged home industries; for years they maintained, at considerable financial loss, the Hand-Loom Shop, Dawson St., Dublin. Christine's first book, Vespasian and some of his contemporaries (1928), drawn from her classical education, was a fresh, snappy treatment of ancient Roman history. Her first novel, Making conversation (1931) – acclaimed by Pamela Hansford Johnson as a comic classic – was thinly veiled autobiography authentically evoking the texture of genteel poverty. Subsequent novels included Country places (1932), a satire on the Irish landlord class, and Printed cotton (1935), a wickedly precise depiction of ‘arty’ types in 1930s Dublin. Longford's fiction was marked by deftly drawn characterisation, witty observation of human foible, and fluid dialogue, the chief influences being Waugh, Virginia Woolf, and Rose Macaulay. She also wrote the non-fiction A biography of Dublin (1936).
When in the early 1930s Lord Longford became the principal financial backer and board chairman of the Dublin Gate Theatre, the avant-garde company recently formed by Hilton Edwards (qv) and Mícheál MacLiammóir (qv), he and Christine enthusiastically immersed themselves in all aspects of the theatre's management. Both Longfords wrote plays for the Gate, Christine's including ‘Queens and emperors’ (1932), another manifestation of her interest in ancient Rome, and the successful comedy ‘Mr Jiggins of Jigginstown’ (1933) (adapted from her own novel of the same year), based on the eccentric Westmeath landowner Adolphus Cooke (qv) of Cookesborough. The couple collaborated on a verse translation of Aeschylus, Christine contributing the third play of the Oresteian trilogy, ‘The furies’; the translated trilogy was staged as a single production, entitled ‘Agamemnon’ (1933), and published as The Oresteia of Aischylos (1933). Though for several years the Longfords were inseparable from Edwards and MacLiammóir – their spirited post-performance discussions would commence in the dressing room and continue long into the night over supper in neighbouring restaurants – relations deteriorated amid considerable acrimony over policy and use of the company’s name. In 1936 Lord Longford launched a separate theatre company, Longford Productions, which shared the Gate theatre premises in the Dublin Rotunda on rotating six-month tenures with the Dublin Gate Theatre Productions of Edwards and MacLiammóir. In the wake of this ‘Longford split’, feelings among the principals remained bitter. Thus occupying the Gate theatre from April to September annually, the Longford players spent the winter months touring the twenty-six counties, their eclectic repertoire including Shakespeare, restoration comedy, modern Irish and international drama, and new plays by the Longfords. The couple were conspicuous at nigh every performance: habitually enthroned in the first two front-row seats on the right when in residence at the Gate; on tour, Christine running the box office while Edward peddled programmes. Christine contributed some twenty plays to the repertoire, several of which were published. She was especially adept at dry, genial, satiric comedies, most notably ‘Anything but the truth’ (1937), a romp in the manner of Noel Coward about a weekend party in an Irish country house; ‘Tankardstown’ (1948) (published in 1953), her biggest hit, satirising the Irish nouveaux riches; and ‘The hill of Quirke’ (1953) (published in 1958), a satire about a civic festival in a small Irish town. She wrote several Irish historical plays, including ‘Lord Edward’ (1941), ‘The united brothers’ (1942) (her most accomplished piece in the genre, about John (qv) and Henry Sheares (qv)), ‘Patrick Sarsfield’ (1943), and ‘The earl of straw’ (1944). The most popular of her stage adaptations of Irish and English novels were ‘Pride and prejudice’ (1937), after Jane Austen, (starring former Gate actor James Mason as Mr Darcy), and ‘The absentee’ (1938), after the novel by Maria Edgeworth (qv); she also adapted Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (qv) (‘The watcher’ (1942); ‘Uncle Silas’ (1947)) and Edgar Wallace (‘The avenger’ (1943)), and translated ‘The lady of the camelias’ (1956), from the French of Alexander Dumas the younger. Her other plays were ‘Sea change’ (1940), ‘John Donne’ (1945), ‘Mr Supple’ (1949), ‘The paragons’ (1950), ‘Witch hunt’ (1952), ‘Stop the clock’ (1955), ‘Mount Lawless’ (1957), and ‘Stephen Storey’ (1960). Her creative energies channelled into playwrighting, her attention concentrated on the diurnal minutiae of co-managing a working repertory company, Longford was diverted from her artistic metier, the writing of fiction. Though her skill at composing credible, pungent, and telling dialogue equipped her to write competently for the stage, her plays lacked the sophistication and polish of her novels, and suffered the effects of over prolific and hasty execution to meet production demands.
Christine played a motherly role to her aristocratically pampered husband, supervising his routine, indulging his eccentricities, soothing his famous (and public) tantrums, tolerating his absolute dependence: ‘I wouldn't leave Edward. Who would fasten his shoes?’ (quoted in Cowell, 149). They cut an incongruous figure: he, gregarious and grotesquely corpulent; she, silent and self-effacing, a diminutive, winsome presence in drab country tweeds, chain-smoking innumerable cigarettes, darting into conversation with a mordant bon mot. On Edward's death she inherited his controlling interest in the Gate theatre, which she relinquished to Edwards and MacLiammóir; disbanding Longford Productions, she was managing director of the Gate (1961–4) till forced to resign owing to an illness requiring operative surgery, and remained a board member till her death. Leaving Tullynally, she took flats in Dublin, firstly in the precincts of the Merrion nursing home, Herbert St., secondly in Ailesbury Rd, Donnybrook. She wrote book reviews for the Saturday Irish Times, and was a regular panelist on RTÉ radio's weekly arts programme ‘Survey’. Awarded life membership in Irish Actors Equity in recognition of her lengthy service to the Irish theatre (1967), she was elected to the Irish Academy of Letters (1968), and received an honorary D.Litt. from the NUI three weeks before her death (24 April 1980). Suffering ill health and bouts of nervous depression in her last few years, and several times hospitalised, she died of a brain hæmorrhage on 14 May 1980. She left an unpublished memoir of the period from 1918 to 1939, which was mined by John Cowell for his dual biography of her and Lord Longford, No profit but the name (1988). There are two portraits from the 1960s by Muriel Brandt (qv), including a group portrait with Edwards and MacLiammóir which hangs in the Gate theatre.