Irish Literature Today
by JOHN V. KELLEHER
Now that Yeats is dead six years and Æ nine, we can perhaps turn to Irish literature for an appraisal of its post-Revolutionary phase. Those two men, already grown to fame before the Revolution, so dominated the scene after it that all the younger men were obscured by them, and new work which was full of ability was made to seem trivial and immature in comparison with theirs. One cannot say they led the new generation; the difference of intent between their poetic fantasy and the younger men’s prose realism was too wide for that; they did, by their presence, by their founders’ authority, hinder the rise of new leaders.
Yeats and Æ were the grand old men of Irish literature: its pioneers, as no one else is likely ever to be. As they had had no serious competitors when young, so when old they had the preponderance of fame and experience on their side. An O’Flaherty or an O’Faoláin might gain much by the work they had already accomplished; he could never have the naked freedom they had enjoyed. There can be many generations of explorers and many of settlers: there is only one of pioneers; and Irish literature is now a settled region. It is time to see how the settlers are making out.
The latest reports are bad. Indeed it has been a long while since there has been a cheerful one. Seán O’Faolain, the most important Irish author living in Ireland, ended one of his editorials in the Bell with these words: “The picture is tragic, but we must paint what we see. Yeats, Moore, Joyce, Shan Bullock, MacKenna, Gregory, Æ, Higgins have all gone. No young men are appearing. If our leaders of opinion do not act quickly Irish literature will virtually cease to exist within ten years.”
And Frank O’Connor, writing in Horizon on “The Future of Irish Literature,” confessed that he was unable to see any future for it. “Theoretically, of course, it is possible for a writer to live in a country where his books are banned, where there are no magazines to print his work, where all power is in the hands of a fanatical and corrupt middleclass, and never, never emerge from his ivory tower. But like Whitman when he saw the oak tree growing alone, ‘I know I could not do it.’ ”
A native of Massachusetts who has never been in Eire, JOHN V. KELLEIIER made a name for himself as a Junior Eellow at Harvard and with his Lowell Lectures on Irish literature.
Such pessimism coming from these two men cannot be shrugged off. O’Faoláin is one of the few Irish writers who have deliberately chosen to stay and fight it out in Ireland, though he might have found likelier rewards in almost any other direction. O’Connor has fought hard against much pressure to keep a secure foothold in Irish life. They have then the right to speak. They have won it many times over. If Irish literature can be said to have leaders, they and the poet Austin Clarke are its leaders.
Of course the objection can immediately be raised that there are other and more famous living Irish authors than these. There are, but not in Ireland. The names O’Faoláin lisled in the Bell editorial are of those Irish writers who have died in the last fifteen years. He might have added another list as impressive: the names of the writers who have left Ireland, apparently for good. We should then have Liam O’Flaherty, Sean O’Casey, James Stephens, Oliver St. John Gogarty, Padraic Colum, Denis Johnston, and, if you wish, Francis Stuart, who chose Berlin. Even of the first list, Joyce, MacKenna, and Æ died in voluntary exile. And Moore’s connection with Irish literature was too brief and indeterminate to establish him securely as an Irish author; he belongs rather with Shaw and Wilde, Irish literary adventurers in England. When we are discussing the literature of a country not ravaged by war, we must look first, to the books written within the country. The international writers do not yet reproduce themselves.
The first difficulty the student of current Irish literature encounters is lack of evidence. It is hard to make sound generalizations on scanty facts, and in a literature where the books come in single spies at longer and longer intervals it is very hard to name general tendencies, except the obvious tendency toward extinction. There is no longer a main stream of Irish literature. There are drops of it. As far as I can see, the output of good literary writing in the last three years, aside from the poems and stories appearing in the Bell and the Dublin Magazine, consisted of four volumes of biography, three of autobiography, two novels, two books of short stories, a few plays, a few slim books of verse, and a traveler’s sketchbook.
