[for Nora] while he finished his shave” (562). ‘Shem’, the son in Finnegans Wake, and the figure most closely associated with Joyce himself, is the name Beckett used as a shorthand for ‘Mr Joyce’ when speaking with those like McGreevy inside the circle. After an evening at the Joyces in early January 1938, he observes, “He was sublime last night, deprecating with the utmost conviction his lack of talent” (581). The following week, Beckett is stabbed in a street in Paris and hospitalised. The “lovable” Joyce was very solicitous for his fellow countryman, arranging for his medical care (though there’s no letter about this here), sending him bunches of Parma violets and going to visit him. That same month, it is clear that Beckett is well on the way to recuperating when, in a sentence which ends with the painter Jack B. Yeats, whom he much admired, he writes about his chronic inability to understand a phrase like “the Irish people” or “to imagine that it ever gave a fart in its corduroys for any form of art whatsoever” (599).
Some readers might be tempted to conclude that Beckett’s antipathy toward Ireland in these letters was the final word on the subject. In Beckett and Contemporary Irish Writing (2009), Stephen Watt concurs with Deirdre Bair: “Beckett had no pride in his Irishness; national identity meant nothing to him” (199). According to Watt, by December 1931, “Beckett could no longer tolerate Dublin and escaped to Germany and then Paris” (198-9). The letters tell a more complex story, where frustration is accompanied by yet more frustration. The idea of a series is important here, for no single attitude emerges. His confidant in these letters was a fellow Irishman, the poet and art critic Tom McGreevy, who also acted as confidant to Yeats’s wife George in the 1920s. But while George Yeats sometimes betrayed her feelings of frustration about her husband to McGreevy, Beckett is reporting on his plight as a person and an aspiring author to someone who shared much of his worldview. (There is a photograph of McGreevy and Beckett in London in the early 1930s in my James Joyce’s Ireland, page 203).
I would find it difficult to believe Beckett would ever allow a sentence such as “I have no pride in my Irishness” to be his final word on the subject. He hated grand statements, but he also had things inside him which couldn’t — no could not — be articulated in such a way, and to some extent Irishness was one of those things. McGreevy would have understood this and allowed his friend to sound off. Let me put this another way. If Beckett took no pride in his Irishness, why did he spend so much time in correspondence with someone like McGreevy and mixing with an Irish writer like Joyce or talking up the work of an Irish painter like Jack B.Yeats? And there is enough in these letters which speaks of his pride in what the country has to offer the visitor, such as Galway (“a grand little magic grey town full of sensitive stone and bridges and water” 127), or seeing Clonmacnoise for the first time (“indescribably beautiful” 324), or walking in the Dublin mountains and discovering “a lovely small Celtic cross” (489).
I felt somewhat unsure reading the first volume of Beckett’s correspondence as to how many relevant letters were missing, and I cannot say I was fully reassured by the editors in their introduction. Tipping the balance towards a more comprehensive coverage leads to a different problem as exemplified by the publication this past year of the second volume of T.S. Eliot’s letters. Many of the letters, written between 1925 and 1927, are business letters written by Eliot in his capacity as editor of The Criterion and director at Faber and Gwyer (later Faber and Faber). Fortunately, there are glimpses of humour in the midst of all this, and in one of the letters we learn something more about his relationship with Joyce. In the summer of 1923 Joyce was on holiday in the seaside resort of Bognor in Sussex. The previous year the two writers had published their most famous books The Waste Land and Ulysses. How would the leading American modernist living in London address the leading Irish modernist living in Paris? The answer: light-heartedly, with a dig at his own text. “I want to get a car one day when I am at Fishbourne and fetch you over and show you some of the waste lands round about Chichester” (29 June 1923). As it happened, Joyce did his own exploring round Chichester, but this was largely undertaken through reading what was to hand in a book such as the Ward Lock guide to the area. It was there that he came across in the churchyard in Sidlesham the name of Earwicker, the name he lifts for the main protagonist of Finnegans Wake. If the Roman remains at Fishbourne had then been known, I’m sure both Joyce and Eliot would have found room for them in their writing, but Joyce would have been happy just reading about them in the newspaper.
The title of Love’s Civil War: Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie Letters and Diaries from the Love Affair of a Lifetime 1941-1973 (2009), edited by Victoria Gendinning with Judith Robertson, is slightly at odds with the tender love story on display inside its pages. Not entirely, however, for the title does mirror a lengthy correspondence over three decades between the Anglo-Irish novelist and the Canadian diplomat, who conducted their relationship in secret. Interestingly, Bowen and Ritchie spent very little actual time together, but there is a sense that they made up for this by writing, at least in Bowen’s case. Her letters are full of the world around her and full of her love for him, while his diary entries are inward-looking and fairly terse, coming alive for this reader only after her death.
