seamus dubhghaill

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


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Shaw’s “Too True to Be Good” Premieres in New York City

george-bernard-shaw-2Too True to Be Good (1932), a comedy written by playwright George Bernard Shaw premieres at the Guild Theatre in New York City on April 4, 1932. Subtitled “A Collection of Stage Sermons by a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,” it moves from surreal allegory to the “stage sermons” in which characters discuss political, scientific and other developments of the day. The second act of the play contains a character, Private Napoleon Meek, based on Shaw’s friend T. E. Lawrence.

The play explicitly deals with the existential crisis that hit Europe after the end of World War I, especially the emergence of a “modernist” culture fueled by uncertainties created by Freudian psychology and Albert Einstein‘s new physics. The whole of the second and third acts of the play have often been interpreted as a dream of escape occurring in the mind of the feverish Patient (hence the talking Microbe‘s comment that the “real” action is over), and the Patient repeatedly says that what is happening is a dream.

The play is an early example of the formal experimentation with allegory and the absurd that become a feature of Shaw’s later work, having much in common with the later play The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, which is also set in an obscure island at the edge of the British Empire. Its absurdist elements later lead to its being viewed as a precursor to the work of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.

The idea that microbes, specifically bacteria, are somehow made sick by human illnesses is a belief that Shaw repeatedly promotes, claiming that disease produces mutations in bacteria, misleading doctors into the belief that “germs” cause disease. The play dramatises his theory that life-energy itself cures illness.

The play is first staged on Monday, February 29, 1932, at Boston‘s Colonial Theatre, by the Theatre Guild. After the April performance in New York it is followed in the same year by a production in Malvern, Worcestershire starring Beatrice Lillie, Claude Rains, and Leo G. Carroll.

The play receives a Broadway revival in 1963, directed by Albert Marre and starring Robert Preston, Lillian Gish, David Wayne, Cedric Hardwicke, Cyril Ritchard, Glynis Johns, and Eileen Heckart. This production features incidental music by Mitch Leigh, who later works with Marre on Man of La Mancha. It has also been presented at the Shaw Festival four times: in 1974, 1982, 1994, and 2006.


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Birth of Frank Harris, Journalist & Novelist

frank-harrisFrank Harris, Irish American editor, novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher, is born James Thomas Harris in to Welsh parents in Galway, County Galway on February 14, 1855. He is friendly with many well-known figures of his day.

Harris’s father, Thomas Vernon Harris, is a naval officer from Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, Wales. While living with his older brother he is, for a year or more, a pupil at The Royal School, Armagh. At the age of twelve he is sent to Wales to continue his education as a boarder at the Ruabon Grammar School in Denbighshire, a time he is to remember later in My Life and Loves. He is unhappy at the school and runs away within a year.

Harris runs away to the United States in late 1869, arriving in New York City virtually penniless. The 13-year-old takes a series of odd jobs to support himself, working first as a shoeshiner, a porter, a general laborer, and a construction worker on the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge. He later turns these early occupational experiences into art, incorporating tales from them into his book The Bomb (1908).

From New York Harris moves to Chicago, where he takes a job as a hotel clerk and eventually a manager. Owing to Chicago’s central place in the meat packing industry, he makes the acquaintance of various cattlemen, who inspire him to leave the big city to take up work as a cowboy. He eventually grows tired of life in the cattle industry and enrolls at the University of Kansas, where he studies law and earns a degree, gaining admission to the Kansas Bar Association.

Harris is not cut out to be a lawyer and soon decides to turn his attention to literature. He returns to England in 1882, later traveling to various cities in Germany, Austria, France, and Greece on his literary quest. He works briefly as an American newspaper correspondent before settling down in England to seriously pursue the vocation of journalism.

Harris first comes to general notice as the editor of a series of London papers including The Evening News, The Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review, the later being the high point of his journalistic career, with H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw as regular contributors.

From 1908 to 1914 Harris concentrates on working as a novelist, authoring a series of popular books such as The Bomb, The Man Shakespeare, and The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories. With the advent of World War I in the summer of 1914, he decides to return to the United States.

From 1916 to 1922 Harris edits the U.S. edition of Pearson’s Magazine, a popular monthly which combines short story fiction with socialist-tinted features on contemporary news topics. One issue of the publication is banned from the mails by United States Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson during the period of American participation in World War I. Despite this Harris manages to navigate the delicate situation which faces the left wing press and keeps Pearson’s Magazine functioning and solvent during the war years.

Harris becomes an American citizen in April 1921. In 1922 he travels to Berlin to publish his best-known work, his four volume autobiography My Life and Loves (1922–1927). It is notorious for its graphic descriptions of his purported sexual encounters and for its exaggeration of the scope of his adventures and his role in history. A fifth volume, supposedly taken from his notes but of doubtful provenance, is published in 1954, long after his death.

