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Irish Writers

Samuel Beckett
Brendan Behan
Roddy Doyle
Seamus Heaney

James Joyce
Frank McCourt
George Bernard Shaw
Bram Stoker

Jonathan Swift
John Millington Synge
Oscar Wilde
William Butler Yeats

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Beckett's early decades were colorful, to say the least. He left Ireland and settled in Paris, where in 1938 he refused a racy proposition proffered by a street pimp. The pimp stabbed him, and a bystander, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, called for an ambulance. Beckett and his rescuer became lifelong companions, working together against the Nazis by serving in the French Resistance, and later were married. Beckett wrote several novels, but is best known for his play Waiting for Godot, described by one critic as “a play in which nothing happens, twice.” He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969.

Recommended Selection
The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989
Sure, Beckett will always be best-remembered for plays like Waiting for Godot and Endgame, but his works of short fiction and prose are considered by critics to be masterpieces of the form. In 336 pages, this book presents all of the Nobel Prize-winner's short pieces.
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Brendan Behan (1923-1964)

Behan grew up in the slums of Dublin, and was from an anti-British, very political family. From the age of nine he was a member of a youth organization connected with the IRA; and at 16, he was received a three-year sentence in a Borstal reform school for attempting to blow up a battleship. Shortly after his release, Behan was convicted for the attempted murder of two detectives and was sentenced to 14 years. He began writing while in prison. His play The Quare Fellow (1956) is based on his prison experiences. Other plays include The Big House (1957) and The Hostage (1958). A lifelong alcoholic, Behan died in a Dublin hospital at the age of 41.

Recommended Selection
Borstal Boy
A youthful revolutionary with ties to the Irish Republican Army, Brendan Behan was arrested at age 16 when he was caught in Liverpool carrying a suitcase filled with high explosives. This book recounts his experiences from the day of his arrest through final release from a Borstal reform school. What sets this book apart and makes it a pleasure to read is its relentless humor and lack of bitterness and anger, in the face of the grim circumstances of the author's life during the time being described.
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Roddy Doyle (1958 - )

Doyle spent 14 years teaching at Greendale Community School in North Dublin, but has been a full-time writer since 1993. He first garnered wide attention as a writer when his novel The Commitments (1987) became a hit movie in 1991. His fiction is characterized as rowdy, and filled with the gritty details (as well as the slang and profanities) of working-class life in North Dublin. Doyle's novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was awarded the coveted Booker Prize in 1993.

Recommended Selection
The Barrytown Trilogy: The Commitments/The Snapper/The Van
Doyle's first three novels are known as The Barrytown Trilogy. The action in all three books centers on the eight-person-large Rabbitte family. In The Commitments, one of the sons seeks to make a go of it by forming a band and playing 1960s soul music to Dubliners. In The Snapper, the eldest Rabbitte daughter becomes pregnant out of wedlock, and strains the family by refusing to disclose the identity of the father. Finally, in The Van, the father of the clan teams up with a likewise unemployed friend; they buy an old fast-food wagon and soon learn that their dreams of getting rich selling fish and chips might not go off like they planned.
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Seamus Heaney (1939 - )

Born in 1939 in Northern Ireland, Heaney published his first book of poetry, Death of a Naturalist, in 1966. Heaney is the author of numerous volumes of poetry and criticism. He held the chair of Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1989 to 1994. In 1995, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. He divides his time between Dublin and Boston, where he occupies the position Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University.

Recommended Selection
Opened Ground : Selected Poems, 1966-1996
This 440-page collection includes Heaney's best work over a thirty year period, from the introspective poems of Death of a Naturalist (1966) to the more mature voice displayed in Seeing Things (1991) and The Spirit Level (1996).
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James Joyce (1882-1941)

Joyce is recognized as a premier literary innovator, whose novels experimented heavily with stream of consciousness narration and the interior monologue. Much of his fiction is set in his native Dublin, but he lived there infrequently during his life, which was primarily spent in Switzerland, Paris, and Trieste. His difficulties with the censors began with Dubliners, a short story collection whose mention of the British Royal Family complicated its publication. His landmark novel Ulysses earned an even colder reception; the publisher of the New York journal that serialized it was prosecuted on obscenity charges. Joyce found Parisian publishers more to his liking, and settled there. In his later years, he suffered from poor health and nearly struck blind. He died in Switzerland following surgery to repair an ulcer.

