Stephen Gwynn, Irish Literature and Drama (London: Nelson 1936)

Chap. 1
Gwynn compares Irish literature in English to other regional British literatures: ‘the whole position has been altered out of knowledge by the work of men who are either still living or only recently dead. [1; …] Yet this Scottish language was at most only a sister shoot from the same stem as English; whoever understood the one, understood the other; and in that sense Scottish national literature is a part of English; it brings no alien element. In Ireland the case is very different. The special interest in the literature of which I have to write is that it links up the intimate expression of an Ireland which has become English-speaking, which for a century at least has thought in English, to a poetry and a mythology that took literary shape centuries before English was a written or a spoken speech. [2].

The Gael assimilated Pictish culture [3] never came under Roman sway … nothing else … so little Greek, so little Roman [4] in the 18th c. nobody using English sought to explore Ireland’s intellectual inheritance [7].

For Swift, the native Irish were simply a helotry, so completely reduced to bondage that in spire of their numbers they could safely be ignored … he wrote for a colony [and] taught the colonists for the first time to think for themselves … he is no more part of [Irish lit]. than the match is part of the gunpowder [8]

For Swift, Irish nationality meant nothing; Ireland’s claims to a historic and distinguished past only roused his contempt. The religion of the Catholic Irish was in his eyes nothing but a debased superstition. but he preached revolt; and, unlike the native writers, he preached it effectively … the lesson was caught up … by Catholics as well as by Protestants. … For a century and a half from Swift’s day, nearly all the literature that came out of nationalist Ireland was forged as a weapon for combat. […] nationality, religion, revolt [9].

It must have been through music that Moore contrived to get into intimate touch with the national spirit. [12].

Chap. 2
Precès of The Irish National Literature (i.e., literature in Gaelic).

Chap. 3
Thomas Moore: [..]. . there were from the beginnings of Irish literature in English two ways of life in Ireland, and a great deal of what was written has throughout concerned itself with the fact of this duality. [31]

In the Irish Melodies we get a sensitive and most accomplished master of verse interpreting the spirit of a country which had already found expression in another medium [music] … Ireland recognised her own spirit, and the world recognised it … [39] His Twopenny Postbag … must certainly be counted as a part of Irish literature, since its shafts were directed especially against the opponents of Catholic Emancipation … Moore acknowledges he comes from an Irish RC family in the fourteen edition [40]

Chap. 4
Maria Edgeworth: In one sense Protestant writers knew more of Catholic Ireland than Catholic writers knew of the landlord class. [49].

[Thady] … appealing instinctively to the loyalty of heritary servant to hereditary master or overlord. This loyalty sprang abundantly in the native Irish race, as in all primitive peoples; yet there was present also a deep-seated instinct of the dispossessed to rejoice in and aim at the overthrow of the possessors. Naturally enough, the presence of this instinct was senses and resented as treachery by the possessors, who nevertheless continued to count on the loyalty whic they accepted as their right. [50]. Maria Edgeworth loved Ireland and loved the mere Irish, as an Englishman may love and understand the Italians. [55]

Chap. 5
Miss Edgworth’s Successors: [Gwynn is cited by Rafroidi, 1980] ‘[William] Carleton attempted instinctively what Synge, hearly a century later, was to do by studying with a finished literary art; he tried to bring from one language into the other the form and colour of the Irish mind.’ [63; cf. Rafroidi, 1980, p.190]. Carleton, Banim, Griffin. Charles Lever was Irish only as Swift was: that is to say, he was born and bred in Ireland, but born of English parents. His father was a building contractor [for] the Custom House [75].

W. H. Maxwell, a sporting clergyman [76] friendship with Lever … a shy child [who] used to creep into the room when he head that [Dr Lever] was there, telling story after story [76] Lever’s name not disclosed till Jack Hinton, by which time he accepted editorship of the Dublin Univ. Magazine with a handsome income … house in Templeogue … profuse hospitality. [78]

Chap. 6
Young Ireland: Ferguson; Mangan. That soul is close of kin to Stephen Dedalus, in Joyce’s Ulysses; and [The Nameless One]

Chap. 7
Land Revolution: Ferguson’s epics; Mrs. Alexander; Charles Kickham; Aubrey de Vere; Nationalist Ireland accepted enthusiastically Charles Kickham’s Knockagow, a peasant’s story of life in Tipperary; but it cannot be seriously regarded as literature.[110] William O’Brien, When We Were Boys … had a great vogue, deserved by fervid energy and a generous enthusiasm. Yet it is singularily devoid of artistic merit. [113]

On Yeats and the Wandering of Oisin: ‘the dim world, somewhere between night and day, between waking and sleeping, that his imagination moved in’ [127]