Not much for three years; and actually the distribution dwindles sharply toward the present. There need be no complaint of the quality of this writing. It was generally good — and in several cases excellent, as in O’Faoláin’s Great O’Neill and O’Casey’s Pictures in the Hallway. But a certain indefinable minimum of quantity is required to create or preserve a literature. In the best days Irish literature ever saw, it was not far above that minimum. Today it is definitely below it. Five or six books a year are not enough, especially when the incidence of biography and reminiscence is so high.
THAT incidence, however, is not simply, as one might guess, a symptom of waning energies and fading purpose. Bather it indicates the recognition of a new set of problems to which Irish artists must face up if their work is to keep its substance. And that substance is not so easy to come by as before. Certainly one of the reasons for the quick general success of the Celtic Revival was the richness of its resources. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, folklorists, Gaelic scholars and translators, had uncovered a rich mine of prefashioned material for literature: the Gaelic legends and cycles, the colorful half-mythical history of ancient Ireland, an abundance of poetry, and the peasant myths and folk tales that served as a living bridge to that remote world. All this the Revival exploited until artists and audiences alike were surfeited with fairyland.
Then came the Revolution with its own compelling romance and legend acted out in daily drama. And as the Revolution broke down into civil war in 1923 and 1923, rage and disappointment created new passion that burst into words in O’Flaherty’s novels and O’Casey’s plays; and post-Revolutionary disillusionment in Ireland found ready understanding in the disillusioned post-war world. Thus for forty years the Irish artist very seldom had to think of what to write about. He had only to reach out and take all he could use from the common stock.
Today the situation is different. He writes of a diminished reality. His Ireland is a little country in the butter and beef business. And if he is to make his material interesting, he must study it and think about it a great deal and then sustain his interpretation of it with a durable style. It is no wonder that the number of Irish artists has fallen off so sharply, or that so many of those left are historians. Pioneers are hell on resources.
That is one reason for their concern with history, but not the only one. In so far as there is any large public for Irish literature it is a public with a decided taste for the romantic and the Celtic, however spurious. Twenty years ago Donn Byrne readily outsold O’Flaherty and O’Casey. Nowadays the only Irish author whom publishers would consider a success is Maurice Walsh, who spreads on his Celtic romance — impartially Scotch or Irish, ancient or modern — with a shovel. O’Faoláin, on the other hand, maintains a moderate prosperity only by working tirelessly as editor, reviewer, critic, and literary news-gatherer, at the same time that he is turning out his important novels and biographies.
The others we would link with him are not welloff. They are not, then, realists and students of history for profit. Their motives are artistic; their resolution, moral. They are trying to give Ireland a literature wholly expressive of itself as it is today, in the belief that good health begins with candid self-recognition. And because most of them cannot see in standard romanticized Irish history any living roots of the country they know, they are trying to discover the history that actually did produce the small familiar democracy.
What they have found is, for most, not a long history. It begins in the dark chaos of the eighteenth century and traces, for a century and a half, the rise of the people toward a share in what the world presently offers of political and economic freedom. If they look farther back than that, they see only the crumbling facade of the Gaelic order and the dispersal of the Gaelic nobles. Then, or before that collapse, there is no sign of the Irish people. Gaeldom was an order for aristocrats. The Gaelic bards would never sully their verse with a mention of the plebeians. Bardic literature has no fabliaux, no Langland, no Chaucer, nothing for the popular taste. And since about all that the average Irishman can know of his average ancestors under Gaeldom is that he must have had them, the democratically-minded realists cannot work up a very passionate interest in their hypothetical doings.
Rather they are convinced that their true creators are those very modern men like Tone and O’Connell, who gave them revolution as a weapon and modernity for a prize. For the rest the story is explicitly human, and humanly simple and involved. Nothing in it is of much importance unless it happens to many people. The victories are neither sudden nor often romantic — land acts, county council bills, extensions of franchise, increasing prosperity, and finally political independence. The tragedies are collective — the Potato Famine, the evictions, the loss or defection of leaders setting the movement back by a decade, the drain of emigration, civil war. Even such a tragedy as Parnell’s is the act and despair of I he whole people, for he was downed by a momentum he could lead but not retard, and the mob that passed over his body wept bitterly for him.
