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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Aran Islands by John Synge

The Aran Islands by John Synge (1901)
"J. M. Synge-Remembering the Future" -Chapter Ten of Inventing Ireland by Declan Kiberd

The Irish Quarter
1871 to 1909
Dublin, Ireland

John Synge, only known outside of serious Irish reader circles for his play The Playboy of the Western World, appears to be, based on my reading of Declan Kiberd's thoughts on him, the third most important figure in Irish literature, behind James Joyce and William Butler Yeats.   Synge, in his plays about Irish peasants and in his travel book,  The Aran Islands, helped to create the soul of Irish literature.   I have previously posted on two of his plays, Riders of the Sea and The Playboy of the Western World.  I know now I did not come close to "getting" these works and I will reread them soon along with his other plays.   (I will next read The Tinker's Wedding.)

Synge was born into a family of Protestant landed gentry.  Synge was educated in private schools in Dublin and Bray.  His mother's family was the Galway area.  (There is some background information on him in my prior posts on his work.)    He was to develop a great interest in the culture and history of Ireland, especially in antiquites and folk tales.   At the urging of Yeats, he made a visit to the Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway.  The islands are very rugged and the only way for the people who live there to survive is from fishing and potato farming.   The conditions were near neolithic when Synge visited.  Kiberd talks about how Synge did in fact romanticise and perhaps Orientalize the residents of the islands but it is clear from reading The Aran Islands that he was deeply moved and transformed by his encounters with the people there, his perception of their very old and very hard way of life, the wild to him beauty of the women and the sheer power of the sea surrounding the islands.   Through the eyes of Sygne, we learn of the belief in fairies among the island residents, we hear the stories of their lives and we walk the islands with Synge.   

The Aran Islands is a beautifully written work, you can feel the deep impact these islands had on Synge.  

Anyone seriously into Irish literature and culture needs to read this book, my guess is most already have.   

I will be reading all of his plays, I hope

Please share your experience with Synge with us,

Mel u


Patty said...

This is exactly the book I was looking for, so thanks for this wonderful review - I've already downloaded it!

Mel u said...

Patty. Thanks very much for your comment. Please let me know how you liked it.