E is a third person initial for Ritchie, while in her letters he is always you. Forms of address can betray so much in love letters. “The fact is that happiness and tenderness and love don’t evaporate from the place where they’ve been strongly; one’s left with something stronger than memory, a feeling of something still going on — don’t you think?” (131-2) In the Index there are no separate entries for ‘reality’ or ‘presence’ or ‘absence’, yet perhaps there should be, for these are Bowen’s overriding themes, here in these letters as in her novels. As for the physical side of love itself, we learn she had “a love of touching the nape of the beloved’s neck or of having the nape of my neck touched” (347), which is followed by a series of elliptical points. I couldn’t determine, here and elsewhere in the book, if these points are cuts by the editors or suspension marks by Ritchie.
Because Bowen is such a sharp observer of the social scene, there is little or no sense when reading these letters of prying into things that don’t concern us. Certain attitudes, such as those toward social class, we are familiar with or we could guess what she thought. She was against the Labour Party landslide victory in 1945, which gave her a “psychic shock” (53), agreed with the Swiss, in the lead-up to the subsequent general election in 1950, that the British being socialists bored everybody, and, from her patrician background, she was in favour of the Conservative Party taking on Big Business. At the same time, because of her Anglo-Irish identity she was able to recognise her own position, which she could subject to humour. “I’m that awful paradox, a dowdy snob” (153), she admits at one point. Coming away from a morning shopping at Harvey Nichols, she imagines the clothes she has bought might look like “a plate of dessert” (226). London is her abiding passion. Of all the many cities she writes about, Madrid, where she stayed in October 1954, comes off the worst in this book, a city that assaults the senses, where church bells smash the silence to smithereens and “all the people look most fearfully common” (193), which she puts down to the Franco-Fascist atmosphere. It is a rare lapse for in general “doing the rounds” in the manner of the Anglo-Irish normally allows her to see something of value on which to report.
Throughout these letters there are nice moments, sometimes quite unexpected. She is struck, dining with the Duke of Leinster in London in 1946, how Ireland’s premier duke is ending his days in a “baroqued-over St John’s Wood kitchen” (98). Visiting Edinburgh in 1950, Bowen wonders about “the whole ‘British’ concept”, given the need for Scots to have their own Home Rule (167-8). As for writing and other authors, she particularly admired Flaubert’s letters and his ability to capture the sensation of writing (see 361), and she read with interest David Copperfield, a novel that gave her “an almost terrifying illumination about her own writing” (440). There are in addition valuable portraits here of other Irish writers including Molly Keane and Iris Murdoch. What surprised me were the occasional comments about the leading psychological novelist of her generation not being interested in people or in her own “interesting personality” (181). The letters betray something else, and that too is intriguing, such as when she claims in a letter written in 1950: “I might ‘live for others’, but I could never live for my work” (176).
Those with an interest in Irish Studies shouldn’t overlook the Letters of Ted Hughes, which appeared in paperback in 2009. Hughes’s friendship with Seamus Heaney is well-known, but the ten letters here to the Irish poet Richard Murphy are worth noticing for their varied insights into Hughes’s verse, into the work of other writers and also into the Irish landscape. The period he spent in Ireland in 1965 provided Hughes with a way out of the impasse in his writing, which was to lead to the poems in his celebrated volume Crow (1970). The influence of Yeats on Hughes is also to the fore here in the letters, not least in Yeats’s stress on reading aloud. When he was young, we learn that Hughes encountered Yeats’s first volume of verse The Wanderings of Oisin, and in a letter in 1992 he recalls what it meant to him: “I was swallowed alive by Yeats” (625). In passing, we can see that the rhythms in Hughes’s early verse also betray a debt to the Irish poet. What particularly attracted him to Yeats was the use of myths and legends, as well as his passionate devotion to the occult and to the esoteric tradition in Western culture.
The only occasion I had an opportunity of talking with Hughes was in Waterstones bookshop in York in the early 1990s. We spent about twenty minutes chatting, and most of that time was taken up with the occult. I must have been at work on Yeats’s Worlds (1995), which includes a chapter on the occult. For me the topic was simply of academic interest, but I could tell from his line of questioning that Hughes was a believer, someone who swallowed things alive. Each to his own, I came away thinking, conscious at the same time of a presence I had no wish to get too close to. Not surprisingly, here in the letters he defends Yeats against those critics such as Auden who would dismiss the occult as “embarrassing nonsense” (426).
