In a private letter to his friend Sean Hendrick in 1925, Frank O’Connor wrote with the intention of seeking support ‘in a matter of pure necessity’ and asked his friend to write to the editor of the Irish Statesman under an assumed name. O’Connor and poet Geoffrey Phibbs were attacking the ‘literary language of our Dublin friends’ and he wanted Hendrick’s help to ‘dispose of the Irish Literary Renaissance in a suitably undignified manner’. Ironically, in the same letter O’Connor mentioned he was holding on to a copy of Ulysses for Hendrick as he was ‘afraid to send it through the post’. Though O’Connor was primarily engaged with the cultural debates that were taking place in the pages of the Irish Statesman, particularly the issue of re-Gaelicisation and its impact on Ireland’s literature, the letter also reveals the aspiring writer’s own anxiety of influence concerning his immediate Irish literary predecessors. Caught between his two father-figures—writers Daniel Corkery and George Russell (AE), who had positioned themselves on opposing sides of the re-Gaelicisation debate—and eager to distance his writing from both the romanticism of the Revival and the experimentalism of the modernist movement, O’Connor’s epistolary machinations in the 1920s formed part of a concerted effort to carve out his own literary philosophy.
It is commonplace at this stage, of course, to situate O’Connor’s notions within a framework of disenchantment with Romantic Ireland and with the ascendant aesthetics of modernism, in conjunction with an implication that in the mid-twentieth-century Irish short story, progression of the form had been replaced by fiction concerned with regionalism and national debate. While this compartmentalisation is in part borne out by O’Connor’s œuvre, the result is often a restricted localising of the writer alongside critical declaration that he is best read within an autobiographical context. Instead, what has only been intermittently and cursorily noted of O’Connor’s writings is the fact that his creative imagination had also continued to interact with, encompass and build on the achievements of an earlier short-story tradition. This interaction resulted in his work being strongly influenced by international achievements in the form, and O’Connor’s subsequent development of, this essay suggests, ‘poetic realist’ short stories.
Notwithstanding a concentration on poetry throughout this decade (and his original unpublished poetry does contain literary merit), O’Connor tended to believe his greatest success and satisfaction was located in the short-story form. In a 1926 letter to Phibbs, he admitted as much when he wrote that: ‘It’s only in my stories I’m getting what I want though I slave more at poetry than at anything else’. It is evident from these early short stories—between 1926 and 1929 six uncollected and two collected stories were published in the Irish Tribune, the Dublin Magazine and the Irish Statesman—that O’Connor was already well aware of short-story traditions before he embarked on his own experiments. It is difficult, however, in this period to accurately trace his reading history in the genre as O’Connor was already working as a librarian when he commenced writing short stories and had ready access to books (Boole Library in University College Cork holds his personal library and this contains a vast array of short-story collections, but no chronological record exists of when the writer obtained these books). O’Connor claimed in his autobiography, An Only Child (1961), that he had a marked attraction for poetry in his youth and that the majority of his reading had focused on this pursuit. Yet, the autobiography also alludes to the fact that from a young age O’Connor had been regularly reading short fiction in the weekly boys’ magazines and in penny publications such as the Gem and the Magnet. It was an early influence that had provoked intimations of social displacement in the artist as a young boy, which he acknowledged in Towards An Appreciation of Literature (Metropolitan, 1945): ‘they created standards of behaviour in my mind which could not be fitted in to the life about me’. Discovering his former teacher’s first collection of short stories, Corkery’s A Munster Twilight (1916), also had a considerable impact: ‘that settled the hash of the English boys’ weeklies. I did not know their authors as I knew Corkery, and henceforth their creations would be less real to me that his, little as I might understand them’. (An Only Child) Reading stories that O’Connor could culturally relate to was a stimulus that would remain with him, as he would always seek to depict Irish life in his own writing.
