Sunday, 18 October 2015

History of Anglo-Irish, Irish, English Literature


In 1685 in the Examination Hall of Dublin University, the professors busy at the conferring of B.A. degrees beheld an unusual sight: a poverty stricken student, eccentric, awkward, with hard blue eyes, an orphan without friends unhappily dependent on the charity of his uncle, failed because of his ignorance of logic presenting himself for the second time without having deigned to study logic. In vain his tutor brought a most respectable portfolio: Senglesius, Keckermannus, Burgersdicius. He had thumbed three pages and closed it quickly. When it came to the assessment the proctor had to put his arguments in order for him. He asked him how one could reason well without rules. The answer was that he could reason very well without rules. This excessive foolishness created a scandal; he got for the time being most unwillingly, as a special favour, the registrar said, and the professors went along with it undoubtedly bathing with smiles of pity the feeble head of Jonathan Swift.
(from Histoire de la Litterature Anglaise par H. Taine pub. 1873)

No doubt that’s as full of howlers as a South American jungle. Every now and then I decide to get up my French and surely a man with the prenom of Hippolyte is worthy of the attention of a poor student such as myself. (bring your own accents)

The slogan 'race, milieu, moment’ is his. This sounds like a literary version of blood and soil but the question remains: how does it happen that from time to time there is a flowering of great work in a country. Partly it is that a couple of naturally great writers raise everybody else’s game. The other lesser talents who by virtue of being of the brood of Mother Machree, for instance, know them in their wather. They are congenial in the original sense. You read Frank O’Connor and even if you never met him you know him. You went to school with John McGahern and know his rancid sweetness. John Banville never went to college and so has to be more literary than anyone. Tick, ‘if you don’t want’, that box. Their words go deeper for the aspirant. Eimear McBride without The Portrait headline toocow, moocow, and that had the queer smell would not have dared. Familiarity breeds an attempt, ne’ pas.

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