As someone who lives in York, the correspondence that has given me the most pleasure this last year, published in two volumes and edited by Melvyn New and Peter de Voogd, has been that of Laurence Sterne. Sterne is essentially a York or a Yorkshire writer, but he does have links with Ireland. He was born in Clonmel in County Tipperary, and spent his early years in Ireland when his father was stationed there with a British regiment. In the village of Annamoe in County Wicklow, where Synge was later to spend his summers, can be seen the remains of a mill-race that once swept up the young Sterne and nearly killed him. In 1765, as an adult, when taken to task for ridiculing his Irish friends at Bath, Sterne, now the famous author of Tristram Shandy, resorts to the clincher: “Besides, I am myself of their own country: — My father was a considerable time on duty with his regiment in Ireland, and my mother gave me to the world when she was there, on duty with him” (430-1). The tongue-in-cheek attitude suggests he wouldn’t go to the stake over his identity, but Ireland is nonetheless real for him. This can be seen in little things in Tristram Shandy by his use of names, for example, such as Corporal Trim, or in the choice of tunes such as the Williamite ‘Lillibulero’, which is whistled by Uncle Toby whenever difficulties arise or he has to express an opinion. And it’s not surprising to learn in these letters that Sterne was offered clerical appointments in Ireland by his friend the Bishop of Cork and Ross (638).
But what intrigues me most reading these letters and their accompanying intelligent notes is the real-life incident that seems to lie behind Yorick’s encounter with the Monk in A Sentimental Journey, and how the abbé who came to the aid of Richard Oswald, a young Englishman dying of consumption in Toulouse, was of Irish descent and called not O’Leary but O’Leari (306ff). The incident clearly moved Sterne, especially “the great fellow feeling he shew’d to our friend” (307). So Sterne’s changing attitudes and altered disposition toward Catholicism seem to belong in part to his sojourn among European Catholicism, a Catholicism which was itself shaped by the Irish driven into exile in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on account of their religion. The local curé initially refused to allow the young man a church funeral because he was not a Catholic but, as the editors suggest, he seems to have relented when Sterne offered him money. The curé confirms Sterne in his prejudice against Catholics but it is the abbé with the French-Irish name who finds his way into fiction. Always with Sterne it is through contact that feeling comes, and it is feeling that changes the world, in this case, of anti-Catholic prejudice, to which he himself was subject. One suspects he could have made more of the Irish connection in A Sentimental Journey, but Sterne gives the impression that Irishness is behind him, part of the past, an already discovered or known country, ripe for humour, while European emancipation, in the clean shape and presumably intended symbol of the caged bird, is ahead of him, somewhere in the future.
The present Troubles continue to provide material for creative writers to ponder. Five Minutes of Heaven, a television drama shown on BBC2 in April 2009 and now released as a film, was a particular highlight for me. The play/film, which was written by Guy Hibbert and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, starred James Nesbitt as Joe, the younger brother of a Catholic murdered in 1975 by Alistair, a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, who is played by Liam Neeson. Years later Joe and Alistair come face to face in a television show (an imagined scene at the Truth and Reconciliation process), and this encounter is the subject of the film. Sensibly, the emphasis is on encounter, not resolution, and this is given a further twist by the fact that Nesbitt, who comes from Ballymena and who as a boy took part in Protestant marches on 12 July, plays a Catholic, while Neeson, who played Michael Collins in the film of that name, took the part of the Protestant killer. Everything contributes, then, to the tension in the drama. As if the murder was still fresh in his memory, Joe fumes, while Alistair, who has changed as a person, characteristically expresses the best line in the play: “The years just get heavier.”
Renewed interest in the North, especially from a Protestant perspective, shows little sign of abating. Irish Protestant Identities (2008) is a useful collection of essays, three of which can be noted here. In “Assessing an Absence: Ulster Protestant Women Authors 1900-60”, Naomi Doak argues for a revision to the conventional view that Protestant women writers came only from the Ascendancy. In an essay listing her chosen authors, she also shows how Ulster literary biographies will need to attend more closely to the issue of gender (and by implication social class). A second essay that caught my eye was Peter Day’s “Pride Before a Fall? Orangeism in Liverpool Since 1945”. In his conclusion, Day notices how numbers marching in support of the annual Boyne parade in Liverpool have fallen from 20,000 in 1980 to around 5,000 today, but the question he seeks an answer to is how we should interpret this, as a sign of a changing world or as a sign that people now believe but don’t belong. Stephen Hopkins’s essay “A weapon in the struggle? Loyalist paramilitarism and the politics of auto/biography in contemporary Northern Ireland” contrasts the personalisation of the Irish republican tradition with the absence of such a tradition among Protestants. However, as Hopkins points out, the list of autobiographical texts included at the end of the essay suggests a different story in the making.