It was Corkery too who first introduced him to nineteenth-century international prose writers after O’Connor had joined Corkery’s weekly cultural gathering, the Twenty Club, prior to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. It was in this select club where O’Connor also met writer Sean O’Faolain, who gave O’Connor his first Turgenev to read. Tellingly, he mentioned in his autobiography that whilst imprisoned in Gormanstown internment camp in 1923, he wrote a prize-winning essay in Irish on Ivan Turgenev (this essay appears not to have survived). In addition, in a 1924 letter to Hendrick, O’Connor directly referred to the fact that he had been reading the nineteenth-century masters of the short story. His subsequent and substantial mid-to-late 1920s cultural criticism repeatedly signalled an admiration for nineteenth-century Russian and French realist short-story writers. (He also started learning Russian and French in this period.) From 1923 onwards, as mentioned in another letter to Hendrick, O’Connor was also reading the short stories that featured in the Dublin Magazine. Taken together, his letters, autobiography and literary criticism confirm that O’Connor was already very well-informed about national and international trends in the short story before he first ventured into the form. Locating O’Connor’s ‘realist’ short stories, therefore, specifically within an oppositional stance toward the heroic romanticism of the Revival and the experimentalism of modernism negates the impact of his literary influences.
The nineteenth-century Irish short story also had its source of inspiration for the writer. While George Moore’s The Untilled Field (1903) has been largely accepted as marking the beginning of the modern Irish short story, a recent study has extensively broadened the field of research into the nineteenth- century tradition. As Heather Ingman contends in A History of the Irish Short Story (2009), the characteristics of the modernist short story—‘impressionistic, concentrated, resisting narrative closure’—were already present in Irish fin-de-siècle short fiction, notably in writers such as James Stephens, W.B. Yeats and George Egerton. Although the above-mentioned distinguishing features are habitually attributed to the modernist story, these are traits which are also discernible in several O’Connor stories. It suggests the point that the modern development of the form itself leans towards a tempering of the modernist/realist critical boundary. Short story thematic and technical characteristics (such as, for example, fragmentation, disconnections, alienation, anti-heroic modes, spiritual bankruptcy, open-endedness, and character interiority) are features common to both the modernist and modern-realist mode, pointing to central continuities between apparently divergent literary classifications. As a case in point, Joyce’s Dubliners encompasses both realist and modernist attributes. Connections between Irish literary realism and modernism are further illustrated by the fact that Patrick Kavanagh’s epic, The Great Hunger, has been hailed as one of the most important contributions to twentieth-century Irish literary realism while simultaneously recognised as strongly stylistically and ideologically influenced by T.S. Eliot’s modernist epic, The Waste Land.
On a broader scale, the nineteenth-century short story tradition had a perceptible bearing on twentieth-century literary developments. Gregory A. Schirmer’s ‘Tales From Big House and Cabin: The Nineteenth Century’— published in a 1984 collection of essays edited by James F. Kilroy, The Irish Short Story: A Critical History—is one of the very few, albeit short, attempts at a literary history of the nineteenth-century Irish short story. He provides a damning overview: ‘the mirror of Irish short fiction… was cracked—marred, at its worse, by annoying didacticism, purple prose, weak characterisation, uncertain narrative line, and a general disregard for aesthetic form’. Despite being published thirty years ago, Schirmer’s chapter continues to serve as a useful guide. It does also recognise the artistic achievements, highlighting innovative aspects of nineteenth-century short fiction which anticipate the modern form—the manipulation of narrative voice, careful and economic selection of detail, inner psychological despair, and a self-reflexive irony.
This progression in nineteenth-century short fiction, however, did not take place in a literary vacuum as it resonated with advances being made in continental Europe by the Russian and French masters, by writers such as Turgenev, Chekhov and Maupassant who each played a leading role in the development of the modern short story. Both twentieth-century Irish modernist and realist short-story writers are critically acknowledged, though often perfunctorily, as fundamentally influenced by French and Russian short story literature and yet themselves are oft-times classified as contradictory and opposing categories of the form. On this basis alone, though this essay does not allow for it, an argument could be made that the subject requires further exploration of connections between the two modes.