THIS is history conceived within a range that would have seemed meaninglessly narrow to the previous generation of writers. It lacks the supernatural. Its great dimension is width, the limit of its height is human stature, its heroes are inescapably mortal. Indeed Yeats did convict it of monotony and fragmentariness, saying that now we know the world “through abstractions, statistics, time tables, through images that refuse to compose themselves into a clear design.” “A nation,” he said, “should be like an audience in some great theatre . . . watching the sacred drama of its own history; every spectator finding self and neighbour there, finding all the world there as we find the sun in the bright spot under the burning glass.”
But the truth is that the clear design has not yet been composed. The drama is not complete, has indeed hardly reached a climax. For to win land and freedom does not mean to win all that goes with land and freedom. This march of a people was too swift to be elaborate. They had to concentrate on getting the big things first: the fundamentals of economic, political, and cultural freedom. Till after the Revolution they had little time for the details. When they were not fighting actively for something, they had to bend every last energy to the work of consolidating what had been gained last.
Only recently have they won that peace and stability in which the subtler manifestations of a culture can grow. Until Irish society is complete, the drabness of life in a restricted, semi-rural country without large ambitions is the inescapable observation from which Irish realism must begin. Meanwhile, one should remember that whatever fuller synthesis will come in the future will depend no little bit on the ability and integrity of the Irish artists.
In this interim of history, however, all his laudable integrity eases the Irish realist’s path not at all. It was easy to reveal the Irish to themselves as saints, warriors, and the sons of kings, as the Young Irelanders did; or as godlike poets and dreamers, as the Celtic Revival writers did — and make them like it. It is not so easy to draw them as rebellious peasants, brave but muddleheaded conspirators, and small-town burgesses — and make them like that, too. Then when one cites the justifying facts, the proof is commonly taken as a worse insult than the picture.
Still, the greater difficulty is for the realist to satisfy himself. He is an Irishman and an artist, and needs richness and color, passion and release, as much as any romantic who ever lived. To be barred from them by his own determination to “see the facts and understand the picture” is no comfort. The self-censorship hurts as much as the official one. And in faithfully drawing a paltry truth one often gets, with much effort, a paltry result. It is not the mere crabbedness of his material that hurts — in other countries realists have successfully conquered worse: it is its narrowness and poverty, uncomplemented by any opposing wealth. Yeats and Synge could go out among the cottages or wander on the roads to learn what the people had to say, and then return to Coole Park, Lady Gregory’s manor house, to write.
The present generation has no Coole Park. The big houses went in the Revolution, aristocratic Anglo-Irish drowned out by the floodtide of Irish democracy; and no native aristocracy has yet risen to replace them. “That,” says O’Faoláin, “is our loss. . . . It means that for many Irish writers life exists on a small number of planes and their stories are lighted only from a few angles. . . . Regionalism is all very well when, as with Hardy or the Russians, it does not delimit one by a narrow circumference of values. When it docs, it is in grave danger of making one’s work pure parish-pump.” For “it is . . . the consciousness of the existence of many modes of life, and some intimacy with them, [that] heightens the treatment of any one mode of life, gives the sense of echo, reverberations wider than the scene displayed, as well as more color and more variety in a writer’s work taken as a whole.” It is not only the lack of an O’Tolstoy that stands in the way of an Irish War and Peace.
Yet these inherent difficulties, however severe, can be accepted in the spirit of Yeats’s recognition that “only the greatest obstacle that can be contemplated without despair, rouses the will to full intensity.” The realist’s self-discipline, the poverty of his material, are tests of his courage and imagination. If he meets them successfully, his work will be the better for it, hardened and refined by stiffer opposition than any critic can raise.