Harris also writes short stories and novels, two books on William Shakespeare, a series of biographical sketches in five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits and biographies of his friends Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. His attempts as a playwright are less successful. Only Mr. and Mrs. Daventry (1900), which is based on an idea by Oscar Wilde, is produced on the stage.

Married three times, Harris dies of a heart attack in Nice, France on August 26, 1931. He is buried at Cimetière Sainte-Marguerite, adjacent to the Cimetière Caucade, in Nice. Just after his death a biography written by Hugh Kingsmill (pseudonym of Hugh Kingsmill Lunn) is published.


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Death of Padraic Colum, Poet & Novelist

padraic-columPadraic Colum, Irish-born American poet, novelist, biographer, playwright, and children’s author whose lyrics capture the traditions and folklore of rural Ireland, dies in Enfield, Connecticut on January 11, 1972. He is one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival.

Colum was born on December 8, 1881 in Columcille, County Longford, the first of eight children born to Patrick and Susan Columb. In 1892, the family moves to Glasthule, near Dublin and he attends the local national school. He starts writing after he finishes school and meets a number of the leading Irish writers of the time, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ. He also joins the Gaelic League and is a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. He becomes a regular user of the National Library of Ireland, where he meets James Joyce and the two become lifelong friends.

Influenced by the literary activity of the Celtic revival centered in Dublin at the turn of the century, Colum publishes the collection of poetry Wild Earth (1907). He co-founds The Irish Review in 1911, then three years later settles permanently in the United States. His varied literary output includes volumes of poetry including Dramatic Legends (1922) and Creatures (1927), plays such as Broken Soil (first performed 1903) and The Land (1905), novels, anthologies of folklore and children’s books. The reminiscence Our Friend James Joyce (1959) is written with his wife Mary (Maguire), a well-known literary critic.

The Colums spent the years from 1930 to 1933 living in Paris and Nice, where Padraic renews his friendship with James Joyce and becomes involved in the transcription of Finnegans Wake. After their time in France, the couple moves to New York City, where they do some teaching at Columbia University and City College of New York. He is a prolific author and publishes a total of 61 books, not counting his plays. While in New York, he writes the screenplay for the 1954 stop-motion animated film Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy. It is his only screenplay.

Mary dies in 1957 and Colum completes Our Friend James Joyce, which they had worked on together. It is published in 1958. He divides his later years between the United States and Ireland. In 1961 the Catholic Library Association awards him the Regina Medal.

Padraic Colum dies on January 11, 1972, at the age of 90, in Enfield, Connecticut. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton, Dublin.


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Birth of Dion Boucicault, Playwright & Actor

dionysius-boucicaultDionysius Lardner “Dion” Boucicault, Irish American playwright and actor and a major influence on the form and content of American drama, is born in Dublin on December 26, 1820.

Educated in England, Boucicault begins acting in 1837 and in 1840 submits his first play to Lucia Elizabeth Vestris at Covent Garden, however it is rejected. His second play, London Assurance (1841), which foreshadows the modern social drama, is a huge success and is frequently revived into the 20th century. Other notable early plays were Old Heads and Young Hearts (1844) and The Corsican Brothers (1852).

In 1853 Boucicault and his second wife, Agnes Robertson, arrive in New York City, where his plays and adaptations are long popular. He leads a movement of playwrights that produces in 1856 the first copyright law for drama in the United States. His play The Poor of New York, based on the panics of 1837 and 1857, has a long run at Wallack’s Theatre in 1857 and is presented elsewhere as, for example, The Poor of Liverpool. The Octoroon (1859) causes a sensation with its implied attack on slavery.

Boucicault and his actress wife join Laura Keene’s theatre in 1860 and begin a series of his popular Irish plays — The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen (1860), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), The O’Dowd (1873), and The Shaughraun (1874). Returning to London in 1862, he provides Joseph Jefferson with a successful adaptation of Rip Van Winkle (1865). In 1872 he returns to the United States, where he remains, except for a trip to Australia that results in his third marriage (for which he renounced the legitimacy of his second marriage). Among his associates in the 1870s is the young David Belasco. At the time of his death on September 18, 1890 in New York City, he is a poorly paid teacher of acting. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings, Westchester County, New York.

About 150 plays are credited to Boucicault, who, as both writer and actor, raises the stage Irishman from caricature to character. To the American drama he brings a careful construction and a keen observation and recording of detail. His concern with social themes prefigures the future development of drama in both Europe and America.

