Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Guest Post by Ben Healey on Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry

A Great Guest post by Ben Healey 
curator of

The Typists Pen
The Irish Quarter:  A Salute to the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1

A Great Source of Reviews on Irish Short Stories and More

Dark Lies The Island – Kevin Barry

Dark Lies The Island is Kevin Barry’s second short story collection, his first being There Are Little Kingdoms (2007). In some ways Dark Lies The Island seems somewhat like a natural extension of There Are Little Kingdoms, particularly when it comes to the opening story in the collection – Across The Rooftops. The reader could be forgiven for thinking that it is a continuation, or perhaps another sub plot of Party at Helen’s from Kingdoms. It is a nice introductory story about the coming of age and a kiss that just doesn’t seem like it is going to happen, but it eventually does, though its importance lessening as the narrator grows older and looks out over the city of Cork’s landscape.

The second story Wifey Redux gives its theme away in the title, with the narrator fearing the new found sexuality of his daughter, Barry cleverly and confusingly for the narrator linking it to the narrators wife’s own sexuality in her youth. One of the more commonly known stories in the collection is Fjord of Killary with its theme of acceptance and time, and again Barry very cleverly giving the story several time motifs to assist the theme, as well as utilising an otter to get across the point of the energy and sexuality of the female. Sexuality is a recurring theme in Dark Lies The Island and can be seen in several other stories in the collection, notably in The Girls and The Dogs and the element of control, and in Berlin Arkonaplatz – My Lesbian Summer, where sexuality is combined with the theme of education.

Barry can be sensitive too, and nowhere can this be seen stronger than in A Cruelty and the title story of the collection. A Cruelty deals with the day of a mildly mentally disabled boy who is bullied by a complete stranger and has his day put out of synchronisation, something that is important to the boy. Barry tends to stick with the motif of time giving it the same emphasis and importance that the characters do. Time and routine are important. A Cruelty is in no doubt one of the more human, and touching stories of the collection. The title story really is a powerful piece of writing too, and tells of a young seventeen year old girl who self-harms. It is one of the easier stories to understand regards literary technique, though it may seem the theme (self-harm) is unfathomable to some. Barry leads the reader through the darkness, quite literally, and highlights that though communication is necessary, communication in itself has its limitations. He exposes this by use of the characters lack of a broadband connection, the text from her mother when a phone call would be more appropriate, and in the call from her father that she hangs up on, also the use of the Internet chat rooms ironically depersonalizing the girl. She is alone, though she is surrounded by others. The reader left empathising with the character.

There are some stories in the collection that Barry makes it hard for the reader to empathize with the characters, and that may very well be the point he is trying to make. There is Ernestine and Kit, two old age pensioners, and possible lesbians who go around the country trying to kidnap young children. Barry turns the table on the idea of the female being caring and a nurturer. Likewise in Doctor Sot we have the local village doctor being a drunk and everyone knowing it. To make matters worse he’s not really too concerned with the well-being of his patients, rather his desires for one lead him to a New Age traveller camp where he seeks solace in the arms of a young woman, though he is married.
Dark Lies The Island definitely has a much darker element than Barry’s previous collection as can be seen in The Mainland Campaign, where we have two teenagers living in England who are plotting to blow up a tube station.  A recurring motif in The Mainland Campaign is music, something Barry uses in other stories from the collection. The most popular story in the collection is probably Beer Trip To Llandudno which won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award, deservedly so as well. Also set in the UK it tells of six men, real ale enthusiasts, on their way to Llandudno to test some ale. Along the way Barry gives the reader glimpses of the men’s limitations, and nowhere can that be seen stronger than in the character Little Mo, emasculated with his one testicle. Barry creates a powerlessness around the characters.

