Posts Tagged ‘ Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu ’

Literary Parks In Dublin: Writers And Walks Galore


A leaflet that I picked up somewhere inspired the topic of this ‘out and about’ in Dublin post. I think I might have mentioned before that I tend to be a bit of a magpie where leaflets and brochures are concerned. Being on an email list is just not the same; the random quality of picking up stray information leaflets appeals to me more.

To return to the leaflet in question: produced by Dublin City Council and Dublin UNESCO, it highlights city parks with a literary connection. Now assuming that the wind and rain ever stop, this would be a great idea for strolling around on a weekend. A couple of the parks have obvious literary glitz (I will come back to those) but I did not realise that Sandymount Green had a W.B. Yeats connection. I used to go to Sandymount quite often a few years ago but obviously failed to spot the memorial bust erected in the park. Yeats was born at 5 Sandymount Avenue hence the sculpture in the green. Perhaps there is a house plaque too; I must check that out as well next time. Sandymount Village is a lively and attractive location to visit and is handy for a beach walk too so this could be a more strenuous literary pilgrimage than most. Continue reading

The Irish Short Story

As the 2012 Cork Short Story Festival finished up yesterday, following another successful year, I wanted to look at three Irish short stories, classic and contemporary. Short stories have long been a part of the Irish literature tradition, even more so than the novel. Each of the short stories below represent different times in Irish literary history; the gothic novella, Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’; the desolation of 1960s rural Ireland in Trevor’s ‘The Ballroom of Romance’; and finally the story of Modern Ireland in Enright’s ‘The Portable Virgin’; a place of bleached haired women, posh hairdressers and suburban adultery.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, ‘Carmilla’ (1872).

Le Fanu’s tale, published in 1872 from the eerie and gothic collection, In a Glass Darkly, paved the way for many subsequent publications such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The depiction of Carmilla as a female lesbian vampire has proved influential in countless narratives over the centuries. The story opens in Styria, a “lonely and primitive place” it is instantly recognised by the narrator, Laura, as being Gothic in feel and style. Carmilla’s presence in the castle of Laura and her wealthy English father in Styria comes about when the carriage carrying Carmilla and her mother crashes nearby. The unsettling mother figure cannot stay for long and as Carmilla has not quite recovered from the accident, asks if she can stay with Laura and her father and be collected again in three months. They agree and Laura, who has been lonely in the isolated area, is content with some suitable company. As the weeks go by Laura becomes weak and ill and strange occurrences begin to creep upon the household…. As it is just over a month to Halloween and a perfect time to read this gothic creation, I won’t give too much away! ‘Carmilla’ has been proven as an influential story for vampire narratives succeeding it to date. Because today’s society has something of an obsession with vampire novels: the Twilight series, Anna Rice’s sensational gothic novels and many others; it is satisfying to recall that Irish writers such as Stoker and Le Fanu had such major parts to play in the development of the Gothic literature genre.

William Trevor, ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ (1972). 

Trevor, originally from Mitchelstown in Co.Cork, is the author of this poignant story of Irish rural life, ‘The Ballroom of Romance’. The story focuses on the lonely and eventless life of Bridie, a thirty-six year old woman who resides in the hills of rural Ireland looking after her disabled father, a kind and compassionate figure. Trevor’s image of rural Ireland is one of isolation and gloom, an almost outcast society. Bridie’s only release from her life on the farm is her cycle every Saturday evening to the blue and pink dancehall named The Ballroom of Romance, ran by the Dwyers. Bridie is now one of the eldest women who attend the dancehall, along with Madge Dowling who is thirty-nine. As the night wears on and she dances with the men and small talks with the women, her past hopes and regrets open up like a wound in her lonely heart. She recalls her first love, Patrick Grady, who had been stolen from her by a girl who had never even attended the dancehall, they had then emigrated to Wolverhampton as husband and wife. Her efforts with the dancehall band’s drummer, Dano Ryan go unnoticed as it becomes apparent that he will eventually marry his widow landlady, Ms. Griffin. The injustice of life becomes too much for her at this point, she wants to cry but does not allow herself the selfish release. Throughout the story Bridie does not protest her unfair existence, all of her grievances are met by acceptance and resilience. Bridie knows that she will eventually marry the drunken bachelor, Bowser Egan when his mother dies and though she does not love him and knows his drinking will be a problem for her, at least she will not be alone. The story is an image of past Ireland; of isolated rural living, of cycling eleven miles to dancehalls, six miles to go to mass, of Kerry Cream biscuits and hopes of the Yanks coming to the area to save them all from unemployment and to bring some excitement to the misery. Trevor pours all of the loneliness, disappointment and desolation of past rural Ireland into the pages of ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, his depiction of Bridie is heartfelt, realistic and powerful; Brenda Fricker takes on the role effortlessly in the equally moving film version, directed by Pat O’Connor in 1982.

Anne Enright, ‘The Portable Virgin’ (1991). 

This short story, taken from a collection of the same title won the Rooney Prize in 1991. Enright’s ability to put into words the clearest articulation of the female psych that I have ever come across is, in the least, astounding. Her characters do not need strong story-lines; in the most general and everyday events Enright produces some of the most passionate and heartbreaking narratives in Irish literature. ‘The Portable Virgin’ is no different to this; it is the story of a woman, Mary, who discovers her husband’s affair with a woman, also called Mary. Mary goes to the hairdressers in a bid to make herself look like her husband’s mistress. She steals a handbag in the hairdressers, assumably the mistress’s and pours the contents out on Dollymount Strand. In the bag she find the statue of the Virgin Mary and drinks the contents, realising she will not leave her husband, because she loves him. Though this ending can be deciphered in two ways which if you read it, you will see clearly. The language of the story is raw and the images are familiar, BBC and Judi Dench on tv, the scene in the hairdressers, Dollymount Strand; yet, simultaneously, they are unfamiliar, uncomfortable even. Enright expresses the inner conscience of a betrayed wife as realistic and heartbreaking as she struggles with her identity as a wife and as a woman. The portable virgin she finds in the mistress’s bag signifies to a society still obsessed with maintaining a religious image even in the most contradictory circumstances: the statue of the Virgin Mary from Lourdes that could be found at the bottom of any Irish mistress’ handbag.