Page 6, 9th June 1972

9th June 1972
Page 6
Page 6, 9th June 1972 — A fair deal for Dunsany?

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Organisations: Dublin's United Arts Club


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A fair deal for Dunsany?

Lord Dunsany. A Biography. Mark Amory (Collins £2.75) The Curse of the Wise Woman. Lord Dunsany (Collins £1.70) My Talks with Dean Spanley. Lord Dunsany (Collins £1.50) IN Ireland's Annuals of the Four Masters one may read: "On the road between Kells and Drogheda, there be the strongholds of two great robber barons, Plunkett of Fingall and Plunkett of Dunsany, and if the traveller fails to fall into the hands of Fingall. he will assuredly fall into the hands of Dunsany." Yet this fact did not deter that philistine of genius in politics, Cromwell, from turning his cannon on Dunsany Castle and ordering its Norman-Irish occupants, no less than the mere natives, to make their choice between Connacht or Hell. Along with many others the Lady Dunsany of that time died on the thronged road westward.

I never meet the subject of Mr. Amory's biography though I directed and played in three of his plays. But I once passed the six feet four of him on the steps of Dublin's United Arts Club and attempted to square this romantic looking figure with all I had heard of him from those who professed to be his friends. Yeats and Lady Gregory always spoke of him with a kind of amused superiority, despite the fact that his playwriting had come to the Abbey Theatre's aid in 1909 following the death of Synge.

Oliver St, John Gogarty told me outrageously funny stories about him, but then Oliver was prodigal in this respect about all his acquaintances. Only the Columns, Paoraic and his wife Mary, had kindly things to say (particularly about that cultured and charming English woman, Lady Dunsany). And Mary was among the many who thought that Dunsany did not get that showing in the Irish dramatic movement which was commensurate with his contribution.

Mr. Amory's biography does much to restore the reputation of an almost forgotten literary figure whose sometimes trifles light as air were condemned for lacking the authority of holy writ. Talks with Dean Spanley is a case in point, as frothy a piece of story-telling as an outsize in ice-cream soda; and in these days of dusty answers every bit as refreshing. And with Mr. Pinter's weasel lurking behind the cocktail cabinet and occasionally leering forth to puzzle the beholders, what dramatist would not give half his royalties to be able to hold an audience spellbound with the theatric fantasy of A Night at an Inn.

It is so facile to dismiss Dunsany as a man lacking inner reality (this is to deny it in oneself) to say that he was a character rather than a person (as if he could be the one without being the other). But the man who wrote The Curse of the Wise Woman was a writer in whose veins ran that lightning which irradiates the greatest of Irish writing in English.

Mr. Amory's biography will undoubtedly have the effect of sending scholars (particularly in the U.S. where most of the Irish literary figures — though not Dunsany — have been dissected beyond recognition) back to that man in whom imagination and fancy were so inextricably mixed as to call for a re-definition of both.

Gabriel Fallon

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