Overall Dark Lies The Island offers the reader a glimpse of an alternative Ireland, and some might say a truer picture of the state of the country. Every character has a story to tell, and though the reader may not identify with all of them, their views are as important as our own. Barry giving an insight into the real Ireland, post Celtic Tiger, where things though darker can be seen clearer. There is a reality to Dark Lies The Island

End of Guest Post

I offer my great thanks to Ben Healey for taking the time to write this great post on Kevin Barry's new collection of short stories.  If you are interested in Irish Short Stories I really urge you to visit and follow Ben's webpage, The Typists Pen

Mel u

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown

A Daring Life:  A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown (to be published August 2012)

A Daring Life:  A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown (University Press of Mississippi) is a very fine biography of one of the best short story writers in the world who also won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel, The Optimist's Daughter.  Welty was born in 1909 in Jackson Mississippi (in the southern portion of the United States) and she died there in 2001.   She was very rooted in Mississippi and many of her stories deal with racial strife of the era and the mental state behind it.   Brown does a very good job of explaining how much courage it took for Welty to expose the prejudices of the time in her stories but beyond this she acted on her belief in racial equality in her lectures and personal life.

Welty had what will at first seem to many a boring life to chronicle compared to writers like Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield,  and Babara Baynton.   She had no tumultuous romances, no bouts with madness, she did not die a tragic early death,  she did not suffer any great poverty or experience great riches.   The life of Welty was in her closeness to her family and friends and in her brilliant and free roaming mind.   She was very much a lover of the reading life.   Welty was a great daughter, sister and friend to many  writers but that was not all.  In  one very telling detail, Brown relays to us how when Welty met a mentally challenged man who, though he never had gotten any mail his whole life, went to the post office everyday to check his mail, began sent him regular post cards for the rest of her life.   Welty was a very kind and good person who does not seem possessed of a darker side.   This for sure could not be said of Woolf or Mansfield.  There are no scandals in the closet, maybe this is bit of a sad thing as well as a good one.

Brown does a very good job of explaining how Welty got interested in becoming a writer and her initial struggles to get published.  It was The New Yorker that helped to put Welty on the literary map and Brown explains this very well.   Brown talks about Welty's perhaps romantic interests but it appears nothing ever happened.   There are unanswered questions here.   It was great to read about Welty's friendship with Elizabeth Bowen and her visit to Bowen Castle in Ireland.  I was wonderful to read about Bowen's visit to Mississippi at one of the emotional low points in Welty's life.   One would love to have a recording of their conversations.

Welty lectured at many of the best known schools of the USA such as Harvard and additionally at Oxford.

Brown tells us about Welty's time as a photographer during the depression era in the USA.   There are lots of very interesting photographs included in the book.   There are lists of all of her published works, an appendix on her art work and her house and famous garden, which is now a museum.

A Daring Life:  A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown is a very detailed biography of Welty that also places her in the social context in which she developed and lived.   Welty traveled over much of Europe, read thousands of books, was friends with great writers like fellow Mississippians  Katherine Ann Porter and William Faulkner but you cannot understand her stories without understand what Jackson, Mississippi  was like and Brown gives us this understanding.  

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Welty and think it should be part of the budget of all libraries in the USA and UK.  that can place it there.    It will become an important work in understanding her work.  

Where does Welty rank among the great female short story writers?  I would say just a bit below Katherine Mansfield and Flannery O'Connor.

Here is a link to my prior posts on some of Eudora Welty's short stories

In the interests of full disclosure I received a pre-publication E-Book of this from the University Press of Mississippi via Net Galley.

Mel u

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Cholesterol Chrushers" by Olivia Rana

"Cholesterol Chrushers" by Olivia Rana (2012, 7 pages)

The Irish Quarter
A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1

Olivia Rana

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two.   Everything you need to participate is in the resources page, including links to 1000s of short stories, from brand new ones to stories now in the public domain.   Guests posts are also welcome.   Emerging Irish Women is now a full term event.

April Prize for a Participant- I am happy to announce that a randomly selected participant in ISSW2 will receive a copy of the Frank O'Connor Prize listed work, Somewhere in Minnesota through the kindness of the author, Orfhlaith Foyle.  If you are a participant in the event please email me to be in the drawing for this wonderful collection of short stories.

Olivia Rana is the ninth writer to be featured in my own going series of posts on Emerging Irish Women writers.  Her story is set in an old fashioned butcher shop, the kind where the butcher knows his customers and takes pride in the product he serves them.  There are three central people in this very poignantly wonderful story that captures a deep feeling of family love in a very masterful minimalist  fashion.  

