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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Irish Author Abraham “Bram” Stoker

Abraham “Bram” Stoker, Irish author best known today for his 1897 Gothic fiction novel Dracula, is born on November 8, 1847 in Clontarf, Dublin. During his lifetime, he is better known as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, London, which Irving owns.

Stoker’s father, Abraham Stoker, is a civil servant and his mother, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley, is a charity worker and writer. Stoker is a sickly child and is bedridden with an unknown illness until he starts school at the age of seven, when he makes a complete recovery. Growing up his mother tells him a lot of horror stories which may have influence on his later writings.

In 1864 Stoker enters Trinity College, Dublin. While attending college he begins working as an Irish civil servant. He also works part time as a free lance journalist and drama critic. In 1876 he meets Henry Irving, a famous actor, and they soon become friends. Not long after that, Stoker meets and falls in love with an aspiring actress named Florence Balcombe whom he marries on December 4, 1878 at St. Anne’s Parish Church, Dublin. In 1878 he accepts a job working in London as Irving’s personal secretary.

On December 9, Stoker and his new wife move to England to join Irving. His first book The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland though written while he is still in Dublin, is published in 1879. On December 30, 1879 Stoker and his wife have their only child, a son Noel. While in England Stoker also writes several novels and short stories. His first book of fiction, Under the Sunset, is published in 1881.

Stoker visits the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890, a visit that is said to be part of the inspiration for Dracula. Before writing Dracula, he meets Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian writer and traveller. Dracula likely emerges from Vámbéry’s dark stories of the Carpathian Mountains. Stoker then spends several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires.

Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic but completely fictional diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which add a level of detailed realism to the story, a skill which Stoker develops as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula is considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life.

The original 541-page typescript of Dracula is believed to have been lost until it is found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. It consists of typed sheets with many emendations, plus handwritten on the title page is “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name is shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker. The typescript is purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

After suffering a number of strokes, Abraham “Bram” Stoker dies at No. 26 St. George’s Square, London on April 20, 1912. Some biographers attribute the cause of death to tertiary syphilis, others to overwork. He is cremated and his ashes are placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium in north London.

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Death of Irish Dramatist Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey, Irish dramatist and memoirist, dies of a heart attack in Torquay, Devon, England on September 18, 1964. A committed socialist, he is the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.

O’Casey is born John Casey at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin on March 30, 1880. He is a member of the Church of Ireland, baptised on July 28, 1880 in St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at St. John the Baptist Church in Clontarf. He is an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifts away from the church.

As O’Casey’s interest in Irish nationalism grows, he joins the Gaelic League in 1906 and learns the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicises his name from John Casey to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He also learns to play the Uilleann pipes and is a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and becomes involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, established by James Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabit the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he becomes General Secretary of Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army. On July 24, 1914 he resigns from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers is rejected.

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe dies in a hunger strike and it inspires him to write. He spends the next five years writing plays. O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, is performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This is the beginning of a relationship that is to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ends in some bitterness. It is followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

The Plough and the Stars is not well received by the Abbey audience. There is a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion offends some of the actors who refused to speak their lines. W.B. Yeats intervenes and describes the audience as “shaming themselves.”

In 1928, Yeats rejects O’Casey’s fourth play, The Silver Tassie, for the Abbey. It is an attack on imperialist wars and the suffering they cause. The Abbey refuses to perform it. The plays O’Casey writes after this include the darkly allegorical and highly controversial Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London’s Hyde Park. It closes not long after opening and is another box office failure.

Over the next twenty years, O’Casey writes The Star Turns Red (1940), Purple Dust (1943), Red Roses for Me (1943), Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). In 1959, O’Casey gives his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, is a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. Also in 1959, George Devine produces Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre and it is also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and has a West End run.

On September 18, 1964, at the age of 84, O’Casey dies of a heart attack, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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Birth of Playwright George Bernard Shaw

george-bernard-shawGeorge Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and polemicist, is born on July 26, 1856, at 3 Upper Synge Street in Portobello, a lower-middle-class area of Dublin. Shaw’s influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extend from the 1880s to his death and beyond.

Shaw writes more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw becomes the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Shaw moves to London in 1876, where he struggles to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarks on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he has become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joins the gradualist Fabian Society and becomes its most prominent pamphleteer. Shaw has been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he seeks to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social, and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist is secured with a series of critical and popular successes that include Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shaw’s expressed views are often contentious. He promotes eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposes vaccination and organised religion. He courts unpopularity by denouncing both sides in World War I as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigates British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances have no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist.

The inter-war years see a series of often ambitious plays, which achieve varying degrees of popular success. In 1938 he provides the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he receives an Academy Award. His appetite for politics and controversy remain undiminished. By the late 1920s he has largely renounced Fabian gradualism and often writes and speaks favourably of dictatorships of the right and left — he expresses admiration for both Mussolini and Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

During his later years, Shaw enjoys tending the gardens at Shaw’s Corner. He dies on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94 of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred when falling while pruning a tree. His body is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on November 6, 1950. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife Charlotte, are scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to Shakespeare among English-language dramatists. Analysts recognise his extensive influence on generations of playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.