THE external difficulties, best represented by the literary censorship, have no such positive use. They are negative obstacles put up between the artist and his audience, not between the artist and his work, and for the present can be passed only if he subordinates his judgment to a pettifogging morality he despises. The censorship has had no effect on the character of Irish literat ure. Every Irish author of any standing is represented on the list of banned books; none has tried to placate the censors. If the censorship were lifted tomorrow, the only immediate results would be that much energy now wasted in fighting its stupidity could be applied to better purposes, and the Irish people would have a better chance to read what has been written particularly for them. Perhaps, too, the artist would be cheered by knowing that he was no longer regarded officially as a dangerous underworld type, to be spied on and harried for the public safety.
For it is plain by now that the censor’s hand falls most heavily, not on the purveyor of obscenity, but on the non-conforming writer. He is indeed outlawed. The action against his book is taken in secret. He has no appeal from the decision of the Board. He cannot expect the justice of a speedy trial, for his book may be banned as soon as it appears, or not till after the important first three or four months. Often books have been on the market eight or ten years before they excited the censors’ horror. (A recent, example is that of E. L. Voynich’s The Gadfly, which got the axe after it had passed its fiftieth birthday.)
But most maddening of all is his knowledge that the very law under which he is penalized has been openly perverted by the censors themselves. They have accepted the authority it bestows. They have consistently ignored its reservations. Thus it is not at all surprising that the Irish writers demand, as an alternative to the removal of the censorship, the strict enforcement of the Censorship of Publications Act of 1928.
This was proposed, as one may discover from the Irish Parliamentary Debates for 1928-1929, with many assurances of its limited nature. All the safeguards, the checks and balances, contained in it were harped on by its advocates. They pointed out that a book could be banned only if it was “in its general tendency indecent or obscene,” or if it advocated unnatural methods of birth control, and that in any case the censors would be required to take into consideration the “literary or artistic merit of the work taken as a whole.” Since the Act went into effect, about 1500 books have been proscribed, including just about every Irish novel worth reading.
This rather wholesale activity of the Board — for beside the hundred books banned on a yearly average, the censors most likely consider some others they do not ban — has given rise to two popular beliefs. First, that the censors have taken to reading only the marked passages in the books sent to them, thus slighting the last-named safeguard. And second, that, as sometimes happens with men of conscious virtue when vested with public power, they have assumed a certain broad franchise over what they consider a too narrow law.
That this second belief has some foundation a couple of quotations from a Senate debate on censorship, in the fall of 1912, may indicate. In the midst of a tortuous speech, Professor Magennis, the chairman of the Board, suddenly became quite frank. The book in question, he said,
was not condemned as indecent. ... It was banned for indecency within the meaning of the Act — a very important difference. . . . As I was saving, if we disapprove of the sale and distribution of a book the mode in which we convey that disapproval to the Minister, and ask the Minister to prohibit the sale and distribution of that book is to report: “In its general tendency indecent.” A technicality!
This is a revelation that must give great comfort to many an injured author. Privately, he can now understand, the censors consider him only a technical, not an actual, pornographer.
But the Minister for Justice was not so soft as Professor Magennis. Bluff and hearty, he stood to his guns. Asked by a Senator what the law of the state had to say about the safe period with regard to birth control, the Minister replied: —
I am not prepared to go into the Law of the State, but I repeat that I take full responsibility for the banning of this book. Whether the Board was technically and legally correct, whether the book in its general tendency was indecent and obscene, may be open to question, but on the ground that it was calculated to do untold harm I was perfectly satisfied it should be banned.
Such self-assured, self-righteous extralegality on the part of public officials defending their administration of a law is certainly absurd. One might laugh at it as one laughs at some of the Board’s more overt blunders: the banning of Shaw’s Black Girl in Her Search for God, not for its controversial text — that would be illiberal — but for its illustrations; the banning of Kate O’Brien’s Land of Spices for one brief mention of possible homosexuality in one of the minor characters, though the book, a story of a young girl’s discovery of her religious vocation and of her later life in a convent, had been warmly reviewed in every English and American Catholic paper; the banning of Laws of Life, a manual of sex instruction for Catholics, which was found, too late, to have received the permissu superiorum of the Westminster Diocesan Council.
