Three Great Irishmen: Shaw, Yeats, Joyce

Three Great Irishmen: Shaw, Yeats, Joyce

Three Great Irishmen: Shaw, Yeats, Joyce

Three Great Irishmen: Shaw, Yeats, Joyce

Excerpt

This book is an extension of an essay of mine The Magi, published in The Dublin Magazine (Spring number 1945). In it I attempt to assess three figures with whom, by the accident of my birth and upbringing, I feel a certain affinity, and whose influence on me -- partly for that reason -- has been strong. They are also of course powerful influences on the whole of 20th Century literature and thought -- even when they are unconscious ones. But I believe that without some knowledge of their Irish background, none of them -- not even Shaw -- can really be understood; and James Joyce presents the paradox of an experimenter in form whose material is as local and ancestral as Glasnevin Cemetery. Thirty years ago, to praise James Joyce was an act of some daring; today it needs an almost equal daring to criticise him. For my part, I seem compelled to commit both of these solecisms; I was always an enthusiast in regard to Ulysses -- I am not yet converted to Finnegans Wake, though I keep returning to that work (as I first read the "trailers" in transition) with the assiduity of a mouse nibbling at a hard and unbroken loaf. But I do not believe one can fully comprehend either Joyce's achievement or his limitations without having some acquaintance with the Irish character, and even with that character as reflected in Gaelic literature -- a literature of which Joyce was, of course, almost wholly ignorant. It is more important to the student even than a knowledge -- doubtless extremely helpful -- of the geography of Dublin. James Joyce is the first Irishman of genius (as distinct from the descendants of the . . .

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