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Fruit trees in season

Fruit trees in season



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Fruit trees in season

Fruit trees in season

The first rung of my story is about an Irish storyteller, Nicholas Salmon, who trained as an actor but was employed in a prison in the UK in the early 20th century. Salmon’s “Irish Stories” are quintessential for me, especially the tale “The Stolen Croppies”, about Jacobite rebels. Salmon’s wife was French, so there is a reference to the Emperor Napoleon III in the tale.

I moved on to biography and took the first rung on the “croppie path” to Samuel Beckett, whom I interviewed in 1982 (2:38). The third rung of the path is down an avenue of “croppies”, this time about Canny-Farrell, who published the Beckett piece for The Irish Times in 1954. Then I moved on to Charles Dickens, who is the first figure on the path.

Dickens will be with me for most of this journey. I mentioned him first because he has become the mentor figure for me in relation to the work I’m doing on what I call the Croppies’ Book. He does not represent my political position, but I use him as a symbol. He represents the complicated Irish writer. He is of course associated with fiction, but he also wrote important pieces of journalism and political fiction, although he was not a Croppie himself.

Perhaps I will look at what we call realist novels – those written between 1870 and 1914. With Charles Dickens, there’s one fiction that stands out – in many ways it should be the emblem for all the Croppies’ tales, because he is at the same time representative of an almost effortless and yet methodical process in which we become literate. He mastered the form of the novel. The formalism that Dickens taught became the watchword for twentieth-century novelists who followed him. In other words, as Joyce did, the form became a discourse.

I am sure Joyce and Proust did read Dickens but I think in my analysis of the Croppies’ tale, I’ll be moving away from the realist novel towards the novel as form. Dickens always had a greater impact on Ireland than on England. The novel has been very important in Ireland. We had no large book trade in Ireland until well into the nineteenth century, but all our schools were equipped with reading rooms and the great majority of middle-class children were brought up in the reading room culture. My guess is that Dickens’s influence on the culture of reading in Ireland was greater than in England. Dickens and Joyce both live in that tradition. The Croppies’ Book takes its inspiration from both of them.

I started with Dickens because he was first on the “croppie path”. As far as I’m aware, Dickens never met Samuel Beckett, but Dickens was responsible for giving a new, iconic, status to Beckett. When he first began his work, he was overshadowed by Joyce and the Dublin tradition and by Yeats. But Dickens is responsible for granting Beckett his contemporary identity.

Before the arrival of Beckett, there was a sense in Dublin that Irish literature had gone through a Beckett period. And I’m thinking about the piece Beckett wrote for The Irish Times of 29 October 1952, a review of the publication of Long Lankin in Dublin, which is the Irish version of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Curious as this was, it wasn’t enough to motivate Beckett to write a piece of prose that is, in effect, a review of Dublin’s literary history. By now, and with good reason, there were strong feelings about literature in Dublin, strong feelings about the literature of Dublin and strong feelings about Samuel Beckett. After the New Theater came to Dublin, he was pulled more firmly into the vortex of literature.

Here was a fellow who was considered by many to be a down-and-out. There is nothing down-and-out about Samuel Beckett. He was too aware of his personality to become a London aristocrat. He had to play his role, and being with us brought him fame. His is an inescapable fate. In my book, his is a fate. Dublin needs that particular genius, that is very clear.

The other person who was to have a great influence on the shape of The Croppies’ Book is James Joyce. And it isn’t just the fame of Joyce that attracted me to write this book, I just felt I had to do it. In the five years I spent writing it, he was the silent partner in the enterprise. He was a great influence on this particular writing, especially the way in which he fused fiction and history, made the two inseparable. It is the fusion that is the hallmark of the Croppies’ Book.

When Beckett began writing plays, he still had a way to go before he would be in the realm of contemporary Dublin and of his age. Joyce was already the predominant figure of his time in Dublin, and in literature. What he represents as you find in The Dubliners, the stories we call Dubliners, is the class of Dublin and Irish literature.

Joyce was the first to publish a collection of stories that can be read as Dublin stories, and that’s the same thing Samuel Beckett began to do with his early short stories. When I


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