Author: John Cronin
The Anglo-Irish Novel Volume 2
In the second volume of this major study of the development of the novel in Ireland, Professor Cronin examines the growth of fiction during a time of great social and political turmoil.
While the writers of the period display greater sophistication and skill than their nineteenth-century predecessors, one can discern just as much creative uncertainty as before. Fantasy, history, satire, social criticism, verbal pyrotechnics - the troubled variety of styles continues to reflect the turbulence of the times, as modern Ireland drags itself from a colonial condition into partial independence. Yet, in their determined struggles with the form, and despite uncertainties ranging from the formation of an idiom to the definition of an audience, these writers subject the novel to a vigorous examination which often yields startlingly impressive results.
The four decades between 1900 and 1940 fall conveniently into two near halves, with the dividing point at 1922, the year of Ulysses and of independence. In the first half, prose fiction either draws on a mythical past, as in Stephens and Dunsany, or proclaims patterns of rejection or resignation, as in Moore, Joyce, O'Donovan, O'Duffy or Corkery. In the second, the writers take as their material an emergent Catholic, bourgeois class. The sense of embittered anticlimax is strong, as the hoped-for terrible beauty gives way to the grocers' republic and as writers become subject to the philistine intrusions of the Censorship Board.
The Irish novel of the period only begins to shake off its traditional forms and its embittered attitudes as the war clouds gather over Europe. At that time, two highly experimental novels appear, Samuel Beckett's Murphy and Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, which make all that has gone before, with the exception of Joyce, look dated.