The story is narrated by the son, who is apprentice to his father in the butcher shop his grandfather started, J. E. Cathcart and Sons Quality Butchers.  The father takes great pride in the fact that his sausages have won the Food Service Best in Category award for three years running.

The story is told looking back over several years as the son went from loving working in the butcher shop with his father to feeling almost trapped and somehow oppressed by the nature of the work.   He is looking back now because he thinks his father is deathly ill.   We get to feel like we are there in the butcher shop.  I admit I loved it when someone came into the shop and asked to pay in Euros and the father refused the currency.   The son sees the fact that they live on an island as a metaphor for the trapped condition of their lives.   

One day the son discovers his father is taking pills for high cholesterol, he has seen his father clutching  his arm.   One day a regular customer tells them that the doctor has told her that her husband has got to cut down his cholesterol and the father stops chopping, something he almost never does.  

This conversation is perfect and shows the great dialogue of the story.

"Cholesterol?" he asks.
"He's off the scale." Mrs McManus tells him.  "Strictly no salt or fat".
"That's what the doctor said?"
"There is nothing else for it.  They call it the silent killer" she says.  "Doctor Lynch told me the country's full of it".
"it is" my father says.  "It is".
The father makes a very big decision on the sausages he will submit this year, they will be low in fat and salt and they will be called "Cholesterol Crushers".   When he tells his wife about this decision she tells him he could help to save lives.    She sends her husband out the door on the day of the contest with a cheering suggestion that if he wins again then the Queen herself will be wanting his sausages. 

The story takes a very powerful turn now and I am going to let you have the experience I did, I am not sure the word enjoy is right as it was so overwhelming, and I will tell no more of the plot.   Part of the story I really liked was how Rana down played the love between the butcher and his wife which only served to make it all the more real to me.  There is a great deal of wisdom in this story.   I urge you to read it.  

"Cholesterol Crushers" is a great short story and I for sure wil lread more of her work soon.   

Here is her official biography.

Olivia Rana

Having worked as a Technical Project Manager for ten years, Olivia Rana made a decision to embark on a writing career.  She has achieved a Masters of Arts with distinction in Creative Writing from Queens University, Belfast, and has achieved success in several short story competitions, including being shortlisted for the Mitchelstown International Short Story Competition 2008 and the Fish International Short Story Prize 2009, and winning the Leaf Books Micro-Fiction Competition 2009.  She has had several short stories published both online and in magazine publications.
Olivia was born in Northern Ireland and lives in Belfast with her husband and two young children.  Her first novel, Elastic Girl, is set in India, and has been influenced by her Indian family-in-law and her travels in India.  She has now embarked on her second novel, which is set in Iceland and is the story of a medium who communicates with Icelandic huldufolk (hidden people).

You can read the story at the link below

Mel u

"The Diviner" by Brian Friel

"The Diviner" by Brian Friel (1966, 12 pages)

The Irish Quarter
A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1

My Prior Posts for ISSW Year Two

Posts on Emerging Irish Women Writers

Posts by Participants

Please consider joining us for Irish Short story week.  All you need do is to post on one short story or non-fiction work related to the Irish Short Story and let me know about it.  Short stories by authors of Irish Heritage from Latin American or New Zealand can also be included as well as stories by Irish Australian Women.  

"The Diviner" by Brian Friel (1929, County Tyrone, Ireland) first appeared in The New Yorker.  I read it in The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories edited by William Trevor.   Friel is one of the highest regarded of living English language playwrights, a number of his works have been preformed on Broadway.  (You can read about his very distinguished career here.).  Friel also wrote a number of short stories, mostly about the lives of the people of County Tyrone.  In my posts on lesser known stories that are not available online I am keeping to short posts.  