It was American writer Edgar Allan Poe, of course, who had first articulated a critical definition of the short story in 1842. Poe had stated that the short story imparts a ‘unity of effect or impression [which bestows] the deepest effects’ on the reader’. Poe’s emphasis on the economy of effects was a definition with uncanny accuracy. Slice-of-life episodes and intense compressed arrangement of form and content governed the evolution of the Russian and French short story. Maupassant’s technical craftsmanship, single revelatory moment, and economy of narrative force; Chekhov’s fragmented, suggestive and sparse episodic style; Turgenev’s compacted and evocative method: all in turn influenced the stylisation of the Irish short story. Moreover, their socio-political concerns—Maupassant’s thematic focus on the marginalised in society, Turgenev’s exploration of social injustices imposed on Russian serfs, and Chekhov’s portrayal of the petite bourgeoisie—reverberated with O’Connor when he sought to convey the condition of life in post-independence Irish society. Nineteenth-century French and Russian realist short stories had dispensed with romantic conceptions of society and were instead attentive to such issues as religious repression, repressed desires, and frustrations with urban and rural life. Turgenev, Maupassant and Chekhov, alongside others such as Gogol and Babel, all served as aesthetic founders of literary realism in the short story. (In his work cited below, Joe Cleary admits that ‘the distinction between realism and naturalism has never been fully clear, and the two terms are often used interchangeably’. He further contends that there are many different varieties in the realist mode, ‘of which naturalism is only one current’ (112). Taking this point into consideration, this essay uses the term ‘realism’ as an all-encompassing reference to this particular aesthetic mode, while remaining cognisant of the fact that it is an umbrella term for a literary style that contains within it a broad range of characteristics.) The intellectual underpinning of this mode was influenced from the mid-nineteenth century onwards by the discourse of thinkers such as Darwin, Marx and Freud. It resulted in a realist envisioning that has as its philosophical belief the notion that ‘what happens in this world is explicable in terms of the mechanical laws of biology, physiology, economy or psychology’. Literary practitioners of the form were viewed in a sense as scientists: their works of art could clinically examine and expose ‘the deeper “laws” that governed human behaviour’. (Cleary, 114) Chekhov and Maupassant wrote their realist stories during the Russia of Alexander III and the France of the fin de siècle which was ‘an age of scepticism, of tedium, and of that “conglomerated mediocrity”’. (Lavrin, 2) Moreover, Turgenev believed that ‘the genius of a great writer can discover life’s “living truths”… “[t]o represent, accurately and with power, the truth, the reality of life is a writer’s highest happiness”’. Nineteenth-century literary realist representation of reality rendered it ‘as organically emerging from the historical processes which determine[d] the life of that period’. As Turgenev in particular saw it, a work of art sprang ‘from the life of a nation’ and an artist’s work could be ‘a progressive factor in the development of… society’. (Terras, 23; 31-2) It was an ethos that was notably similar to O’Connor’s outlook, and other post-independence short story writers such as Sean Ó’Faoláin, Liam O’Flaherty and Mary Lavin: their artistic conception was not to make Irish literature radically original but to delineate reality with a more critical precision.
Similar to his contemporaries, O’Connor in his respective way had experienced disappointment with post-revolutionary conservative Ireland and this put him into a situation analogous to that of his realist predecessors. In turn, the ideological conceptions promoted by these international nineteenth- century writers were akin to the historicist and instrumentalist formulations that O’Connor had started to repeatedly convey in his mid-to-late 1920s cultural criticism. O’Connor’s critical work throughout this decade—before he came to write his first collection of short stories, Guests of the Nation (1931)—resonated with the sound of nineteenth-century literary realism’s suppositions. His recurring arguments that the ‘historical memory’ of a nation naturally impacted on contemporary reality, his idea that the circumstances of a writer’s epoch had a deep bearing on the artistic work, and his belief that art could play an instrumentalist role in social development and reform: all of O’Connor’s 1920s literary theories indicated his deep philosophical adherence to the nineteenth-century form, and it was a position that he would thereafter maintain throughout his critical writing career. In O’Connor’s seminal study of the short