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 14, 2013

House of Gold by Liam O'Flaherty (1929)

 In 1929 the stock market in New York City crashed, starting a ten year world wide economic down trend which was part of the cause of WWII.   The post important book published that year was The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.  1929 was also the year in which the Irish Free State Board of Censorship first banned a book.  That book was House of Gold by Liam O'Flaherty (1896 to 1984 - Inishmore, Ireland) which was declared obscene.  O'Flaherty went on to have a long successful career as a writer, living mostly in America.  

I have read and enjoyed a number of O'Flaherty's short stories.   I first became aware of his set in Galway House of Gold through publicity surrounding its recent republication.  The novel opens with a section in which a woman married to a prominent local business man and power broker and her lover have sex, outdoors as was common in a time of no motels and gossips everywhere.  It is not at all graphic but there is a reference to the woman putting her skirt back on at the end of the encounter and I am guessing this is what was seen as obscene.  As is well explained in the introduction to the book by 1929 the British landlords and officials had been replaced by home grown tyrants.   The narration of the story refers to the common people of the area as "peasants".   I think, in part, The House of Gold is a protest of the romanticizing of the Irish peasant seen in much of the popular literature of the time.  Even the political leaders of the period tried to use the image of a happy contented populace away from the corruption of modern influences to manipulate the citizens of Ireland.  Much of the novel can be seen as an attack on the role of the Catholic priest as a tool of the wealthy to control the masses.  O'Flaherty was a Communist and subscribed fully to the view that religion was "the opiate of the people" and served to keep the "peasants" servile.   No doubt one of the factors in the novel that caused outrage in the censorship board was the depiction of a priest as lusting after a married woman.   

In the introduction it is stated that the peasants in House of Gold are kind of corrective figures to the smiling shuffling figures in the works of Sommerville and Ross and I see this.   

The dominating figure in the novel is a former peasant who through great industry and shrewdness has made himself a very big fish in a small pond, dominating the economic life of the area.  The adulterous woman is married to him and it is a pure sham of a marriage.  

O'Flaherty is known for his wonderful descriptions of nature and landscapes and I found many beautiful and lyrical passages that I relished.   

This a worth reading novel for those seriously into Irish literature and history.  It lets us see a lot about "real life" in Ireland in 1929.   It is not a great novel but I think it is an important book for its historical value.  
There are lot of typos in this edition, enough to make me think nobody proof read it.  

Mel u

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