"The Diviner" is the story of the life of a woman who was for twenty five years married to a heavy drinking man who could not hold a job.  Drinking to excess was considered a sin and it was a shame on the wife of a drunkard and she was also considered a figure of pity.  I do not mean the good time with your mates in a pub over a pint kind of drinking, I mean the whiskey bottle hidden in your coat pocket or in the shed kind of drinking.  One day the drunken husband dies and the wife has to go to work as a charwoman (cleaning lady).  She is such a good work and of such a high  character that she is soon working for some of the very best families.  Then to every one's shock she marries a man from  outside of County Tyrone.  Nobody knows him but he seems nice and respectable and everyone is happy for the woman.  Then he is missing and his boat is found in the middle of the lake empty.  A Diviner is called in to help find the body.  The body is found but with two bottles of whiskey in his pocket.  The funeral scene is just heart breaking.   

Mel u

Friday, April 27, 2012

George Moore Two More Stories from The Untilled Field

The Irish Quarter-March 11 to July 1
A Celebration of the Irish Short Story

A Few Days with George Moore
"The Exile" and "Julia Cahill's Curse"

Please consider joining us for The Irish Quarter,  Year Two.   Everything you need to participate is in the resources page, including links to 1000s of short stories, from brand new ones to stories now in the public domain.   Guests posts are also welcome.

I have decided to change the name of this event from Irish Short Story Week to The Irish Quarter.   A lot of the stories have been about emigration and most emigrants first lived in an Irish Quarter, whether they landed in Boston or Buenos Aries.  The event is also about a quarter of a year long.  Also calling it Irish Short Story Week as causing some potential participants to feel they did not have time to join us.  I thank Suko for her feedback on this name change.  

"Julia Cahill's Curse" (1903, 32 pages) is a great story.   Frank O'Connor said "Homesickness" was a perfect work of art.  William Trevor said "Alfred Nobbs" was a master work.  I am not going to say they are wrong, because of course they are not and who am I to say such a thing anyway but "Julia Cahill's Curse" is to me a better work of art than "Homesickness", a better story than "Alfred Nobbs" and has a tremendous amount to teach us about Ireland.   It also does show very clearly why Moore did not like Catholic Priests all that much!.   When I first began to read the stories of George Moore it was sort of in the spirit of OK here are some historically important short stories so let us read them.   It is a very Irish story but it could be retold in many other periods and places and be just as powerful. It also goes deep into the heart of Irish folk ways and beliefs and lets us see how these interact with  the Catholic faith   Just like here in the Philippines we have a very devoted to the Catholic faith population who also believes firmly in lots of ideas from older cultures (of course Catholicism is not as old here as it is in Ireland) so the same can be said of Ireland.  The basic plot of the story is not hard to follow.   There is a priest who wants everyone to be totally obedient to the church and its doctrines.    Frank O'Connor said that one of the underlying causes of the massive emigration from Ireland, besides the famines, was a desire to escape from the rule of the priests.  Julia Cahill is a young woman  who is so beautiful as to take the breath away and full of the joy of life and not afraid to argue with the priest when he tells her she must marry so as not to be a distraction in the community.   I hope at least a few people will read this story so I am going to stop telling the plot here.  The ending was very open and just a marvel.   It is a very sad cruel ending but still it is wonderful and let me in awe of Moore.  

"The Exile" is also a very good story and it  also centers on the trouble caused by priests, who seem to love to cause petty misery in the lives of the people they are supposed to look after in order to make up for the emptiness of their own lives.   It is also about how marriages come about.  The priest was very opposed to the idea of young people arranging their own marriages and when ever he saw a young couple "walking the road" together he at once condemned them and reported them to their parents.  It is also a another story about emigration and those left behind.

You can download for free The Untilled Field from Manybooks

I will be doing three or four more posts on George Moore soon.  I will talk a bit more about his life and career then.

Mel u

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Irish Short Story Week Year Two April 26 Update

Irish Short Story Week Year Two April 26 Update

It has been fifteen  days since I did an update on Irish Short Story Week Year II.   I tend to do more updates and such than a normal most people would do.  The main reason I am doing this is to make sure all of my readers are aware of the new posts by the great participants in the event that have been done since the last update.  It is also away of keeping myself focused, so my event does not just become a random series of posts (that is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just not what I want for my event). I also want to restate for new readers or stops overs why I am doing this event.

  Short stories go back further in the literary culture than novels, much further to pre-literate days.   They go back to the very start of what we like to call civilization and helped create the world’s major cultures and religions.