story, The Lonely Voice (1962), for example, almost half of the writers surveyed belong to the nineteenth-century tradition, with Turgenev, Maupassant and Chekhov occupying the first three chapters in the book. Gogol does not receive an individual chapter but O’Connor does locate him centre-stage in the introduction: ‘We have all come out from under Gogal’s “Overcoat”’. Of course, it is with O’Connor’s introduction that critics have most closely engaged to date, in particular his well-known theory of the ‘submerged population group’. This oft-cited foundational concept in O’Connor’s theorising of the form was linked predominantly (with Anderson the exception) to nineteenth-century realist short story writers in his explanatory expansion—‘Gogol’s officials, Turgenev’s serfs, Maupassant’s prostitutes, Chekhov’s doctors and teachers, Sherwood Anderson’s provincials’. His formulation was thoroughly embedded with practitioners of the nineteenth-century short story and O’Connor himself went so far as to state that his literary view had been ‘largely coloured and limited’ by his study of nineteenth-century literature. It was a philosophy that would also play an unequivocal role in O’Connor’s attitude towards modernist writings. Notwithstanding potential contemporary critical connections between the Irish modernist and realist short story, O’Connor had reform in mind when attempting—in his cultural criticism at the time—to dissociate himself from Irish modernism. His realist standpoint was reflective of a broader European debate in the 1920s and 1930s. In the Soviet Union, socialist realism became the official aesthetic; Fascist regimes as well as the Soviet Union regarded modernist art as bourgeois profligacy. Because of this, modernism tended to be regarded at this time as a resisting form to political assimilation. However, realism was also viewed as the aesthetic capable of offering strong interpretative criticism of social issues and state policies. It led to expansive debate on the aesthetic and political values of realism versus modernism. (Cleary, 140-1) There is little evidence though in O’Connor’s 1920s critical writings that he was even aware of this larger discussion and yet his reading material, epistolary references, creative and critical work, exhibited a developing coalescence with European realism. The nineteenth-century realist tradition of the short story and its ambition of providing an aesthetically faithful portrait of society while simultaneously proffering critique, as opposed to exploring radical literary experimentalism, held for him the greatest appeal. By 1942, in his infamous essay on ‘The Future of Irish Literature’, the ideological underpinning of O’Connor’s 1920s creative and intellectual leanings had solidified into a doctrine which claimed the country needed a literature that was critically engaged with the reality of Irish life: ‘there is no public opinion, and if the artists do not fight, who will?’ O’Connor’s promotion of literary realist writers in the same article would later lead to a charge that the modernist component was being covertly written out of Irish literature. With some exceptions such as his lauding of D.H. Lawrence, modernist writers did tend to come in for either sustained attack or disregard in O’Connor’s writings, and it was a position closely bound up with his theorising of the material conditions of literary reception in mid-twentieth-century Irish society.
O’Connor’s stories for the most part do not endow characters with individual agency and an imputation of literary determinism could be applied to his works. Instead, the focus of his reform inclined on instrumentally influencing the reader. Turgenev had similarly believed in the cognitive impact of art: ‘Fiction’s contribution to knowledge is mainly so-called “types”, aesthetic universals which help man to know himself and his society [… types] created directly from observed socio-historical reality.’ O’Connor linked the private act of reading to the broader socio-political context, which he in turn fastened to his theories of the short-story form: ‘a private art intended to satisfy the standards of the individual, solitary, critical reader [… who will] see into the shadows’ of the story. The gaps and omissions inherent in the genre left a far greater onus on the reader to complete the picture proffered; it created space for the reader’s ‘moral imagination’ and ‘moral judgment’ to dilate into social considerations. For O’Connor, this art form demanded a direct relationship between the writer and reader in specific historical conditions: ‘Dragging the reader in, making the reader a part of the story—the reader is part of the story. You’re saying all the time, “This story is about you—de te fabula”’. (Paris Review, 1957)
