The Irish Quarter Year Two
: A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1
Desmond Hogan Week-June 18 to June 24
Word Counts and some Meta-Remarks
Co-Hosted by Shauna Gilligan
"Words. Words perfectly formed but sounding like a culture I knew nothing about, a language I could speak but not understand". Happiness Comes From Nowhere
"The harrowing loneliness in her voice, in her eyes, was unmistakable"-from "Foil"
Today is day five of Desmond Hogan week on The Reading Life. Today I shall only post on one of the 34 stories collected in Lark's Eggs: New and Selected Stories. I want to talk about a few other related matters also first. Also I want to invite any and all to join in through a guest post or a post on their own webpage. This is not a closed event.
What is my methodology here?
In this case I am treating the collection as what is sometimes called a "found object". By that I mean I will treat the book as if I did not know anymore about the author other than his name. The stories are individuals works of art, often written decades apart. I am looking at the stories one at a time for that reason but I am also looking at the collection as a whole. What is being conveyed about life, the world, history, society in this work. I want to see how the author uses his ideas and material, how much he is rooted in one narrow culture and how transcendent he can be seen as. I see the author of this collection as a cultural chronicler of non-centrifugal history, as one who sings of those out side mainstream culture while evidencing an incredible range of clearly autidacticly acquired knowledge. The author of this collection of stories knows things not taught in school. Of course like any largely self educated person, the question becomes does he know also what is taught in the standard world he is not a citizen off. He is kind of a chronicler of Desolation Row. He voluntarily lives among people who have no clue as to his inner nature, maybe he thinks no one does and he knows people regard him as strange so he has given up on High Tea at the Oriental Hotel in Singapore. I will try in each post to look at how the stories work, what they say to me and why I think they matter. I will not always devote a lot of space to retelling the plots of the stories.
I will try in time, maybe, to answer the question of "OK what is so great about these stories".
There is a very strong possibility Desmond Hogan Week will be extended beyond seven days but I will keep the name.
One thing I have come to really like about reading with the Kindle application on my Ipad is the ability to search for words. Sometimes the repeated appearance of words can give you an insight as to what is going on below the surface. Here are some of the word counts on Larks' Eggs:
Home 100 times
Lonely or alone 89 times
Death 68 times
Father 200 times
Mother 100 Times
Travel 138 times (this search found also Travellers as part of the count)
Ireland 100 times
Dublin 100 times
"Foils" is a story about deep loneliness, about being different and knowing it but not knowing why you are different. It is about growing old, about death,isolation and permanent loss. It is about the other objectified as a Protestant in a Catholic place. In his introduction to an edition of Dracula Colm Toibin says it is the religious divide that produces much of the Gothic/dark magic feel to Irish literature. This arises from a division of the community into two very different groups, seemingly very much alike and looking the same but with a deeply rooted suspicion and real fear of the other.
"Foils" is told in the third person. There really are only two characters, one is an old Protestant spinster who "looked unreal. Like a rag doll. She was a reminder of the Protestant stratum that once dominated the town, a remnant of it". She has lived alone since her sister died. She was a familiar figure always in black, sitting in the same spot on the benches. There is one other person who regularly set on the benches, a boy who was always totally absorbed in what he was reading. They ignore each other for a long time until one day there is a fair of some sort from whose enjoyment their nature excludes them both. The woman reaches out to him with questions about his family. It turns out that Miss Duffy also has a knowledge of the world of books and "outdated authors". Her and her sister had been inseparable and Miss Duffy was found clutching her sister's dead body. Sometimes she drifts into recollections of her sister. Only her religion sustains her.
Miss Duffy begins in a very fragmented way to tell her life story to the boy who slowly pieces it together as best he can. Then the boy sort of vanishes from his spot near her on the bench and she hears nothing off him until she learns he was committed to a mental hospital after attempting suicide. Neighbors tell her the boy had been under a severe mental train and acutely lonely for the last few months, the time when she came to converse with him. Life has become more and more unreal for Miss Duffy and even though she knew the boy well, perhaps next to her sister and a boyfriend she had long ago, better than she had known anyone else in her life, felt no sympathy for him. She has lost this capacity to age and isolation. While the boy is in the hospital, Miss Duffy is sent by a relative to a hospital as it is felt she could no longer take care of herself, for years she had been living in squalor in the house her and her sister once kept perfectly. Word comes back in a while that she has died but the event does not really register with anyone.
Hogan has perfectly created two lives, to intersecting lives, two lines that cross briefly, one to terminate and one off into the unknown. The story is about how those who do not fit in sort of seek out or find each other. It is about what happens when you lose your anchor in life. There are a number of great lines in the story. I will try to look at some individual sentences of Hogan later on.