But in the end the results are not funny. An author’s reputation and property are attacked without his being allowed any legal defense. He is smothered by a “gentlemen’s agreement” to which neither he nor his readers have agreed. The law has at last been subverted to the level of personal prejudice, with effects that are to be noted in the rampant activity of every smut-hound and selfappointed censor in Ireland. The pharisaical motive behind it all is obvious — the more rigorous suppression of criticism than of vice.
The artist’s protest against the whole stupid business has best been registered by O’Faoláin: —
We believe that any unnecessary interference with the public will is not merely a tyranny but a folly. It removes responsibility from the hands of the community before the community has had any adequate opportunity to exercise its own quiet methods of control. It thereby pre-empts the activity of a healthy public opinion, and prevents that public opinion from (so to speak) growing by exercise. It kills the national conscience by giving it no scope to take or leave, to praise or condemn, to exercise its will or exercise its wisdom. By depriving morality of its freedom it reduces it to a machine without virtue.
O’Faoláin should know. For his fifteen years’ activity in the cause of a healthy Irish public opinion he has received the censors’ accolade more than once, while his efforts have never been sustained by any corresponding measure of public support. He can have no pretty illusions about his relation to the community. In Ireland the artist and independent thinker must stand alone, comforted by no popular sympathy and understanding, drawing steadily on his own unincremented morale. He cannot appeal to the Irish ruling class, the pious Nationalists the Revolution put into power, for even before the Revolution Padraic Pearse recognized and described their peculiar bigotry — “they challenge a great tyranny, but they erect their little tyrannies. ‘Thou shalt not’ is half the law of Ireland, and the other half is ‘Thou must.’ ” As for an appeal to the people, any Irish author knows too well that if the Irish people cared a damn about the censorship, it would stop.
YET for all these obstructions which Irish artists must consider — and perhaps the worst is this public apathy and distrust — the quality of actual performance is encouragingly high. Significantly, though, it is highest in the smaller forms: the short story and realistic comedy, and in poetry, the lyric and semi-ballad. There is no grandly successful Irish novel. Since O’Casey’s withdrawal the drama has been healthy and humorous — it is still uncensored— but pedestrian, with the two notable exceptions of Denis Johnston’s The Moon in the Yellow River and Paul Vincent Carroll’s Shadow and Substance. The death of F. R. Higgins, following so closely the death of Yeats, suddenly revealed the scarcity of poets in a country where poets had been as plentiful as journalist s are elsewhere. And those who are left do not coalesce into a school. Their poems appear individually, with little reference to each other; and the absence of interplay and mutual criticism threatens a return of that provincial idiosyncrasy that plagued Irish poetry before Yeats taught it collaboration.
Yet the bigger victories have not been lost by default. The three best recent Irish novels all attempt the composition of some such clear design as Yeats demanded, some bright focus of history, and their failure makes one suspect that the design is simply not there to be revealed. History seems to have delayed giving a verdict on which the artist can comment.
Take, for example, the most forceful of these novels, O’Flaherty’s Famine. When it appeared, O’Faoláin called it “Biblical.” “It is,” he wrote, “the Irish ‘Exodus’ in which there is no Moses to lead out the people of Israel, the starving Irish millions of the black forties to whom a moonstruck O’Connell was no help. It is characteristic of O’Flaherty that in Famine he lifts his theme out of the rut of despair by combining two of his best qualities — his power of describing natural phenomena, and his love for a big central figure to typify the things he hates or (as in this book) admires.
But does O’Flaherty succeed in lifting his theme out of the rut of despair? For an Irish reader perhaps, yes. He unconsciously adds the historical sequel and understands all that O’Flaherty intends to signify with his dimly drawn Young Irelanders and the escape of his central characters to America. The non-Irish reader does not have that outlet. Or even if he does know enough Irish history to add the historical sequel, his emotions are not engaged by what is not in the book. O’Flaherty put all his vigor into the writing of Famine, uniting for the first time the furious speed and brutality of Ids other novels and the loving sensitivity of his short stories, but he is so moved by the suffering of his own people that he too often lets a brief indication support what an explanation should carry.