This admission buttressed O’Connor’s anti-modernist slights in his later writings, but it also echoed his earlier elevation of the instinctual over the intellectual writer in his Irish Statesman re-Gaelicisation criticism—the idea that it was the moral, humanist instinct and not intellectual stylistics that was the more valuable in literature. O’Connor for instance translated a poem of seventeenth-century Irish language poet Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, ‘Is Mairg na Fuil ’na Dhubhthuata’, in one of his Irish Statesman articles—‘The Poet as Professional’—but he did so only to dismiss its ‘lofty’ air. He disdainfully compared the intellectual technique of Ó Bruadair to modernist literature: ‘so much mischievous arrogant craft… And again one smiles, thinking what form the Expressionists, Joyce and the rest have produced, more modern, more ecstatically ridiculous than the forms used by this cynical tatterdemalion of the seventeenth century’. This allegation in turn echoed O’Connor’s private letter to Hendrick, imploring him to help dispose of the ‘literary language’ of the Irish Literary Renaissance, and was further linked to his advocacy of ‘simple language’ in another letter. ‘After all, are not words the first test of an artist’s sincerity?… writing in English the cult of beautiful words has become so much a part of us that we have forgotten what sincerity meant’. (‘The Poet as Professional’)
It was the ‘simple’ lyrical quality of Ó Bruadair’s poetry to which O’Connor imparted his respect: ‘In his work, his intellect, his wit, his consummate mastery of the technique of verse, are always dominant. It is only at certain moments that the crust is broken, that we see behind the intellectual personality the personality of emotion, the passionate lyric power’. This promotion of ‘simple language’ by O’Connor could be better understood within the context of a nineteenth-century literary realism influence at work. Turgenev had championed a language of ‘clarity’ and ‘simplicity’, and Chekhov and Maupassant had similarly advanced a language of ‘synthetic simplification’, ‘remote from “bookishness”’, and all that was ‘“affected, pretentious or posing”’. O’Connor’s later scornful labelling of Joyce as the ‘rhetorician’s dream’ and the ‘university man’ resonated with Turgenev’s account of Gončarov’s novel, The Precipice: ‘Rhetoric, nothing but rhetoric’. Turgenev’s pejorative use of the word ‘literature’—‘Oh this literature, how it reeks of literature’—and his praise for Tolstoy—‘[his] greatest virtue is precisely that his stuff smells of life’—also strongly foreshadowed O’Connor’s ‘literary language’ and art coming ‘into touch with life’ critique of modernist literature.
Yet, it is worth noting that O’Connor did have a generally favourable disposition towards Joyce in the 1920s. This could be partly attributed to his instrumentalist approval of Joyce’s declaration to forge ‘the uncreated conscience’ of the Irish race and write the ‘moral history’ of the country. The ‘scrupulous meanness’ and stylistic flair in Dubliners also stimulated O’Connor, to the point where his early efforts in writing short stories have traces of a Joycean influence—‘The Peddler’ (1926) and ‘The Awakening’ (1928), for example. In addition, Joyce’s grimy realism, epiphanic moments, alienated individuals, and representational Irish communities, initiated a pattern upon which O’Connor reflected. Joyce’s thematic attention, furthermore, to the Catholic Church, Irish history, and the country’s socio-political strains, is repeated within O’Connor’s own short stories. It is worth noting that in 1945 O’Connor also wrote a short story which directly references Joyce in the title—‘The Dead’. Rejected by The New Yorker in January 1946, the story appears to have unfortunately vanished. (A rejection of a story by The New Yorker was not unusual, despite O’Connor being continually published in the periodical from 1945 until his death in 1966). In relation to Joyce’s other works, the portrait of Dublin life in Ulysses also initially attracted O’Connor. Instead, the more experimental and extravagant Joyce’s work became, building to the ‘associative mania’ of Finnegans Wake as O’Connor saw it, the more decisively he disengaged from it. Over forty years later, O’Connor would admit only to a realist concentration in his admiration of Ulysses with ‘its description of the poetry of everyday life in the first decade of this century’, predominantly valuable because: ‘as that Dublin fades into history, this aspect will seem more and more important’. The ‘ecstatically ridiculous’ dismissal in his cultural criticism perhaps points in many ways to O’Connor’s endeavours to publicly disassociate from his immediate Irish predecessors, particularly with such literary giants as Joyce. (This makes it all the more intriguingly regrettable that O’Connor’s ‘The Dead’ is missing.) His retreat to the nineteenth-century short-story tradition conceivably created a space for O’Connor’s engagement with the realist mode without his having to declare a Joycean debt.