Chap. 8
Beginnings of Irish Drama: Wilde, Shaw, George Moore; In 1845 Catholic priests had been suspicious of an intellectual movement headed by young laymen, even though as many leaders in it were Catholics as Protestants; they had denounced Young Ireland … [wnow] Cardinal Logue condemned [Countess Cathleen] as anti-Irish and anti-Catholic [153]

Chp 9: Maud Gonne in Cathleen ni Houlihan [158-59; copied under Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan, commentaries] As Mr. Malone points out in The Irish Drama, Catholic even more than Protestant Ireland had a Puritan prejudice against the stage. This was easily aroused … [161]

Synge [161ff]

Chap. 10
Prose Fiction; Moore’s Untilled Field and The Lake. [166-69]. Canon Sheehan; George Birmingham [173]. Joyce; Gogarty; Kettle; J. M. Hone; George Roberts [175]. Synge’s Playboy and the Playboy riots; Yeats’s courageous advocacy; Colum’s defection with the Fay’s; Boyle; F. J. Casey

Chap. 11
Stephens, Joyce, and Ulster Writers; Seumus O’Kelly, Wet Clay [187].

Gwynn introduces Joyce in the context of Parnellite feuds, and his father as a ‘Parnellite organiser’; quotes ending of ‘The Dead’, and shortly afterwards, the Christmas party quarrel over ‘my dead king’; He also quotes Stephen’s lines on the English language of the Dean of Studies, commenting: ‘this poignant cry of the disinherited runs all through Joyce’s writing. Nothing is left to the Irish Catholic; his country is a stranger’s even his language is what the stranger’s occupation has imposed … he derives from the new movement nothing more than an added sense of defeat … No inheritance but a spirit of revolt … But the revolt—so it looked to that period of squalid collapse—had produced nothing but a futile gesturing attitude. his own father’s lifelong gesturing had effected nothing except to bring on his household the servitude of squalid poverty … religion … either complete submission or revolt … Irish Catholicism … singular narrowness [Para] All these ties, gripping and coercing him, were drawn sharper by the hardest of all—the mother-tie. [195].

Ulysses [197ff]: Gwynn quotes Eglinton’s reaction, “In the interview of the much enduring Stephen with the officials of the NL the present writer experiences a twinge of recollection of things actually said” [201]. Gwynn’s own account of Ulysses is not enthusiastic: ‘Joyce’s two main books, whatever else they may be, are the study of a diseased mind; and a great part of the disease is the inferiority complex, pride run mad. What is healthy in them, what gives them their power, is the fight for freedom. But Joyce is exceptional in Irish literature, because the freedom at stake for him is freedom from Irish fetters, self-imposed by the race. He contends for the right of the individual soul to assert itself in its own fashion. Plunges into disgustfulness are no less [206] normal expressions of the nature he depicts than are mad efforts of a beast to escape bridle and saddle.’

Deals with T. C. Murray; Lennox Robinson; St. John Ervine; Shan Bullock [203] Conall Riordan; Eimar O’Duffy; ‘Lynn Doyle’ [204] ‘Rutherford Mayne’; his sister, Helen Waddell; Joseph Campbell [205] Forrest Reid [206]

Chap. 12
After the Revolution: Lennox Robinson;; Desmond Fitzgerald; Terence MacSwiney; George Shiels; O’Casey [209]. Denis Johnston; Lord Longford, Yahoo [213].

Apropos Joyce: ‘even when revolution had established an Irish State, the same instincts persisted. Ireland was not a country where the individual citizen would assert his individual right, or even his individual duty, as a citizen’ [208].

Yeats’s plays; Words on the Windowpane (Swift) [215]. Land of Heart’s Desire revived 1935, with MJ Dolan in the part created by WG Fay; Board of Censors, Shaw’s Black Girl banned [217] the Academy founded [218]. Seumus O’Sullivan [218]. Gogarty; [219] Austin Clarke; FR Higgins [219-223].

Brinsley MacNamara, Liam O’Flaherty, Frank O’Connor, Sean O’Faolain [222] Lord Dunsany; Kate O’Brien [223] Peadar O’Donnell; Elizabeth Bowen; Margaret Kennedy, The Constant Nymph; JM Hone; Walter Starkie [Stephen McKenna [224].

Monk Gibbon; Daniel Corkery [225] Muiris O’Sullivan; Peadar O’Donnell, Field and Fair [226].

Appendix contains details of Irish Academy of Letters, launched at Peacock Theatre, Sept. 18 1932. The letter of invitation to members and assoc. members makes explicit reference to the Censorship Act of 1932.

[ back ]
 
[ top ]