One feels that he wrote this book as an Irishman reads it, who grinds his teeth and curses and sweats and swears his way through it, supplying out of his own partisanship the conflict that hunger drowned out in the victims. Other readers cannot do that. To them this is not the Famine, but a famine. And they are oppressed and finally bored by the huge impersonality of the disaster.
For O’Flaherty has succeeded almost too well in conveying the sense of doom — first as the threat, then as the terror of impact when the blight rots the potato stalks in the fields, and finally when the blight comes again in the second year and the people can only stand by dumbly and watch their food turn into a stinking pulp. To survive for the first year they have used up all their possible resources. Now, whether they stand together or alone, they can do nothing but wait for death or for an unfriendly government to save them.
That O’Flaherty’s big central figure, Mary, does escape the holocaust, — and with her, her husband and baby, — and that they escape through the aid of an embryonic revolutionary group, no longer has the forceful significance the author intended. The courage and stubborn hope and endurance with which O’Flaherty endowed her diminish to merely individual importance against that endless background of death. And the other characters, all powerfully drawn, share the diminution proportionately. We begin to see what Yeats meant when he said that “passive suffering is not a theme for poetry.” The people, strongly alive at first, frantically alive later, at last become quiet and inarticulate as death comes near around them. In that dumbness the book ends. Even Mary and Martin escaping in the boat to America cannot talk of what they have left behind them. Their youth, their way of life, their people, are dead behind them. In the few determined conspiring men without names who rescued them is the seed of the future: long relentless revolution against English control.
But that seed is still hidden. Unless one knows the story of its growth, there is no purgation for the pity and terror O’Flaherty has so brilliantly aroused. He has added a great deal to national art. He has failed of universality. The tragedy is universal. But escape to America, though historically authentic, is so singular as to seem the irrelevant work of a deus ex machina. For its own purposes, art must refine history to a clearer metal, as it refines everything else it uses.
THE other two novels — Seán O’Faoláin’s Come Back to Erin and Frank O’Connor’s Dutch Interior — fail of greatness less grandly. For one thing, they have no such tremendous theme. For a second, neither history nor their own experience gives the authors an answer to the problem they attack — “the problem of finding within the simplicity of the Irish world a way of life that does justice to the whole man.” O’Flaherty suffered as he wrote of the “great hunger,” but he suffered as a spectator. The evils O’Connor and O’Faoláin describe are daily irritations: pious hypocrisy in the middle class, apathy among the people, puritanism in the Catholic clergy, nationalism gone sour from too long standing, and the stingy, shoddy willingness to get everything as cheap as the most cockeyed practicality will allow.
In the environment they picture, isolation is the primary fact of life for every sensitive, open-spirited man. The politicians and puritans would isolate the whole country from the contagion of the venal, unIrish world. The man finds himself alone in a little world of indifference and suspicion where the difficulty of communication is heart-breaking. There is plenty of talk — but talk on terms: to be serious is to put yourself in danger of something’s being “got on ” you. So you are witty. One can’t pin down wit. It is a grand defense. And behind the defense, or in front of it, loneliness grows by disappointment after disappointment until self-corrosion begins to tarnish each fresh personality. That provincial environment is anemically poor in developed personalities. It is rich in the number and variety of its “characters.” And, says Peter Devane, the secondary figure in Dutch Interior, “character is personality gone to seed . . . when ‘tis all shaped and limited by circumstances and there isn’t a kick left in it. . . . That’s what I am, mister— a character!”
Yet for these men, too, there is the deus ex machina — the boat to America. And Frankie Hannafey, O’Faoláin’s rebel hero, and Gus Devane, Peter’s much loved younger brother, take it, for America is still escape and nourishment and the promise of all that necessary richness Ireland does not afford. But America is not the answer now any more than it ever was. The Irishman must manage to survive in Ireland; all the wealth of the world will not make the transplanted man a whole man; he must grow from his own roots in his own country. So Gus and Frankie return, hungry for Ireland and its sweet peculiar flavor that outlasts the taste of disappointment and betrayal.
