THE IRISH GENIUS

Edited by Devin A. Garrity
New York: A Signet Book, 1960
249 pages: 28 short stories

Comments by Bob Corbett
August 2008

I chanced upon this older slim volume of short stories by Irish writers just when I was needing it. Desiring to learn more about the land of my ancestors, I had recently read a short overview history of Ireland, then a more eclectic volume by Leon and Jill Uris of commentary and photos. I was now hoping that this book of short stories would give me some cultural and historical insight which the more discursive volumes hadnít.

While the volume wasnít great, in large measure it did exactly what I wanted, at times even stories which disappointed me in literary quality still gave me useful and important cultural insights.

Several of the stories, for example, had priests who played key roles. Those stories, with their very specific setting and drama, reinforced, clarified and enriched my growing understanding of Irish Catholicism and its role in Irish history.

Some of the relationship and love stories gave important concreteness to the stark puritanical norms of male-female relationships and underlined painfully the place of women in marriage and Irish cultural generally.

Another important theme where the concreteness of everyday life was clarified were stories which focused on the nature of the land and village life in rural Ireland.

While there were some quite decent pieces of literature in this volume, especially by James Joyce, Frank OíConnor, and Brian Moore, the bulk of the stories were less exciting in their literary quality than in the light they threw on Irish society, history and culture.

Were one to look for great Irish literature I would suggest going to other sources. However, given my purposes this slim volume served me well.

I am happy this was not my first or only venture into Irish literature since the stories by two of my favorite Irish authors, W.B. Yeats and Liam OíFlaherty were not among their best. Had it been my first read I might not have been motivated to read other works by them.

I donít mean to be too critical. The editor seems to have had two criteria in mind:

  1. find relatively short stories so as to include as many as possible in a short volume.
  2. try to avoid very well known and often serialized stories, offering less seldom used stories.

Given those seeming editorial guidelines it was an enjoyable offering overall.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu