seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Novelist Arthur Henry Ward

arthur-henry-wardArthur Henry “Sarsfield” Ward, prolific English novelist better known as Sax Rohmer, dies on June 1, 1959. He is best remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu.

Born in Birmingham to a working class family on February 15, 1883, Ward initially pursues a career as a civil servant before concentrating on writing full-time. He works as a poet, songwriter and comedy sketch writer for music hall performers before creating the Sax Rohmer persona and pursuing a career writing fiction.

Like his contemporaries Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, Ward claims membership to one of the factions of the qabbalistic Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He also claims ties to the Rosicrucians, but the validity of his claims has been questioned. His doctor and family friend Dr R. Watson Councell may have been his only legitimate connection to such organisations.

Ward’s first published work comes in 1903, when the short story “The Mysterious Mummy” is sold to Pearson’s Weekly. His main literary influences are Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and M. P. Shiel.

Ward gradually transitions from writing for music hall performers to concentrating on short stories and serials for magazine publication. In 1909 he marries Rose Elizabeth Knox. He publishes his first book Pause! anonymously in 1910.

After penning Little Tich in 1911 as ghostwriter for the famous music hall entertainer of the same name, Ward issues the first Fu Manchu novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, serialised from October 1912 to June 1913. It is an immediate success. The Fu Manchu stories, together with his more conventional detective series characters — Paul Harley, Gaston Max, Red Kerry, Morris Klaw and the Crime Magnet — make him one of the most successful and well-paid authors of the 1920s and 1930s. In the 28 years from 1931 to 1959, he adds no fewer than 10 new books to the Fu Manchu series.

Other works by Ward include The Orchard of Tears (1918), The Quest of the Sacred Slipper (1919), Tales of Chinatown (1922) and Brood of the Witch-Queen as well as numerous short stories.

Ward’s work is banned in Nazi Germany, causing him to complain that he could not understand such censorship, stating “my stories are not inimical to Nazi ideals.”

After World War II, Ward and his wife move to New York, only returning to London shortly before his death. He dies on June 1, 1959 at the age of 76, due to an outbreak of Influenza A virus subtype H2N2.

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Death of Playwright John Brendan Keane

john-brendan-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, playwright, novelist and essayist, dies in Listowel, County Kerry on May 30, 2002.

Keane is born on Church Street in Listowel on July 21, 1928, the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah (née Purtill). He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the UK between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender, living in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that Keane is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the United Kingdom, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955.

Keane marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish PEN and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

Keane cites many literary influences including Bryan MacMahon and George Fitzmaurice, fellow Kerry writers and playwrights. His personal influences are numerous but, most notably he thanks his father and his wife, Mary. He is grateful for his father’s help with early editing, allowing him access to his personal library, and encouraging him to continue his work until he is successful. He is also influenced by the local population and the patrons of his pub from which he bases some of his characters.

Keane dies on May 30, 2002 of complications from prostate cancer, which he had been battling for eight years. His death comes on the eve of the annual Listowel Writers’ Festival, a week-long event at which he had long been a dominating and avuncular presence.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Birth of James Joyce, Novelist, Short Story Writer & Poet

james-joyceJames Augustine Aloysius Joyce, Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet, is born in 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin on February 2, 1882. He contributes to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century.

Joyce is one of the ten children of Mary Jane “May” Murray and John Stanislaus Joyce, a professional singer and later rate-collector from a bourgeois Catholic family. He attends Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, until 1891, when his father’s financial worries mean they can no longer afford to send him there. He is temporarily home-schooled and spends a short time at a Christian Brothers school, before starting at Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school run by his old Clongowes headmaster, Father John Conmee.

Much of Joyce’s childhood is influenced by his charismatic, but increasingly alcohol-dependent and difficult father, whose ongoing financial troubles led to regular domestic upheaval. However, John Joyce’s passions, eccentricities, as well as his gift as a singer are celebrated in his son’s work. The death of the Irish Home Rule movement leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891 is a watershed moment in Joyce’s life, and was the subject of an inflammatory argument during a Christmas dinner, in which John Joyce and his friend John Kelly passionately defend Parnell from the accusations of the pious Elizabeth Conway. Joyce recreates the scene in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, portraying Kelly’s character, Mr. Casey, crying loudly with a “sob of pain,” “Poor Parnell! … My dead king!”

Joyce attends University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studies modern languages, with Latin and logic. In 1902 he goes to Paris with an intent of studying medicine but discovers, on arrival, that he does not have the necessary qualifications. He constantly struggles for money, relying on irregular work as a teacher, bank employee, cinema-owner and tweed-importer, and on patrons and supporters such as Harriet Shaw Weaver and Ezra Pound.

Joyce returns to Ireland in 1903 after his mother falls ill. She dies in August 1903. He refuses to take the sacraments or kneel at her deathbed, and the guilt he later feels is depicted in Ulysses when the ghost of Stephen’s mother returns to haunt him. On June 16, 1904, he meets Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he spends the rest of his life. By autumn, he is convinced of the impossibility of remaining in Ireland and persuades Nora to travel with him. They arrive in Paris on October 9, 1904. He would not return to Ireland to live. He cultivates a sense of himself as an exile, living in Trieste, Zürich, Rome and Paris.

Joyce’s first publication in 1907 is the poetry collection Chamber Music. When he sends Pound a revised first chapter of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, along with the manuscript of his short story collection Dubliners, Pound arranges for Portrait to be published serially in the modernist magazine The Egoist between 1914 and 1915. His short story collection, Dubliners, had been delayed by years of arguments with printers over its contents, but is also published in 1914.

Joyce then begins work on Ulysses, an experimental account of a single day in Dublin. The novel is serialised between 1918 and 1920, but full publication is delayed due to problems with American obscenity laws. The work is finally published in book form by his friend Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. His play Exiles is first performed in German in 1919, and English in 1926. His last novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), is an innovative language experiment that contains over 40 languages and a huge variety of popular and arcane references.

On January 11, 1941, Joyce undergoes surgery in Zürich for a perforated duodenal ulcer. He falls into a coma the following day. He awakes at 2:00 AM on January 13, 1941, and asks a nurse to call his wife and son, before losing consciousness again. They are en-route when he dies 15 minutes later, less than a month short of his 59th birthday. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zürich.


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Birth of Anne Brontë, Poet & Novelist

anne-bronteAnne Brontë, English poet and novelist, is born on January 17, 1820 in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. She is the sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë and author of Agnes Grey, A Novel (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

Brontë is the youngest of six children of Patrick Brontë, a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, and Marie Brontë. She lives most of her life with her family at the parish of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors and is taught in the family’s Haworth home and at Roe Head School. With her sister Emily, she invents the imaginary kingdom of Gondal, about which they write verse and prose, the latter now lost, from the early 1830s until 1845.

Brontë takes a position as governess briefly in 1839 and then again for four years, 1841–45, with the Robinsons, the family of a clergyman, at Thorpe Green, near York. There her irresponsible brother, Branwell, joins her in 1843, intending to serve as a tutor. Anne returns home in 1845 and is followed shortly by her brother, who has been dismissed, charged with making love to his employer’s wife.

In 1846 Brontë contributes 21 poems to Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, a joint work with her sisters Charlotte and Emily. Her first novel, Agnes Grey, is published together with Emily’s Wuthering Heights in three volumes, of which Agnes Grey is the third, in December 1847. The reception to these volumes, associated in the public mind with the immense popularity of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (October 1847), lead to quick publication of Anne’s second novel, again as Acton Bell, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in three volumes in June 1848. It sells well.

Emily’s death in December 1848 deeply affects Brontë and her grief undermines her physical health. Over Christmas, she comes down with influenza. Her symptoms intensify and her father sends for a Leeds physician in early January. The doctor diagnoses her condition as consumption (tuberculosis) and intimates that it is quite advanced, leaving little hope of recovery. Anne meets the news with characteristic determination and self-control.