Why am I doing this Event?

"Please consider joining us"-Ruprecht
The cultural and literary influence of Irish Short Story writers is simply immense.  The literary techniques created by James Joyce have been behind almost every literary innovation of the 20th century and there is no sign of anyone coming along to take his place.  Just to give one example, the methods of magic realism that dominates the literature of Latin America (and literary fiction here in the Philippines) comes right from parts of Ulysses.    Oscar Wilde helped created a new sensibility.   Bram Stoker and Joseph Sheridan le Fanu  started the vampire craze that still has the world in its grip.  Samuel Becket wrote the most important plays since Shakespeare.  Elizabeth Bowen's World War Two Stories are world class cultural treasures.   There are easily fifty hundreds of Irish short story writers of world class quality.   The whole of human experience is in the Irish Short Story.   Ireland has had four winners of the Nobel Prize for literature.  Not bad for a country one percent the size of Australia with a population less than twenty five percent of that of Manila.  The stories are  also a lot of fun to read and are works of great beauty.   There are other reasons I am doing this and I will say more later.

Posts by Participants
Irish Short Story Week
Year Two
March 11 to July 1

You Can Never Have Too Many Books "No Angel" by Bernie Mcgill
Susan has also now done a post on James Joyce's "The Sisters" that I learned a lot from-

Beauty is a Sleeping Cat Stories by Kevin Barry, James Joyce, and Elizabeth Bowen. Additionally they have done an excellent post on a work by William Trevor

Free Listens  "The Wine Breath" by John Mcgahern

Lakeside Musings- "The Empty Family" by Colum Toibin

Parrish Lantern  Overview of Irish Folk and Fairy Tales by William Butler Yeats-Parrish Lantern now has a wonderful post on a story by Gerald Griffin about the horrors of the famine years and a folk take from William Trevors' Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories

A Simple Clockwork  Two Oscar Wilde Fairy Tales-Nancy,  the Host of Short Stories on Wednesday has done two illuminating posts on stories of Marie Edgeworth, the first serious Irish Woman short story writer

Buried In Print an Anthology of stories by Mary Lavin, In the Middle of the Field

"I time traveled 5500 years
to join ISSW2"-Eachan
"Discount Shoe Repairs to
all Participants"-Rory

From Kafka to Kintergarden "The First Confession"  by Frank O'Connor, "The Reaping Race" by Liam O'Flaherty, "Janey Mary" by James Plunket, and "The Confirmation Suit" by Brendan Behan.  There is a new post on The Space between Louis and Me by Mary O'Donnell and Sightseeing in Louth by Bernadette M. Smyth.  Both of these are new to me authors.  

Vapor Trails  "The Old Man of the Sea" by Maeve Brennan, and also "Something Special" which is Iris Murdoch's only published story story

The Sill of the World has an excellent post on "The Dead" by James Joyce

Bibliophiliac  has done a great post on "The Will" which  Frank O'Connor says is Mary Lavin's best story

Shauna Gilligan, a widely published short story writer from Dublin has contributed a very welcome guest post to Irish Short Story Week Year Two  devoted to Somewhere in Minnesota,  a powerful collection of short stories by Órfhlaith Foyle

Jillian of A Room of One's Own has done a very insightful moving post on "The Dead" by James Joyce

A Work in Process has done great posts on "The Happy Autumn Fields" by Elizabeth Bowen, this is one of Bowen's WWII stories and is a great cultural treasure.  There is also a very good post on William Trevor's "The Ballroom of Romance".

Winston's Dad has posted on a story by Oliver Goldsmith "The History of the Man in Black

Tales from the Reading Room has done a great post on Colm Toibin's new book New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families.

Vishy's Blog has done a wonderful post on two stories by James Joyce, and one by James Stephens, Elizabeth Bowen and Liam O'Flattery as well as six folk and fairy tales.   

