Books, Culture and Society

Eight of Dublin’s Great Writers

Dublin has been home to many of the world's greatest writers over the centuries. These have made a huge impact in the literary scene and have been the subject of numerous studies. Here is a short introduction to eight of Dublin's finest writers.

Eight of Dublin’s Great Writers

Oisha Fermar writes for Dublin Overnight and other websites.
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Numerous world-renowned writers were born in or lived in Dublin over the centuries and their works have been translated into many languages and read and studied throughout the world. This is a brief introduction to eight of the more famous Dublin writers.

Jonathan Swift 1667 – 1745
Swift is best known for his satirical masterpiece ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ which describes the travels of the hero, Lemuel Gulliver to various fantasy lands including Lilliput which is inhabited by a race of tiny people who are very pompous and to Brobdingnag whose inhabitants find his stories of England absurd. This satire later became a childrens’ story.

He also wrote numerous other satires including ‘A Tale of a Tub’ and numerous political treatises including ‘The Drapier Letters’ which have made Swift a national hero because of his defiance of Britain. He was Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin from 1713 to 1745.

Oliver Goldsmith 1730 – 1774
The literary reputation of Oliver Goldsmith derives from his two comedies, ‘The Good-natured Man’ and ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ and from his novel, ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’. He is probably best known in Ireland for his poem ‘The Deserted Village’, which expresses a fear that the destruction of villages for the benefit of the gentry would ruin the peasantry.

Although this poem has been lauded in Ireland as an anti-English work, it is now thought that the village on which it is based is actually in England. Goldsmith was known for his extreme envy of other writers including Dr. Johnson.

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950
Shaw was born in Dublin and worked in an office until he moved to London. He discovered socialism and joined the Fabian Society. He began writing plays shortly afterwards and had early successes with ‘Arms and the Man’, ‘Candida’, ‘The Devil’s Disciple’, ‘Man and Superman’, ‘Major Barbara’, ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’ and several others. His most famous play, ‘Pygmalion’, was later turned into the popular musical ‘My Fair Lady’.

As well as being a playwright, Shaw wrote extensively as a critic in the areas of Art, Literature and Music and also wrote numerous political treatises. He produced some poetry and novels which are less well known. He was a wit and raconteur and many of his aphorisms are regularly quoted. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

Sean O’Casey 1880 – 1964
Although he was the son of middle class Protestants he became a militant nationalist and supporter of James Larkin and the Irish Citizen Army. He taught himself to read and write by the age thirteen. He left school at fourteen and worked at different jobs, including as a railwayman for nine years.

He started writing about 1917 and produced a string of plays. His first play at The Abbey Theatre was ‘The Shadow of a Gunman’ in 1923 and this was followed by his other great works, ‘Juno and the Paycock’ and ‘The Plough and the Stars’. His later play ‘The Silver Tassie’ was rejected by The Abbey but he went on to write numerous other plays which were performed all over the world including in London and New York. He also wrote a six-volume autobiography.

William Butler Yeats 1865 – 1939
He founded the Irish Theatre With Lady Gregory and this later became the Abbey Theatre which is still Ireland’s leading theatre. He was very much involved in the emerging Irish Nationalism and his plays were often based on Irish legends. They include The Countess Cathleen, The Land of Heart’s Desire, Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Deirdre.

He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923 mainly for his plays but most of his poetry, for which he is more famous, came later. His poetry collections include ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’, ‘The Tower’, ‘The Winding Stair and Other Poems’ and ‘Last Poems and Plays’. He is considered to be one of the most important poets writing in English in the twentieth century.

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900
Wilde was educated in Dublin and Oxford and then moved to London where he moved in fashionable cultural and social circles and became involved in the aesthetic movement. He became one of London’s most popular playwrights and his ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is considered to be one of the best modern farce in English. His other plays also include ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan”, ‘Salome”, ‘A Woman of No Importance’ and ‘An Ideal Husband’. He wrote one novel ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’.

He was imprisoned for two years after he was convicted of gross indecency with other men and produced his famous poem ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ about his time there. After his release he emigrated to Paris where he died aged 46.

James Joyce 1882 – 1941
Born in Dublin to well-off Catholic who later became destitute, he was educated at the Clongowes, Belvedere College and Royal University after which he went to Paris. In 1904 he started writing a fictional autobiography called ‘Stephen Hero’ which was later rewritten as ‘Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man’. In 1904 he met Nora Barnacle who later became his wife.

Joyce’s main works include Ulysses which is an epic work which is set in Dublin in one day, 16th June 1904 and this porvides the date for the annual Bloomsday celebrations in Dublin. He had difficulty getting the book published but it was eventually published by Sylvia Beach in Paris. It was banned in Ireland for many years.

He then worked on his book ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ in which he experimented with language to the point of making it incomprehensible to most people. His collection of short stories ‘Dubliners’ contains ‘The Dead’ which was made into a feature film by John Huston. Joyce’s work has been the subject of scrutiny by many scholars and he has been an important influence on numerous writers.

Samuel Beckett 1906 – 1989
He studied English, French and Italian at Dublin University (Trinity College) where he was also an accomplished cricket player. While he was at Trinity College he became influenced by the writing of James Joyce and he actually helped Joyce in doing research for ‘Finnegans Wake’. He published literary critical works from 1929 onwards and went to travel around Europe and started to write fiction including novels and poems.

He settled in France at the beginning of World war 2 and became involved in the Resistance Movement. Beckett’s novel ‘Murphy’ had just been published and from then on he wrote mainly in French, often translating the works into English. His other main novels were ‘Molloy’, ‘Malone Dies’ and ‘The Unnameable’ but nowadays he is better known for his plays ‘Waiting for Godot’, ‘Endgame’ and ‘Happy Days’. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. His ground-breaking works have had a major influence on later writers. The Samuel Beckett Bridge which was opened in Dublin in 2009 is named in his honour.

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