Fintan Vallely’s Tuned Out: Traditional Music and Identity in Northern Ireland (2008) continues this reassessment of the Protestant contribution to modern Irish culture. He writes well about Jackie Boyce, a Protestant singer from Comber in County Down, and quotes the singer saying “I must be the only person ever to have been called a Fenian bastard and a Protestant bastard in the one night — in the same pub, all for playin’ Traditional music” (34). Only since the advent of the Troubles has there been an aggression about the music, and we are reminded of the way sectarianism once threatened to overshadow every aspect of the culture in Northern Ireland.
Frank Ferguson’s Ulster-Scots Writing: An Anthology (2008) deserves to be better known. In a short but generally persuasive introduction, Ferguson provides a justification for his anthology, motivated as it is by two questions: what is meant by the term ‘Ulster-Scots’ and what texts would constitute an anthology of Ulster-Scots writing? Ferguson is aware of the contentious field he is seeking to map, but in some respects that makes for this book’s appeal. I particularly enjoyed seeing again W.R. Rodgers’s “Epilogue to ‘The Character of Ireland’” surrounded by other Ulster-Scots writing:
I am Ulster, my people an abrupt people
Who like the spiky consonants in speech
And think the soft ones cissy; who dig
The k and t in orchestra, detect sin
In sinfonia, get a kick out of
Tin cans, fricatives, fornication, staccato talk,
Anything that gives or takes attack,
Like Micks, Tagues, tinkers gets, Vatican.
This is the kind of verse you want to read out loud or hear someone from Belfast reading, for what we have here is English as a spoken language on display. The glossary at the end of the anthology contains more spiky consonants, and I cannot resist quoting some for the letter k. Keckle for cackle, ketched for caught, kilt for clothes well tucked up, kimmer for male companion, kipple for couple, kittle for tickle or irritate, krisnin for christening, kythe for show or display. We might not agree how we define this language, but there’s nothing “cissy” about this anthology.
Other pieces I’ve enjoyed this past year include Anthony Cronin’s essay on Beckett’s Trilogy in Christopher’s Murray’s collection Samuel Beckett Playwright and Poet, published by Pegasus Books in 2009 but first issued in 2006. In the same volume there is a well-judged essay by Terence Brown on Beckett’s middle-class Protestant background. As for Cronin’s poetry, this receives particular acclaim by Paul Durcan in The Poet’s Chair: The First Nine Years of the Ireland Chair of Poetry (2008): “It’s the prose basis of his poetry that makes Cronin’s poetry such pure poetry” (179). But I would have liked Durcan to have proved this in the passages he quotes from Cronin’s verse. A review of The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney (2009) is included in this issue below, but let me add something of my own. As Dennis O’Driscoll’s essay serves to confirm, Heaney’s politics continues to provide critics with several options, none of which can be at this stage definitive. Justin Quinn finds Heaney’s engagement with Eastern European poetry “profound on the level of theme and superficial on the level of language” (102). In an intelligent and generally supportive essay, David Wheatley takes issue with Heaney’s view in The Redress of Poetry of Larkin’s ‘Aubade’. And Neil Corcoran’s essay on Heaney and Yeats threatens to provide the final word on the subject.
The burden of Calvin Bedient’s The Yeats Brothers and Modernism’s Love of Motion (2009) is that “each artist shines the more by comparison” (21). Bedient is attracted to the Nietzschean feel for sensation and sees this in the poet, while on the other side there stands his brother Jack B. Yeats with his pursuit of the multiple. It would be difficult to disagree with the claim that the Yeats brothers disturb the living stream and that they don’t fit easily into liberal views of tragedy, but I must confess I don’t respond terribly well to the Nietzschean view of Yeats. There are, however, insights here which can only come from long periods of exposure to this line of thinking, as when he claims that Jack’s work “thrives dangerously close to nothingness but stops short of rage, ill-will” (280), or that removed from social constraints, the poet’s loneliness “discovered a desire to destroy its enabling conditions” (280).
For a contrasting view of Yeats and Modernism, published in 2004, I am reminded of Sinéad Garrigan Mattar’s Primitivism, Science and the Irish Revival, a study which had its inception in the phrase about “our proper dark” from Yeats’s poem “The Statues”. With Lady Gregory, Synge, and Yeats in mind, Garrigan Mattar’s interest lies in squaring “their instinctively romantic primitivism with the findings of comparative science” (19). Where Bedient uses the Yeats brothers as a platform for something else, Garrigan Mattar’s inquiry is essentially about a return to history and its late-nineteenth-century contexts. This is also the place to mention two other recent contextual studies. Nicholas Allen’s Modernism, Ireland and Civil War (2008) focuses on the decades after Independence and what he calls the “post-imperial landscape” (143) for an understanding of the Yeats brothers, “Irregular Joyce” and early Beckett. Mary Burke’s ‘Tinkers’: Synge and the Cultural History of the Irish Traveller (2009), which includes a detailed discussion of the representation of the Irish traveller in the work of Synge, Bryan MacMahon, Juanita Casey, Rosaleen McDonagh, Tom Murphy, and Perry Ogden, is at the same time a timely shot across the bows of the scholarly community for its neglect of “the country’s most marginalized minority” (274).
Heinz Kosok’s Explorations in Irish Literature (2008) gathers together a range of essays written over a period of some thirty years and more. Inevitably, some are more distinguished than others. In an essay on the Great War in Irish drama he provides a valuable inventory of plays and where those plays were first staged. In another essay he argues for a reassessment of Thomas Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825), while at the same he has some (unnecessarily) harsh things to say about Thomas Moore. In a final essay on the oldest of the New Literatures in English, Kosok underscores the exemplary role of Irish Literature for other emerging literatures round the world. He supports his argument by suggesting that colonial literature in Ireland and elsewhere begins in the subjective vision of lyrical poetry and in the more objective view of travel writing.
The reference to Croker’s work calls to mind the continuing use of folklore in modern Irish writing. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s comments in The Poet’s Chair focus in part of her origins as a poet: “I have always been fascinated by folklore, though I wouldn’t have always called it by such a lofty name. What were they but little stories stitched into the everyday narratives around me, a five-year-old exile, back in my aunty Máire’s house in Cathair an Treanntaigh in the parish of Ventry in the mid-fifties” (146). In this regard I should also mention Davide Benini’s thoughtful essay “A Voice from the West: Rediscovering the Irish Oral Tradition in “The Dead’”, which can be found in Anáil an Bhéil Bheo: Orality and Modern Irish Culture (2009), a book of essays reviewed below.
2009 has also been a year for celebrations. The Samuel Beckett Bridge, connecting Sir John Rogerson’s Quay on the south side of the river Liffey with Guild Street and North Wall Quay on the north side, was opened by the Lord Mayor of Dublin in December. Brian Friel’s eightieth birthday was celebrated in style by both the Gate Theatre and the Abbey Theatre with tributes, new performances of his plays, and a bronze plaque of his handprints to join those of Luciano Pavarotti, John B. Keane, Milo O’Shea, and Niall Tobin. The revival of Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket Theatre in London in May 2009, with an all-star cast of Ian McKellen as Estragon, Patrick Stewart as Vladimir, Simon Callow as Pozzo, and Ronald Pickup as Lucky, was also something of a celebration. On display throughout was McKellen’s Lancashire accent, a reminder that the Irish writer’s play can incorporate so many different accents and yet still be itself. This production, directed by Sean Mathias, also brought out the way Lucky’s speech draws attention to words and phrases already introduced earlier in the play. In that respect, it’s a play full of connections like beads on a chain.
This is an appropriate moment to thank all the reviewers for their contributions to this issue and all the previous issues. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with so many different people from around the world who have given so generously of their time. This is also the place to thank Rosa Gonzalez for allowing me the space to carry out the reviews section for this journal over the last five years. That estudiosirlandeses.org is now a flourishing journal is down to Rosa. This is her achievement and her legacy, to have got something off the ground on behalf of the Spanish Association for Irish Studies (AEDEI) and to make the journal available without subscription to students and scholars across the globe. Indeed, wherever Irish Studies is taught, the name of this journal will be known. I told Rosa some time ago when I retired that I would be relinquishing my editorship. This is largely because I am no longer in sufficient contact with people in the field. I see new books in Irish Studies appearing almost every week, and I think to myself, “I cannot do justice to the field now opening up. It’s time to hand over the reins to someone who can.” So this is what I am now doing. As a footnote, you always know it’s time to go when you start writing memoirs, and this is what I’ve been doing since October 2009.