Novroz of Polychome Interest, cohost of Indonesian Short Story Week has posted on some of the paranormal folk tales of Thomas Crofton.

semi-fictional has done a great post one of Elizabeth Bowen's World War Two Stories,

A guest post by Audra Martin D'Aroma on Joseph Sheridan le Fanu

Ripple Effects has done a very welcome post on two short stories and a novella by Colm McCann

Suko's Notebook has posted a review on another one of Ethel Rohan's short stories

If I left you out please accept my apology for this error.  Just let me know about your post and I will add it at once.  On all of my posts I include a link that will take you to a list of posts by participants.

My heart felt thanks to all who have joined so far.  Everyone is very welcome to join in.  If you do a post on an Irish short story, just leave a comment anywhere on my blog and I will see it.

Future Plans for ISSW2

There will be weeks devoted to Individual writers.   Weeks devoted to George Moore and the writing team of Edith Somerville and Violent Martin have already begun.  There will also be a week  devoted to William Carleton and also Desmond Hogan.   There may also be a week devoted to Edna O'Brien.  

Emerging Irish Women Writers was intended just to be a week long event.  I am finding such great new to me writers that it will become a permanent feature of The Reading Life.  I have three writers in the que and I am looking for others.  I know there are many many good picks but my problem is to identify the authors and obtain their permission to be included.   My view is anything published online or in print is fair game to be posted on but I prefer to obtain consent.  If you are interested in being included in this event, then by all means contact me.

Four Collections of Short Stories
"Emerging Women Writers is
my favorite part of ISSW2"-

I am also working my way through four collections of short stories.   The advantage of posting on and reading these stories is I have the security of knowing people with long experience with the Irish Short Story endorse them.  The disadvantage is most are under copyright so they cannot be read by those who do not have the books.  There are about 40 to 50 more stories in these collections I hope to post on but what I do not include this year I hope to post on during ISSW3 in 2013, which will run from March 1 to July 1, I hope.  

At some point I am going to dive into the world of flash fiction.  

I have now opened the event up to stories by Argentine writers of Irish descent (at least 500,000 people left Ireland for Argentina) and Irish Kiwis.   Irish American writers will be represented by Flannery O'Connor who will be making a guest appearance soon.   

I have begun to read Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd, a big brilliant book.

I hope there will be some interviews with current writers but these are all in the developing stages.

A well meaning family member has suggested by cohosts are tacky.  Of course I like them a lot so I guess they will stay.  There are over sixty days left in ISSW2 so lots more can and will still happen.

Mel u

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M. Edith Somerville and Violet Martin

A Week  at  Country House, 1899
as the Guest of 
Edith Somerville and Violet Martin

Irish Short Story Week Year Two
March 11 to July 1

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two.   Everything you need to participate is on the resources page, including links to 1000s of short stories, from brand new ones to stories now in the public domain.   Guests posts are also welcome.  If you have any suggestions or questions please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.  

"Great Uncle McCarthy" (1899, 19 pages)
"In The Curranhilty Country"  (1899, 31 pages)

"The man who accepts a resident magistracy in the south-west of Ireland voluntarily retires into the prehistoric age;  to institute a stable becomes inevitable".

Movies and TV programs have been made of Some Experiences of and Irish R. M. by Edith Somerville and Violet Martin (writing as Martin Ross).  Frank O'Connor says it is one of the most beloved Irish collections of short stories.   He sort of characterized it as a "comfort read", not on the artistic level of George Moore but a lot of fun to read with stories from the heart that can now help us see how things used to be for the Irish Gentry.   I did a search of the book for three terms.  "Horses" occurs 100 times, "foxes" 48 and "hounds" 50.   Those who do not like fox hunting will have to step back from that feeling in reading these stories.   (I am very opposed to animal cruelty and I find fox hunts offensive but in 1899 maybe I would  have been happy to invited to a week of hunting on a great country estate.  Maybe I would have taken pride in my abilities as a horse trader and my ability pick a good hound.)  I have previously posted on a very interesting story by Somerville and Martin, "The Bag Man's Pony" set in an Irish regiment serving in India.  There is a lot to be learned from these stories.

Edith Somerville (1858 to 1949, Corfu) and her second cousin, Violet Martin (1862 to 1915, County Galaway) who wrote under the name Martin Ross collaborated on a number of short stories and novels, mostly about life among the gentry and ordinary people of Ireland.

