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 ContentsPreconception(s)
PART 1 First ThingsBeginningsSeeing Things
‘Give Me That Old Style Religion!’‘To Make Eternal Silence Speak’Under Which Flag?
PART 2 The Dublin PlaysLove Among the RuinsGoing Through the MillTelling It Like It Is‘I Banish You!’
PART 3 London – New York – LondonLondon Lights and The Silver TassieTrapped Inside the Gates?‘Beside the Golden Door’
PART 4 Toughing It Out In DevonO’Casey’s Good WarOak Leaves and LavenderCock-a-Doodle DandyThe Road to Torquay
PART 5 Last ThingsThe Writer’s Not for BurningA Death in the FamilyThe Drums of Archbishop McQuaidSomething of a RenaissanceTalking to God