At the time that literary realism was permeating his thinking, O’Connor was also cultivating his taste in medieval and modern Irish language poetry (he is still critically considered one of Ireland’s finest translators) and his 1920s cultural criticism signifies his predilections. A distinct stylistic and thematic intersection between the literary realist tradition and his Irish language poetry preferences is discernible. Ostensibly, O’Connor’s 1925 article, ‘Life and Literature. The Poet as Professional’, was a review of an excerpt from Sean Ó’Faoláin’s Master’s thesis on Ó Bruadair, published by University College Cork in éarna; but he also made use of the publishing opportunity to extol his own critical bias as he praised Ó’Faoláin for prioritising the lyric personality over the intellectual personality. O’Connor’s greatest admiration for Irish language poetry lay in the early medieval period, when the lyrical personal element was at its strongest and the language was at its simplest. As Robin Flower observed in The Irish Tradition (1947): ‘Language ceases to be decorative and ceremonial and grows simpler and more intense so that it almost comes to be the emotion it expresses’. Predictably, therefore, O’Connor critically bemoaned the rise of bardic schools and the resultant decline of lyric poetry. Dignified construction, complicated metres, and a dialect firmly protected ‘against infiltrations of localisms in phonetic and idiom’ were all part of bardic training. The trained intellectualism involved in stylistic composition, the avoidance of ‘living speech’, and the lack of personal passion in these poems was deplored by O’Connor: ‘Ireland is never a name… it is harp-playing’. His praise of the early medieval poetry characteristics of simple language and ‘living speech’ were resounded in his critical applauding of literary realism.
However, what is also interesting here is that O’Connor was additionally emphasising the lyric as an important component of writing. It shows that O’Connor’s imagination was in fact caught between a romantic inheritance and a realist philosophy. His retreat to early medieval poetry in search of a historically remote romantic influence was perhaps analogous to his retreat from Joyce: an anxious repudiation of any possible Yeatsian sway over his literary imagination. In a 1925 letter to the Irish Statesman, O’Connor rebuked Yeats on the grounds of his poetry embodying, as he saw it, a form of transcendental romanticism: ‘I do object to the assumption… that this verse represents Irish literature, that in reading the Lake Isle of Innisfree they are doing ample justice to the twelve centuries or so during which the Irish race set down its trouble about the terrible mystery of life.’ It was the romance of early medieval poetry that appealed, O’Connor argued, because it did not call for transcendence from life but instead looked to deepen the appreciation for the quotidian:
When I use the word romantic I am not thinking of what it might mean in English or in German literature. Irish verse of the period is not the literature of an escape from life, for it is mainly dramatic and objective. Its romanticism lies in its appeal to a fuller life within the life we live; like Hamlet, bounded by a nutshell, it counts itself a king of infinite space, and always it will sound this double note of imagination and precision. —‘Literature and Life. An Irish Anthology’, The Irish Statesman, 12 June 1926
This double note of imagination and precision was located in romanticism bound up with a realist aesthetic; it was a form of poetic realism and it was this, ultimately, this essay argues, that O’Connor tried most to emulate in his creative writing (and critical works—his ‘lonely voice’ theory being one such example). His own atmospheric, lyrical but ostensibly realist short stories reflected this in-between stance. Poetic realism—lyricism combined with a socio-political reality—is what O’Connor strove to attain in his artistic style.
O’Connor was writing some of the stories for Guests of the Nation while working out his literary philosophy in his cultural criticism, including ‘Guests of the Nation’, and he had by then clearly honed the technical ability of poetic realism which manifested itself so demonstrably in the collection. Perhaps mindful of Joyce’s lyrical moment of epiphany, O’Connor stated in The Lonely Voice that the axis of a short story centred on a single revelatory moment and he cited nineteenth-century Russian writer Gogol’s ‘The Overcoat’ to illustrate this: ‘If one wanted an alternative description of what the short story means, one could hardly find better than that single half-sentence, “and from that day forth, everything was as it were changed and appeared in a different light to him”’. The final line of ‘Guests of the Nation’, a story set during the Irish War of Independence, emulates Gogol’s words and the reader is left aware that the memory of the action taken would ensure life has irrevocably altered for the two Irish soldiers:
I stood at the door, watching and listening to the damned shrieking of the birds… Noble says he felt he seen everything ten times as big, perceiving nothing around him but the little patch of black bog with the two Englishmen stiffening into it; but with me it was the other way, as though the patch of bog where the two Englishmen were was a thousand miles away from me, and even Noble mumbling just behind me and the old woman and the birds and the bloody stars were all far away, and I was somehow very small and very lonely. And anything that ever happened me after I never felt the same about again.
