Last year I tackled the legend of St. Patrick, https://www.thisawfulawesomelife.com/home/2018/3/15/what-do-we-know-about-st-patrick-by-fran-joyce-23776 and quizzed you on All Things Irish, https://www.thisawfulawesomelife.com/home/2018/3/13/the-all-things-irish-quiz-5kx4s.
This year, I’m returning to the literary roots of the magazine by featuring some famous Irish authors.
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
Wilde was born in Dublin. He is best known as a poet and a playwright. His only published novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde was a spokesman for aestheticism, a late 19th-century European arts movement which contended that all art exists for the sake of its beauty alone; it does not have to serve a political, didactic, or other purpose.
Wilde’s best known other works include: Ravenna, Poems, The Happy Prince and Other Stories,
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories, A House of Pomegranates, Intentions, The Soul of Man under Socialism, Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, The Importance of Being Earnest, De Profundis, and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”
Wilde who was married with two children became embroiled in a scandal in London with Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde sued the Marquess for libel, but during the trial it was revealed that Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas were having a sexual relationship. Charges were dismissed against the Marquess and Wilde was arrested. Though a jury failed to convict, prosecutors refilled charges. Wilde was convicted of indecency and received the mandatory sentence of two years of hard labor in prison. He died penniless at the age of 46.
“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Shaw was born in Dublin and moved to London at the age of 20 to pursue a writing career. By the mid 1880’s, he had become a well-respected theater and music critic. He later achieved success as a playwright, polemicist (person who engages in controversial debate) and political activist. His writings continue to influence Western theatre, culture and politics. He wrote more than sixty plays and became the leading dramatist of his generation. In 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1923, Shaw was featured on the December 24 cover of Time magazine.
Shaw's personal and political views were controversial. He was an active member of the Fabian Society, a British socialist organization. He promoted eugenics and alphabet reform while opposing vaccination and organized religion. Shaw denouncing both sides in the First World War and openly criticized British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. Interestingly, Shaw’s popularity and reputation did not suffer because of his controversial beliefs. He lived to be 94 years old.
Shaw’s best known works include Major Barbara, Pygmalion, Cashel Byron’s Profession, Widowers’ Houses, The Millionairess, The Philanderer, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Candida, The Man of Destiny and The Devil’s Disciple.
(For a full list, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_by_George_Bernard_Shaw).
“A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.” Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745)
Swift is best known as a satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.
He was born in Dublin and named after his father who died seven months later. Swift’s mother moved to England shortly after her husband’s death leaving her son in the care of his wet nurse. His uncle, Godwin Swift became, became Swift’s guardian. Swift attended Trinity College in Dublin where he studied religion. While Swift was pursuing his Master’s degree, political upheaval in Ireland forced him to flee to England where his mother helped him find employment.
After his return to Ireland, Swift was bored with the life of a country cleric. Rumors circulated that he fell in love with and proposed to the sister of a close friend. Many believed Swift later began a romantic relationship with Esther Johnson whom he nicknamed “Stella,” a young woman he had tutored during her childhood. Swift and Johnson denied rumors of a secret marriage and neither married during their lifetimes.
In 1700, Swift began writing and published several works in the years that followed. He formed lifelong friendships with Alexander Pope, John Gay, and John Arbuthnot.
Swift’s writing became more political supporting first the Whigs then the Tory party. He was labeled a Whig in politics and a Tory in religion – a distinction he often admitted to in private. His scathing essays and satirical works earned him many political enemies, but Swift managed to avoid imprisonment.
Swift suffered from Ménière's disease, a condition which causes vertigo and giddiness. In later life, his mental faculties declined and Swift’s finances were protected by a conservator. He died a month before his 78th birthday, and his fortune was donated to a mental hospital in Ireland.
Swift’s major works include A Tale of a Tub, The Battle of the Books, Cadenus and Vanessa, Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella and Drapier’s Letters.
“Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”
“You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.” Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)
Goldsmith was born in either County Longford or County Roscommon, Ireland. He was a novelist, playwright and poet. He is best known for his novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, his pastoral poem “The Deserted Village,” and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer. He may have also written the classic children's tale, The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.
Goldsmith’s father and grandfather were clergymen, but he had little interest in following in their footsteps at Trinity College in Dublin. He was a lackluster student and preferred fancy clothes, playing cards, singing Irish airs and playing the flute.
