Friday, September 3, 2010

Great Irish Short Stories, edited by Evan Bates

Great Irish Short Stories (Dover Thrift Editions)I purchased Great Irish Short Stories last year because the topic interested me and it was cheap, and when the Irish Reading Challenge came up at CarrieK's Books and Movies blog, it seemed like a perfect fit. I think I expected that these would be stories about Ireland, it's history, people and lore, but the settings are not always on the Emerald Isle, and the characters are not always distinctly Irish. It seems that the purpose of the book was to provide a collection of Irish authors, not necessarily Irish history or folklore, though at least two stories do fit that category. Many of the stories reminded me of other stories or authors, which is perhaps testimony to the fact that there is nothing new under the sun or perhaps evidence of the persistent Irish influence on literature and culture. (For more on that fascinating subject read How the Irish Saved Civilization, which I reviewed here.)

"The Limerick Gloves" by Maria Edgeworth is set in England and deals with prejudice against an Irishman. The small town gossip in this story reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford.

"Green Tea" by J. Sheridan Le Fanu seemed a bit like a Sherlock Holmes story with an uncommon tale being related by a secretary. It has a medical bent to it, though the adverse effects of green tea have surely been proved otherwise since it was written in 1872. "The Tables of the Law" by W. B. Yeats is also an uncommon tale with a supernatural edge to it rather than a mystery.

"The Death of Fergus" by Standish H. O'Grady seems akin to something of more epic proportions like Tolkien's Silmarillian. It lists a great number of names and relations and is somewhat cumbersome in it's telling, but is the first tale of Irish folklore in the collection dealing with "Lepracanes" and their relations with Fergus the King of Ulidia.

"Lisheen Races, Second-Hand" by E. C. Somerville and Martin Ross is a hilarious vignette of Irish country life, much like the stories found in An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor. "The Weaver's Grave" by Seumas O'Kelly is told in a similar vein although it is not so humorous, and "The Ploughing of Leaca-na-Naomh" by Daniel Corkery is tragic, but likewise paints a portrait of Irish life.

"Home Sickness" by George Moore relates a somewhat depressing tale of an Irish-American immigrant who returns to the Irish village of his youth to regain his health and finds the poverty and subsistence living to be a harder life than the slums of New York. The abject poverty of this story reminded me of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes: A Memoir.

The collection is rounded out with another bit of historic folklore in "The Only Son of Aoife" by Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, while "The Blind Man" by James Stephens and "The Dead" by James Joyce have more subtle inferences and messages about broader issues of life, particularly marriage.

I don't always enjoy short stories, but these were varied enough and interesting enough to keep my attention. It might not have been what I originally expected, but it is a nice collection of stories spanning nearly two centuries (from 1804 - 1976). If you're looking for an introduction to Irish authors, I would certainly recommend it.

I read this book as part of the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a varied collection - I really enjoy short fiction, so will have to look for this one.

Caniad said...

Sounds very interesting. I enjoyed the collection of Irish myths and legends I read a while back, so I might have to get my hands on this as well.