If only then the homecoming were met with an understanding as generous as the love that inspired it, there would be a resolution of the discord, for all that it would be on a minor key. But they return looking for the lovely Ireland time has distilled from memory and are overwhelmed on the spot by all the old frustration, all the cynical indifference from which they fled. Gus fights it for a while, hoping and half believing that his own enthusiasm will somehow break down the defenses and release the lively energy he knows exists; and it is only a final smashing betrayal that sends him flying again. Frankie stays — but for what? He fled as a hardened hungry rebel, a weapon of a man, whetted to a narrow blade by years on his keeping. In America, safe from the tension of the hunt, he drops his defenses bit by bit, tastes with a distrustful tongue the gentler pleasures, — poetry, music, the theater, unconstrained talk, — and suddenly realizing the fact of his dependent humanity, lets go every restraint and wallows innocently in his soul’s food.
But there is tawdriness as well as innocence in that abandon. The Kingdom of Heaven does not belong to big babies. And when he advances, half against his will, to the arms of his brother’s wife, freedom turns to cheapness — a particular kind of cheapness Irish poverty still does not allow. The fault, to be sure, is as much Ireland’s as his own. One cannot learn sure, self-reliant manhood in a country whose leaders try to keep it a kindergarten for the Children of Mary. But the damage is done. When he, too, returns to Ireland it is as neither rebel nor enthusiast, but only as a ruefully good-natured man who has no confidence of the right direction for himself or his country, a man who has discovered his humanity but lost his purpose. One more of too many.
THERE is a great deal more to both books than I have accounted for: much insight, much humane knowledge, and in most of O’Faolain’s novel and all of O’Connor’s, very adequate, beautiful writing. But their failure and the reasons for it are obvious enough. Dutch Interior is even more of a closed circuit than Famine; and like Famine it closes upon death by starvation, none the less bitter because it afflicts the heart instead of the belly. Come Bach to Erin starts off with a firmly drawn picture of Ireland, progresses through an America described with a sympathetic objectivity amazing to find in a European novel, and, returning to Ireland, disperses rather than ends. It is almost as if O’Faolain had answered the reader’s “Well?” with a despairing “Well, what the hell?”
But, if he does, his despair is not the despair of inanition. If these men have not solved the problem, they have given a full courageous statement of it. It should be understood to their credit that they have elected to fight where they stand, refusing the two routes of escape taken by most —emigration or a return to the fairyland of the past. Like the man in O’Connor’s story “Uprooted,” they know that neither man nor nation can live on pap, no matter who proffers it. To go back to the cradle is to lie there a changeling.
... he went into the kitchen. His mother, the coloured shawl about her head, was blowing the fire. The bedroom door was open and he could see his father in shirt sleeves kneeling beside the bed, his face raised reverently towards a holy picture, his braces hanging down behind. He unbolted the halfdoor, went through the garden and out on the road. There was a magical light on everything. A boy on a horse rose suddenly against the sky, a startling picture. Through the apple green light over Carriganassa ran long streaks of crimson, so still they might have been enamelled. Magic, magic, magic; he saw it as in a children’s picture book with all its colours intolerably bright; something he had outgrown and which he covdd never return to, while the world toward which he aspired was as remote and intangible as it had seemed in the despair of youth.
It seemed as if only now, for the first time, was he leaving home, for the first time and forever, saying good-bye to it all.
It may be that what O’Faoláin fears, will happen. That within a few years Irish literature will disappear for lack of support and lack of substance, leaving unsolved the vital questions it has raised. I do not believe it will. The poverty, timidity, conservatism, and selfish defensiveness these writers have attacked are the defects of uncertain youth, not of niggardly old age. The young must at last go out into the world as thousands have gone before them — to find that, insensably, experience brings courage, and courage manhood. And in the new home man builds then from his own resources, he finds the familiar magic he said good-bye to in the old. It is the artist’s unexpected reward.