Seán O'Casey, Writer at Work: The Definitive Biography of the Last Great Writer of the Irish Literary Revival

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Gill Books, Nov 2, 2004 - Biography & Autobiography - 606 pages

Christopher Murray’s definitive study of Seán O’Casey, the last great writer of the Irish literary revival, provides a strong interpretative context for his life.

Murray looks afresh at the Dublin of the 1880s and 1890s in order to provide an authoritative background to O’Casey’s childhood. He pays particular attention to the political situation from 1880 to 1922, setting it against O’Casey’s own treatment in his autobiographies in an attempt to establish ‘O’Casey’s Ireland’.

But O’Casey was an international as well as a national figure: half his life was spent away from Ireland and his annual income came mainly from the USA. Murray considers O’Casey’s career up to the controversial premiere of The Plough and the Stars in 1926 in the light of W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory and their dream of a national theatre. Thereafter he interprets it in a much wider, equally contentious, international context, chronicling his subsequent projects, which included The Silver Tassie and his Marxist play The Star Turns Red.

Murray establishes O’Casey as a self-made man of letters, an irrepressible fighter, a man who combined political courage and innocence, an individual torn between a humanist vision of life rooted in his Dublin childhood and a utopian but blinkered loyalty to the Soviet Union. Murray contends that while much of O’Casey’s work was uneven, flawed and overambitious, at its best it was infused with a passion and generosity that place it among the best bodies of drama in the twentieth century.

Rich in original material, Murray’s biography reconstructs a life committed to the act of writing as a moral endeavour. There was something profoundly religious in O’Casey’s psyche, which was at war with the communism he embraced, just as there was something profoundly romantic in a sensibility that retained the image of his first love throughout his years in exile. He was a man of many contradictions, a complex, combative public figure and yet a warm and intimate family man.

If Seán O’Casey’s life was in the end a failure, it was a noble one which reveals that, to quote a Jacobean playwright he admired, ‘Integrity of life is fame’s best friend’. That integrity shines through in this biography more brightly and engagingly than ever before.

Seán O’Casey, Writer at Work: Table of Contents

    PART 1 First Things
  1. Beginnings
  2. Seeing Things
  3. ‘Give Me That Old Style Religion!’
  4. ‘To Make Eternal Silence Speak’
  5. Under Which Flag?

  6. PART 2 The Dublin Plays
  7. Love Among the Ruins
  8. Going Through the Mill
  9. Telling It Like It Is
  10. ‘I Banish You!’

  11. PART 3 London – New York – London
  12. London Lights and The Silver Tassie
  13. Trapped Inside the Gates?
  14. ‘Beside the Golden Door’

  15. PART 4 Toughing It Out In Devon
  16. O’Casey’s Good War
  17. Oak Leaves and Lavender
  18. Cock-a-Doodle Dandy
  19. The Road to Torquay

  20. PART 5 Last Things
  21. The Writer’s Not for Burning
  22. A Death in the Family
  23. The Drums of Archbishop McQuaid
  24. Something of a Renaissance
  25. Talking to God

  26. Afterlife

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About the author (2004)

Christopher Murray is Emeritus Professor of Drama and Theatre History at University College Dublin. He is author of Twentieth-Century Irish Drama: Mirror Up to Nation.