The Green Book 10
“A man is a very small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders.” – Lord Dunsany, The Laughter of the Gods (1917)
Without question, Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) was one of the leading fantasists of the twentieth-century, fitting in somewhere between William Morris and J.R.R. Tolkien. As a writer he emerged fully formed, with an incomparable prose style and literary sensibilities that can only be described as sui generis. Dunsany’s writing is widely acknowledged as an influence on H.P. Lovecraft and Neil Gaiman, while his stories, novels, and plays are admired by luminaries such as Aleister Crowley, Arthur C. Clarke, Jorge Luis Borges, and Ursula Le Guin. And though Dunsany’s writing is held in high regard among readers of fantastic literature, his work is curiously not as widely read as it should be. Stranger still, despite Ireland’s obsession with claiming, reclaiming, and rediscovering its literary heritage, Lord Dunsany remains virtually absent from the Irish literary canon, dismissed by certain disengaged academics as “second-rate”, almost unavailable in bookshops, and often reduced to a walk-on part in the biographies of better known writers and artists.
However, Dunsany was at one time situated at the very centre of the Irish Literary Revival, through which he associated with Lady Gregory, George William Russell (A.E.), Oliver St. John Gogarty, and W.B. Yeats. Exquisitely wrought stories, published in volumes such as The Gods of Pegana (1905) and The Sword of Welleran (1908), garnered the earliest accolades, but it was Dunsany’s success as a playwright that brought him international fame. His initial dramatic efforts were staged at the Abbey Theatre, and eventually plays like A Night at an Inn and The Laughter of the Gods drew favourable attention on West End and Broadway stages. Indeed, one of the first critical essays on Dunsany (included in this issue) considers him primarily as a playwright. This same collection of essays, Ernest A. Boyd’s Appreciations and Depreciations (1917), places Dunsany in the context of other Irish Literary Revival writers, including Standish O’Grady, A.E., and George Bernard Shaw, as opposed to singling him out as a writer of fantasies of lesser importance.
Dunsany contributed to Irish literature in other ways too. He helped to foster the careers of fellow writers, such as the war poet Francis Ledwidge and short story writer Mary Lavin, by acting as patron and mentor to them both. And it may come as a surprise to some to learn that in 1950, after a career spanning half a century, Dunsany was nominated by Irish PEN for a Nobel Prize in Literature.
This issue of The Green Book is an attempt to place Dunsany again among his Irish peers. I’ve gathered for these pages reviews of Dunsany’s work written by A.E., Elizabeth Bowen, Forrest Reid, and Austin Clarke; introductions by W.B. Yeats and Padraic Colum; reminiscences of the author by Katharine Tynan, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and Seán Ó Faoláin — this is Dunsany through the eyes of his Irish contemporaries.
While these pieces will not necessary paint a complete and detailed portrait of a complex writer — nor are they all entirely positive — I hope they help remind us that Lord Dunsany’s stature is indeed worthy of broader assessment, dismissed as second-rate only by the foolhardy.
[Those interested in Lord Dunsany’s involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising, you might like to have a look at The Green Book 7.]
Brian J. Showers
24 July 2017
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Brian J. Showers
"To Lord Dunsany"
"Lord Dunsany Dies in Dublin"
"Early Reviews: 1905-1920"
"Introduction to The Writings of Lord Dunsany"
"The Magic Window"
"Review: Plays of Gods and Men"
"Lord Dunsany: Fantaisiste"
Ernest A. Boyd
"Introduction to A Dreamer’s Tales"
"Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter"
"A Maker of Mythologies"
"Review: The Curse of the Wise Woman"
"Jorkens Reviewed: 1931-1954"
"Dunsany As I Remember Him"
Sean O Faolain
Oliver St. John Gogarty
"To an Old Quill of Lord Dunsany’s"
"Notes on Contributors"
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