There are twelve stories in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.   I will over the next few days posts on all of them, probably in groups of two or three at a time.  The stories really are a lot of fun to read and can give you a lot to think about if you open your mind to the works as more than just fun stories, which they are.   O'Connor said these stories represent a literary style which Ireland turned from as the 20th century got underway but I cannot imagine anyone reading these works and not enjoying them.  My exception to this would be for those who cannot for a while stop being offended by the huge waste of depicted in these stories (I am not sure if the authors had anything deeper than a good story in mind, my guess is they did not) and the social injustice the great hunts depended on to exist. Just have a good time, read the stories and drift back to a past that maybe never quite existed for a while.   There is more depth to these stories than you will at first think.   

My first order of business was to Google "R. M."  which stands for Registered Magistrate.   An R.M., no doubt every one the intended first audience of the book knew what that was but I guess the authors  did not plan on someone in Manila 113 years later reading their work on an Ipad and having no clue that an R. M., often a retired British Army Officer, was sort of like a Justice of the Peace who sat in on court hearings and often settled minor disputes.   He was country figure of authority. 

"Fox Hunt all you want but
I advise you not to disturb me"-Rory
"Great Uncle McCarthy" is told in the first person by Mr Sinclair Yeates, new R.M. and soon to marry his beloved Phillipa.  I think one reason Frank O'Connor liked these stories but considered them not first level works is that the people in the stories are by and large well adjusted, pretty happy and not suffering from any terrible form of angst or desperate loneliness.    A lot of Irish short stories have an edge, a dark side, I think this is there in the stories of Edith and Violet but you have to dig for it and if you miss it is OK.  Mr Yeates, he calls himself Major Yeates, R. M., has just found a suitable estate, with several hundred acres of grounds for hunting and a house with not too many holes in the roof.    I think he is perhaps in his 40s but I am not sure.   It takes way longer to get the house ready than he thought.   One of the things you will find in these stories is the treatment of Irish country people as kind of pretending  to be bumpkins while using that as a mask to deal with their social superiors.   We meet the country maid who really runs the house.  The unreliable workers, given to drink.   The first thing that happens to him is that his landlord tells him he has have a horse.  He does not really want one, motor cars are coming in, but he figures it is expected.  As you might guess, there is soon a fox hunt in the course of which we meet the ghost of Great Uncle McCarthy.   This is a really fun story and I think most anyone will enjoy it.  

"In The Curranhilty Country" gets us more into the personality of the R. M.  He is not at all Colonel Blimp, he is a thoughtful man who has learned from his life experiences how to view things in a detached almost ironic way.    He does not really want to join a fox hunt but he knows his position requires it.   I am not sure yet what the monetary consequences of being an R. M. are but I think we will learn.   The fun in this story is in the details of the fox hunt and the sharp observations of the narrator.  It really is a lot of fun to read.  

There will be four or five more posts related to Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

"These Fox Hunts seem to use a lot
of energy that I would channel into
something else"-Carmilla
Mel u

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

George Moore-Two Stories in The Untilled Field

"In the Clay" (1903, 29 pages)
"A Letter to Rome"  (1903, 32 pages)

Irish Short Story Week Year Two
March 11 to July 1

A Few Days with George Moore

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two.   Everything you need to participate is in the resources page, including links to 1000s of short stories, from brand new ones to stories now in the public domain.   Guests posts are also welcome.  

April Prize for a Participant- I am happy to announce that a randomly selected participant in ISSW2 will receive a copy of the Frank O'Connor Prize listed work, Somewhere in Minnesota through the kindness of the author, Orfhlaith Foyle.  If you are a participant in the event please email me to be in the drawing for this wonderful collection of short stories.

"Take George Moore, for example. George Moore is the best living novelist — and the worst; writes the most beautiful prose of his time — and the feeblest"-Virginia Woolf 

"It is no country for an educated man.  It won't be fit to live in for another hundred years.  It is an unwashed country, that is what it is"-from "In the Clay"

I have decided to devote a few posts to the stories in The Untilled Field"  by George Moore.    Frank O'Connor said it was one of the greatest of all collections of short stories.   I first posted on Moore's story "Albert Nabbs", about a woman living out her life as a man. (This story is not part of  The Untilled Field).   By pure luck I posted on it just as a movie based on it was up for an Academy Award for best picture.   I did not know there was a movie based on the story (the movie never showed in Manila) until I checked my blog stats and saw ten times the normal number of hits on a new post.  A quick Google search found the movie.  I wish George Moore could have gotten a pay day from this.  For my first post for Irish Short Story Week Year Two I selected Moore's "Homesickness" mostly on the powerful endorsement of Frank O'Connor who describes it as a perfect work of art.  I loved the story.   I have decided to post on the remaining stories in the collection one by one, probably two to a posting.   Interest in Moore as a writer seems high.  A five volume collection of his short stories has recently been published, going for a mere $495.00!   

In order to increase my understanding of Irish literary culture I have begun reading what is clearly a brilliant book, Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd  In the opening chapters he talks about how many of the greatest of Irish writers did not really develop a strong sense of being Irish until they left Ireland.   He talks about how the Irish almost needed to define their own identity by a contrasting duality with the English.   George Moore is a prime exemplar of this theme as illustrated by the opening story in The Untilled Field.

"In the Clay" is almost an attack on the Ireland, depicted as a place where art could not flourish and priests control a backwards citizenry.  

"In The Clay" is about a sculptor working in Ireland.   I think Moore used as is artist a sculptor as the "over head" cost of producing a work of art is very high and takes a long time.   The sculptor has spent a lot of time practicing his craft in Italy where he was a helper to a master and did some commission work and lived on a scholarship grant he received.  When the money ran out he came back to Ireland and with the prestige of Italian training attached to his name, he was able to set up shop and get steady work.   He received from the local senior priest a very wonderful commission to do a statue of The Virgin and her child.   The first step for this is to find a model for the Virgin, who must be willing to pose nude.   He finds a sixteen year old girl, a beautiful very respectable girl who agrees to pose for him.   Artist or not there is clearly a sexual element in the work and in the man staring intently at the naked body of the girl and objectifying her body parts.   The artist does not see it that way, of course.   One day the priest comes into see how the work is going.   When he sees the nearly finished statue he has a shock of recognition when he sees the face of the girl on the statue.   The priest does not say anything but when the artist comes to his studio the next day the statue has been smashed.   The girl arrives to model shortly and he tells her the priest has sent in thugs to destroy the statue because he cannot understand the beauty of his art. She knows this not what really happened.    I will leave the rest of the story untold as the ending is really powerful and bears out the notion of the Irish identity being created by writers in exile and of the internalization by the Irish of the brutal characterization given them by the English.   Kiberd's book is helping me see Irish literature as very post  colonial.   

"A Letter to Rome" is just a flat out wonderful story on lots of levels.  It is hilarious, it is wicked (it made me think of Swift's "A Modest Proposal" but his is probably only me), is is another attack on the priesthood (Moore repudiated the Catholic Church, the religion on his raising) it  is a satire on attitudes toward Ireland at the time and the ending is just a marvel.    The plot is pretty simple.   The population of Ireland is way down from the middle of the 19th century, by about fifty percent due to the famine and the exodus it caused.   The people are pretty much in poverty over much of rural Ireland.   According to the priest who drafts a letter to Rome there are about 4000 priests in Ireland.   Outside of a few landlords and rich people in Dublin, they have the best houses, the best food, and the highest income. So the priest has an idea, why not let priests marry, within the first two years he says there would be about 4000 children and over five years close to 20,000.   All well fed and well housed.   He feels he needs to write the letter in Latin to show the proper respect but his Latin is very rusty so he approaches  another priest who is a Latin scholar and he asks him to redraft the letter.    His friend thinks the idea is a bad one and they get into a conversation about the merits of the plan.   I loved how Moore kept us wondering of the letter ever got mailed or not.   

Both of these stories are wonderful.   It is clear Moore is not a big fan of the role of the Catholic Priest in Irish society.   I have ten more stories to read and I am really looking forward to them.   

You can download The Untilled Field for free at several different places.

"Please join in ISSW2"-Ruprecht
Mel u