(Pictured: Dionysius Boucicault, taken 1890 or before. Photograph: Harvard Theatre Collection/Wikimedia Commons)


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Birth of Composer Gerard Victory

gerard-victoryThe prolific Irish composer Thomas Joseph Gerard Victory is born in Dublin on December 24, 1921. He writes over two hundred works across many genres and styles, including tonal, serial, aleatoric and electroacoustic music.

Victory is the son of shop keeper Thomas Victory and his wife, Delia (née Irwin). After schooling, he reads Celtic Studies at University College Dublin and Music at Trinity College Dublin, earning a doctorate in 1972.

In April 1948 Victory marries Geraldine Herity and they have five children: Alma, Fiona, Isolde, Raymond, and Alan.

In terms of composition, Victory is mostly self-taught, although he receives some formal training from John Francis Larchet, Alan Rawsthorne and Walter Beckett. He also attends the “International Summer Courses for New Music” in Darmstadt, Germany.

In 1948 he is joint composer of music for a song in a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called Light Falling. This is performed by the Abbey Experimental Theatre Company in the Peacock Theatre, Dublin.

Victory’s career is primarily in music administration, serving as Director of Music for Ireland’s national broadcasting station RTÉ from 1967 to 1982. He is a president of UNESCO‘s International Rostrum of Composers, a Fellow of the Royal Irish Academy of Music and a recipient of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Gerard Victory Commission is a prize named in his honour that is awarded to the most promising individual composer.

Gerard Victory dies in Dublin on March 14, 1995. His papers are held in Trinity College and a number of his scores are held at the Contemporary Music Centre.


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Death of Samuel Beckett, Playwright & Poet

Samuel Barclay Beckett, avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, dies in Paris, France on December 22, 1989.

Beckett is born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, in Foxrock, Dublin. His father, William Frank Beckett, works in the construction business and his mother, Maria Jones Roe, is a nurse. Beckett attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin and then, at age 14, he goes to Portora Royal School, the same school attended by Oscar Wilde. He receives his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1927. In his youth he periodically experiences severe depression keeping him in bed until mid-day. This experience later influences his writing.

In 1928, Beckett finds a welcome home in Paris where he meets and becomes a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he embarks on a restless sojourn through Great Britain, France and Germany. He writes poems and stories and does odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he comes across many individuals who inspire some of his most interesting characters.

In 1937, Beckett settles in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he is stabbed by a pimp after refusing his solicitations. While recovering in the hospital, he meets Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student in Paris. The two become life-long companions and eventually marry. After meeting with his attacker, Beckett drops the charges, partly to avoid the publicity.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allows him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fights in the resistance movement until 1942 when members of his group are arrested by the Gestapo. He and Suzanne flee to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war.

After the war, Beckett is awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French resistance. He settles in Paris and begins his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he writes Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoys modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, achieves quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play runs for 400 performances and enjoys critical praise.

Beckett writes in both French and English, but his most well-known works, written between World War II and the 1960s, are written in French. Early on he realizes his writing has to be subjective and come from his own thoughts and experiences. His works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante Alighieri, René Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

The 1960s are a period of change for Beckett. He finds great success with his plays across the world. Invitations come to attend rehearsals and performances which lead to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly marries Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who takes care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 leads to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.

Beckett continues to write throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he can give total dedication to his art of evading publicity. In 1969, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he declines accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times meets with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.

By the late 1980s, Beckett is in failing health and is moved to a small nursing home. His wife Suzanne dies on July 17, 1989. His life is confined to a small room where he receives visitors and writes. Suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, he dies on December 22, 1989.

 


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W.B. Yeats Receives Nobel Prize in Literature

william-butler-yeats-1William Butler Yeats, Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, receives Nobel Prize in Literature on December 10, 1923.

Yeats is born at Sandymount in County Dublin on June 13, 1865. His father, John Butler Yeats, is a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. He is educated in London and in Dublin, but spends his summers in the west of Ireland in the family’s summer house at Connacht. The young Yeats is very much part of the fin de siècle in London. At the same time he is active in societies that attempt an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appears in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighs his poetry both in bulk and in import.

Together with Lady Gregory, Yeats founds the Irish Literary Theatre, which later becomes the Abbey Theatre, and serves as its chief playwright until the movement is joined by John Millington Synge. His plays usually treat Irish legends and also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known.

After 1910, Yeats’s dramatic art takes a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays are written for small audiences. They experiment with masks, dance, and music, and are profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, he deplores the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it. He is appointed to the Irish Senate, Seanad Éireann, in 1922.

Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works are actually written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he receives the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), make him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.

Yeats dies at the age of 73 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France, on January 28, 1939. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In September 1948, his body is moved to the churchyard of St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette Macha.

(From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969)