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

Friday, June 29, 2012

"The Last Time" By Desmond Hogan Day Eight Desmond Hogan Week

The Irish Quarter Year Two
 A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1
Desmond Hogan Week-June 18 to June 31  Day Eight
"The Last Time" -- The Weather
Co-Hosted  by Shauna Gilligan, Author of
Happiness Comes From Nowhere

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one's name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!  --Emily Dickinson

Project Notes-Desmond Hogan Week has now been extended until at least June 31.  I will keep the name.   I am treating Hogan's work as "found objects", a way of looking at literary art from the long ago.   If you are new to the work of Hogan, I suggest you read his stories and Shauna Gilligan's very well done introductory post on his work.   This is not a closed event, if you are interested in doing a guest post, you are welcome to do so.

"The Last Time" (1989, 14 pages) is another superb short story.  It is narrated in the first person voice of a young Irish woman who grew up in a Catholic orphanage in Galway County.   Her mother was a prostitute and she never knew who her father was.   As I have mentioned before, in my reading of the works in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories  I am treating the works as found objects.    The main purpose of my series of posts is in fact to help me increase my understanding of the stories through the process of posting on them.   I do not have a great inclination in posting on these stories to retell the plots of the stories and will sort of try to talk about something a bit different in each post.   One of the things this story is about is deep loneliness and the absent father .(Declan Kibard in Inventing Ireland said that the absent or weak father is one of the dominant themes of Irish literature and I did do a scan of the collection for the word "father" and it came up 200 times).   The story is about about terrible loneliness her upbringing forced on the young woman.

The woman's story begins in 1953, it is a tale of the past remembered, a mode of narration used in several of the other stories by the author I have so far read.   She is looking back at a first love, real or imagined through the prism of time gone by, and the first stirrings of sexuality.   The memories are intermingled with books she has read, reflections on her growing up and her life subsequent to leaving Ireland.   It is another story about outsiders, throw away people nobody really cares about and whom "normal" people try to see as less human than they are.

I am growing increasingly interested in the role the weather seems to have on the kind and volume of literature a country seems to produce.   Can you imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written in the Bahamas?   It seems that most, not all, dark and brooding literature,much of the classics of the world, were written in colder climates, places with the seasons.   The rhythm of seasons is one of the root metaphors of literature, not just European by any means, and in places where this is not found I think it has a profound effect on the lack of literary production.  On a practical level the winter in colder climates kept people inside most of the time, often in cramped overcrowded places either way to cold or heated by unpleasant methods.   This provided plenty of time for inner driven thoughts, reading, and writing.   Per Frank O'Connor the short story often about deep human loneliness, even a craving for and a savoring of the pain of loneliness.   Just as my impression, there is very little of such a trait in the psyche of people from the tropical country about which I know the most, the Philippines.  I want to look a bit about how this applies this story.  (This is kind of a rambling post to which I can say only "Oh well".)

I have never been to Ireland but just from the people I have met online I know the weather in Ireland can often for long periods of times be described via a color as "grey".  The word "grey" appears twice in the first paragraph of "The Last Time" and sixty times in the collection as a whole.   Even some of the trees are grey.  The river is half shrouded in fog, a common weather condition in Ireland I think based on my research (just to get the feel for Irish weather I check the forecast in Galway and Dublin most days).   There are other color references in the first two pages, "salmon-colour" and "the color of autumnal drought".   These uses of color show the seasons and their effects have worked there way deeply into the consciousness of the speaker (and probably into most of the audience for this story).  Lawns are described as gloomy.

Our narrator does have red hair.  I know this also has a special meaning in Irish literature but I am not comfortable yet talking about it.   Jamesy was her first love.   She would see him in his garden cutting hedges or reading.   She describes his face as being like an interested hedgehog.   The nuns had gotten her a job as a maid, she is maybe 17 or so.   He did not read ordinary books but works like War and Peace, Fathers and Sons, and Chekhov stories.   He begins to loan her books to read and she reads them in her off hours, kind of on the sly, back at the orphanage.   One of the books was Nana by Emile Zola, interestingly about a prostitute.   They begin a very slow moving never getting beyond a kiss or hug courtship until one day her employer see Jamesy, from a sort of high class family, hugging her.   She at once fires her and informs the nuns.  Jamesy's father had always wanted him to be a dentist (I admit I laughed when I read the narrator say to herself that even though Jamesy was intelligent his father wanted him to be a dentist).  She ends up getting a lot worse job, this time scrubbing floors.   Jamsey leaves town to study to be a dentist.   She will see, but not speak to him, one more time in her life.

I really liked it somehow when she got the courage to move to London.  The years  go by and it looks like she is married to a decent hard working man with whom she has children.   She is so happy she can marry him without anyone from her past being there to look down on her.

The story has a superbly interesting close.   It is hard to determine how much of her emotions are true memories (if there is such a thing) and how much a fantasy structure to help her cope with her life.   We can see, it is never said, that the books she read changed her in a deep way, maybe caused her more pain than not.

"The Last Time" is a great story.   It can be read for sheer enjoyment as well as profound commentary on life.

Lilliput Press press publishes Hogan's work and offers two of his works as E-Books.   I found their catalogue totally fascinating.   They are the premier publishers of Irish related books, located in Dublin and established in 1984.

Shauna Gilligan's wonderful new novel Happiness Comes From Nowhere can be purchased on Amazon or The Book Depository.

Mel u


CHE said...

A very thought-provoking post Mel U. Especially the relation between weather and literature. The works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and even the Brontes, seem so steeped in their winter fogs. Compare that to the writings of Tagore or Kipling where you can practically feel the sun on you while you read. Fascinating.

shaunag said...

Great post, Mel. Yes, I'd agree about the weather - it does have an effect no matter what it is - as the last poster pointed out.