In February 1849, Brontë seems somewhat better and decides to make a return visit to Scarborough in the hope that the change of location and fresh sea air might initiate a recovery. On May 24, 1849, she sets off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. However, it is clear that Anne has little strength left.

On Sunday, May 27, Brontë asks Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicates that death is close. Conscious and calm, she dies in the afternoon of Monday, May 28, 1849 at the age of 29. She is buried in Scarborough in St. Mary’s churchyard, beneath the castle walls, overlooking the bay.

Her novel Agnes Grey, probably begun at Thorpe Green, records with limpidity and some humour the life of a governess. George Moore calls it “simple and beautiful as a muslin dress.” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an unsoftened picture of the debauchery and degradation of the heroine’s first husband and sets against it the Arminian belief, opposed to Calvinist predestination, that no soul shall be ultimately lost. Her outspokenness raised some scandal, and Charlotte deplored the subject as morbid and out of keeping with her sister’s nature, but the vigorous writing indicates that Brontë found in it not only a moral obligation but also an opportunity of artistic development.

(Pictured: A sketch of Anne Brontë by sister Charlotte, circa 1834)


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Birth of Novelist Jennifer Johnston

jennifer-johnstonJennifer Prudence Johnston, Irish novelist whose works deal with political and cultural tensions in Ireland with an emphasis on the problems of the Anglo-Irish people, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1930. Rich in dialogue, Johnston’s novels often concern interpersonal relationships and the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Johnston is born to Irish actress and director Shelah Richards, and Irish playwright Denis Johnston. A cousin of actress and film star Geraldine Fitzgerald, via Fitzgerald’s mother, Edith (née Richards), she is educated at Trinity College Dublin. Other cousins include the actresses Tara Fitzgerald and Susan Fitzgerald.

Born into the Church of Ireland, many of Johnston’s novels deal with the fading of the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the 20th century.

Johnston’s first published book, The Captains and the Kings (1972), is actually written after The Gates (1973). Both novels feature the Anglo-Irish setting of a decaying manor house. Johnston’s third novel, How Many Miles to Babylon? (1974), concerns the complex and tragic friendship of two young men who are sentenced to death during World War I. Shadows on Our Skin (1977) and The Railway Station Man (1984) focus on violence in Northern Ireland, and The Old Jest (1979 and filmed as The Dawning, 1988) and Fool’s Sanctuary (1987) are set during the emergence of modern Ireland in the 1920s. The protagonist of The Christmas Tree (1981) attempts to salvage her troubled life before it is cut short by leukemia.

Johnston’s other novels include The Invisible Worm (1991), The Illusionist (1995), Two Moons (1998), This Is Not a Novel (2002), and Foolish Mortals (2007). She also writes short stories and plays, such as Three Monologues: Twinkletoes, Mustn’t Forget High Noon, Christine (1995) and The Desert Lullaby: A Play in Two Acts (1996).

Johnston marries a fellow student at Trinity College, Ian Smyth in 1951. She is a mother of four and currently lives near Dublin. She is also a member of Aosdána.


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Birth of Patrick MacGill, Poet & Novelist

patrick-macgillPatrick MacGill, journalist, poet and novelist, is born on December 24, 1889 in Glenties, County Donegal. He is known as “The Navvy Poet” because he works as a navvy before he begins writing.

During World War I, MacGill serves with the London Irish Rifles (1/18th Battalion, London Regiment) and is wounded at the Battle of Loos on October 28, 1915. He is recruited into Military Intelligence, and writes for MI 7b between 1916 and the Armistice in 1918. He writes a memoir-type novel called Children of the Dead End.

Patrick MacGill dies on November 22, 1963, the same day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

In early 2008, a docu-drama starring Stephen Rea is made about the life of Patrick MacGill, which is released in Ireland in 2009 as Child of the Dead End. One of the film’s locations is the boathouse of Edinburgh Canal Society at Edinburgh on the Union Canal, and one of its rowing boats.

An annual literary MacGill Summer School is held in Glenties in mid-July each year in his honour. A statue in his honour is on the bridge where the main street crosses the river in Glenties. He has three children, Christine, Patricia and Sheila MacGill.


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.