In the story’s ending, O’Connor isolates the atrocious encroachment of war on everyone involved, which lies in comfortable conformity with the characteristics of literary realism and a depicted powerlessness of the individual in the social system. The two Irish soldiers, Bonaparte and Noble, are as much victims of political ideology as the two English soldiers they had befriended and were subsequently forced to execute, Belcher and Hawkins. The devastating effect of war is the motif of this story, while difficult questions of loyalty and morality regarding the recent revolutionary past are directed at the reader, all lyrically heightened by the loneliness of the bleak and evocative language. Both the tragic reality of war and the romantic revolutionary quest are thematically depicted throughout the story.
Given his lack of faith in his poetic abilities, in many ways, the form of the short story itself presented for him the option of combining the varying strands of his ambitions: desiring to be a poet, offering socio-political commentary and inspiring reform, exploring and incorporating a wider European literary inheritance, imparting an instrumentalist impact, and wanting to establish his own artistic technique while navigating the influential terrain of his Irish literary predecessors. A poetic realist aesthetic allowed O’Connor the space to accomplish these aspirations, and the short-story genre readily lent itself, as he believed, to encompassing the diversity of pursuits. When asked by The Paris Review why he preferred the short story as his medium, he replied: ‘Because it’s the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry—I wrote lyric for a long time, then discovered that God had not intended me to be a lyric poet, and the nearest thing to that is the short story… a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has’. In the same interview, this romantic colouring was subsequently mixed with a realist cast when he declared that he was also a social ‘reformer’. Thus did O’Connor balance his philosophical hybridity throughout his writing life.
Osborn Bergin, ‘Bardic Poetry’, in David Greene and Fergus Kelly, eds, Irish Bardic Poetry: Texts and Translations, together with an introductory lecture by Osborn Bergin, with a foreword by D.A. Binchy (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1970).
Joe Cleary, Outrageous Fortune: Capital and Culture in Modern Ireland (Dublin: Field Day Publications, 2007).
Crowley, Malcolm (ed. and Intro.), Interview with Anthony Whittier, ‘Frank O’Connor’, Writers at Work: The ‘Paris Review’ Interviews (1957; repr. London: Secker & Warburg, 1958).
Robin Flower, The Irish Tradition (1947; repr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).
Heather Ingman, A History of the Irish Short Story (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Janko Lavrin, ‘Chekhov and Maupassant’, The Slavonic Review, 5/13 (June 1926).
Frank O’Connor, Letter to Sean Hendrick (Wicklow: undated [early June, 1925]), Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy Collection, Dublin.
Frank O’Connor, ‘Literature and Life. The Poet as Professional’, The Irish Statesman (3 October 1925).
Frank O’Connor, ‘Literature and Life. An Irish Anthology’, The Irish Statesman (12 June 1926).
Frank O’Connor, ‘Literature and Life. Classic Verse’, The Irish Statesman (23 July 1927).
Frank O’Connor, ‘Guests of the Nation’, Guests of the Nation (London: Macmillan, 1931).
Frank O’Connor, Towards An Appreciation of Literature (Dublin: Metropolitan, 1945).
Frank O’Connor, An Only Child (London: Macmillan, 1961).
Frank O’Connor, The Lonely Voice (1962; repr. London: Macmillan, 1963).
Frank O’Connor, The Backward Look: A Survey of Irish Literature (London: Macmillan, 1967).
Michael Ó Donnabháin [Frank O’Connor], Letter to the Editor, The Irish Statesman (13 June 1925).
Victor Terras, ‘Turgenev’s Aesthetic and Western Realism’, Comparative Literature, 22/1 (Winter 1970).
A longer version of this essay was previously published in The Irish Short Story: Traditions and Trends, edited by Elke D’hoker and Stephanie Eggermont (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2015).