After years of meaningless jobs and gambling debts, Goldsmith became a hack writer on Grubb Street in London. He excelled at his task. Horace Walpole dubbed him the “inspired idiot,” but his talent garnered the attention of Samuel Johnson who became a benefactor.
Goldsmith was well liked by his fellow writers and died at the age of 46 of a misdiagnosed kidney infection.
“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.”
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1938)
Yeats was born at Sandymount in County Dublin, Ireland and educated there and in London where his family lived several times during Yeats childhood. He was interested in poetry from an early age and fascinated by Irish folklore and the occult. He described himself as a lackluster student and an atrocious speller. Yeats wrote his first poems in high school, but decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and go to art school.
Yeats was a Protestant who supported Irish Nationalism, but preferred to avoid politics in favor of his work. He had a series of romantic relationships with women he considered to be his muses, and proposed marriage several times only to be rejected. At 51, he proposed to 25 year old Georgie Hyde- Lees and she accepted. Despite their age difference, and Yeats’ romantic relationships with his muses, they had a happy marriage. He and Georgie had two children. After avoiding politics, Yeats served as a Senator of the Irish Free State for two terms beginning in 1922. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival.
Yeats' early poetry was influenced by Irish myth and folklore. His later work dealt with contemporary issues. In his middle period, Yeats attempted social irony. Though he was a modernist, Yeats did not favor free verse and his style remained traditional. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Yeats died at 73. Per his wishes, he was buried in France and his body was exhumed one year later and moved to the churchyard of St Columba's Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, Ireland.
His major works include “Byzantium,” “Adam’s Curse,” “A Drinking Song,” “Sailing to Byzantium,” “He and She,” “The Peacock,” “Under Ben Bulben,” “When You are Old,” and “To Ireland in the Coming Times.”
“I had a very happy childhood, which is unsuitable if you are going to be an Irish writer.” Maeve Binchy (1939-2012)
Binchy was born in Dalkey, Ireland. She attended convent schools before going to college at University College Dublin where she earned her B.A. in history. She taught French, Latin and history at various girls’ schools before becoming a journalist at The Irish Times. Eventually, she began writing novels, short stories, and dramatic works.
At 6’1” tall, Binchy was plumb and felt destined to become a spinster. Through work, she met children’s author, Gordon Snell who was still working as a producer for the BBC. Binchy moved to London to be near him and they were married until her death.
Binchy published 16 novels, four short-story collections, a play and a novella. Her 17th novel, A Week in winter, was published after her death.
Binchy’s first book was rejected five times. It was later published for a record amount for a first novel at a time when Binchy and her husband were struggling financially. Binchy went on to become one of the richest women in Ireland.
Most of her stories are set in Ireland. Her books deal with the tensions between urban and rural life, life in England versus Ireland, and the dramatic changes between World War II Ireland and the present day. Her books have been translated into 37 languages.
Binchy dealt with several health problems during her life. She died of a heart attack after suffering complications from a spinal infection.
Some of her most popular works include Light a Penny Candle, Echoes, Silver Wedding, Circle of Friends, The Glass Lake, Heart and Soul, and Tara Road.
“Mistakes are the Portals of Discovery.”
“Better pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.” James Joyce (1882 – 1941)
Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland into a middle class family. He excelled at school and was accepted at University College Dublin where he studied English, French and Italian. Joyce immigrated to Europe with Nora Barnacle who was his constant companion and later his wife. Though he spent most of his adult life abroad, Joyce's fictional universe centers on Dublin. His characters closely resemble family members, friends and enemies from Dublin.
Joyce was a heavy drinker and often fought with his publishers about censorship of his work which was often deemed pornographic by conservatives. He taught English in European schools to make ends meet.
In 1941, Joyce died from complications after surgery in Zurich for a perforated duodenal ulcer.
His body was buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zurich. The Irish government later declined Nora's offer to permit the repatriation of Joyce's remains. Joyce was moved in 1966 to a more prominent "honor grave," with a seated portrait statue by American artist Milton Hebald nearby. Nora, who passed away in 1951, is buried by his side, and their son Giorgio, who died in 1976, is also buried there.
Joyce’s major works include Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake, and Exiles.