A semester of Irish Literature

Yesterday I did my take-home final for Introduction to Irish Literature, and now that I’m going to be working starting Monday, I think my academic career has finally come to an end.  I can’t say I enjoyed the final semester of it that much; there was too much I didn’t understand, as I noted in my previous entry, though things actually did get somewhat better the very next week.

After struggling through Yeats and hating Synge, I was well rewarded with James Joyce’s Dubliners.  I’ve heard his other works are less concrete, but these melancholy short stories are sublime and complicated while still being basically understandable to all.  I actually ended up rereading them in recent weeks, for my final paper, and I appreciated them all the more then, especially “The Dead,” which by then I’d found time to digest and understand far better; there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, of course.

I did a presentation on Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, the syllabus’ nod to Anglo-Irish literature.  I’m less sure how I feel about that, especially considering what I also learned about Bowen, though one cannot fault her prose; she’s one of those authors I know I’ll never be able to write like.  And I enjoyed reading her more than I did Flann O’Brian’s The Third Policeman, which might have had funny footnotes, but was way too bizarre for my tastes, and even self-indulgent.  Between that, a Samuel Beckett play(Krapp’s Last Tape, thankfully a short one but I found myself resenting having to take an hour out my life to watch the video file the professor uploaded to Blackboard), and two more weeks of poetry, which I’m just not good at understanding unless its humorous, political, or very direct, I had a rough few weeks after the mid-term.

By the time we got to play week, with Brian Friel’s Translations, Connor McPherson’s The Weir, and Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats, my mind was a little muddled.  I didn’t react to The Weir at all, though later I ended up running into about a zillion YouTube videos of various actresses doing Valerie’s famous monologue, and by itself, done well, that is a powerful piece of art.  I suspect the other speeches might be too, but unfortunately that was one play there seemed to be no full copy of either for access by the professor or on YouTube; though he did link to one scene.  Similarly, he linked to a YouTube video of a scene of By the Bog of Cats, and I found another scene in the related videos tab, but it seemed he could find nothing at all for Translations.  Not that it needed it, though; there the story and the mental visual of more than one scene were powerful enough; Friel doesn’t pull any punches.

By the Bog of Cats, likewise, has a strong impact just from the reading, and an even better one even in one or two scenes if you’ve got a good enough actress in the lead.  Also I appreciated it when at the end I recognized it as a surprisingly close retelling of the Medea story, except better, because for the most part everyone behaved in a believable manner.  I in fact wrote about the parallels in an entry in the class blog on Blackboard, one long enough I will be posting it here as a separate entry.

By now it was Thanksgiving, and on learning my research paper had to match themes from the first half of the semester to the second, I was a little worried, until I read Anne Enright’s Yesterday’s Weather, which I read and found myself thinking what eventually became my thesis, albeit in more academic language: she’s Joyce if Joyce had been born a century later and written mostly about women.  Though my the time I finished the volume, I added mentally another clause to that sentence, though I mostly kept it out of the paper: and wasn’t as good a writer.  We were actually only assigned a handful of the book’s short stories, all but the very last near the beginning, which made sense once I heard they were in reverse chronological order.  I had to read the whole thing for the paper, and her earlier works in that setup came off as poor repetitions of her later ones.

Fortunately after slogging through I was rewarded with our final assigned book: Roddy Doyle’s The Deportees, which I loved immediately; the characters and stories therein had a life to them I’d been missing all semester; it warmed me, it dismayed me, it made me laugh, and my only problem was that time constraints meant I couldn’t pause even when I was dreading what would happen next because it was sure to be painful!  Of all the works this semester, it was the only one that left me definitely wanting to read more by the author.  If the entire syllabus had been like that I would have enjoyed this semester very much.

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One thought on “A semester of Irish Literature

  1. Now I’ve never read Roddy Doyle. I know this goes directly against the prof’s idea for the course and what he defined as Irish Lit (and understand why he did that), nonetheless, he misssed such fun and good works by ignoring (except for Bowen) the long tradition of Anglo-Irish books. Sylvia

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