Recommended Selection
The Portable James Joyce
In one not-too-weighty volume, you can have all of the short stories of Dubliners, the novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the play Exiles, and a collection of poems that includes Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach, as well as excerpted chapters from Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. You won't get bogged down with lengthy criticism and interpretation of Joyce's writings, but you will receive a solid introduction to the major themes and styles found in Joyce's works.
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Frank McCourt (1931 - )

Born in Brooklyn during the Depression, Frank McCourt remained in New York only until the age of four, when his family returned to their native Ireland. His alcoholic father was unable to support the family, and three of McCourt's siblings died from diseases fostered by their extreme poverty. McCourt survived his horrific childhood and emigrated back to the United States, serving in the Korean War and attending New York University on the G.I. Bill. Following graduation he taught creative writing for 27 years in the New York City Public School system. His students continually encouraged him to write about his own life, and upon retirement he embarked on a new and very successful career as a bestselling author.

Recommended Selection
Angela's Ashes: A Memoir
This book describes the very trying circumstances of Frank McCourt's nightmarish, penniless childhood, told with hope, humor and compassion. Despite the often grim subject matter, Angela's Ashes has been a monster hit with the bookbuying public, selling more than 4 million copies, and being published in 27 countries in 17 languages. A second autobiographical volume, ‘Tis, picks up the thread of the author's life from his return to the United States at age 19.
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George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Shaw was much more than an Irish dramatist with more than 50 plays to his credit, and a leading figure in the 20th century theater. He was also a literary critic and a prominent advocate of socialist causes. While still in his twenties, Shaw joined the Fabian Society, a socialist organization, and served on its executive board for decades. Shaw felt so strongly about the issue of the equality of income among people, that upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, he accepted the award but refused the cash prize that accompanied it. His most famous works are the plays Man and Superman, Candida, Arms and the Man, and Pygmalion, which has been repackaged into several successful films and musicals (e.g., My Fair Lady).

Recommended Selection
The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw
Readers of the works of George Bernard Shaw can benefit greatly from an understanding of the sociopolitical background of the work being read, as well as the singular literary techniques he employed. This volume delivers in these key areas.
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Abraham "Bram" Stoker (1847-1912)

The world-famous author of the first classic tale of vampirism had a series of demanding careers, but ever continued to pursue writing on the side. His father wanted him to follow his footsteps into civil service, which he did for eight years. He resigned to become actor-manager at London's Lyceum Theatre. Stoker wrote a modest number of horror stories, essays, and eerie children's fairy tales, but will always be remembered for Dracula, published in 1897 to worldwide acclaim.

Recommended Selection
Here's a story with some real teeth in it. Stoker is a skillful storyteller, interweaving letters, newspaper clippings, and journal entries to produce an account that is absolutely dripping with mysterious and suspenseful atmosphere.
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Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Swift practically invented satire as a literary art form, and remains one of its best-known practitioners. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from Trinity College in Dublin, and with the publication of his early essays, rose to a position of prominence in London literary and political circles. His satirical skewering of European monarchies in Gulliver's Travels (1726) is his acknowledged masterpiece. But readers can't soon forget his essay A Modest Proposal (1729), in which Swift boldly confronted Ireland's nagging poverty problem by recommending that the poorest Irish peasants breed as many infants as possible, then sell them as food to the rich. Now that's a win-win for everyone!

Recommended Selection
Writings of Jonathan Swift (Norton Critical Edition)
Collected in 721 pages are Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, Swift's poems, his major essays, and other works such as Tale of a Tub and the Battle of the Books. Complete with accompanying critical commentary, this edition is definitely worth buying.
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John Millington Synge (1871-1909)

Following graduation from Trinity College, Dublin, Synge studied music in and became a literary critic in Paris, where he encountered Yeats, who convinced him to devote himself to creative pursuits. Synge is remembered for the plays depicting Irish peasant life that he wrote in the last six years of his life. His most frequently performed work, “Playboy of the Western World,” scandalized theatergoers attending its initial run and incited them to riot in the streets of Dublin. They were upset with its satirization of a village in County Mayo and outraged that rural Ireland was portrayed in a dark modern way, and not as peaceful, chaste, and pious.

Recommended Selection
The Aran Islands
The Arans are a chain of islands off the Irish coast. Their extreme isolation allows their residents to preserve the language and customs of traditional Ireland. Over a century ago, playwright John Millington Synge visited the Arans, and soaked up their tales of fairies and Celtic heroes. Read this book for its delightful language and many insights into the Irish soul.
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Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Wilde studied at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. Upon graduation he moved to London, where he became the spokesman for the art movement known as Aestheticism. He was married for nine years with two children, but his marital status did not prevent his lifestyle from becoming the focus of great speculation and gossip. His relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas led to a conviction for the crime of sodomy and a sentence of two years at hard labor. He is best-known for his play, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and The Happy Prince and other fairy tales. Despite establishing a very successful career as a playwright only a few years prior, Wilde died penniless at only 46, of cerebral meningitis in a cheap Paris hotel.

Recommended Selection
Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
Look no further than this book for the most comprehensive and authoritative single–volume collection of the works of Oscar Wilde. Contains a bibliography, chronology of the author's life and work, the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, plus his plays, stories, poems, essays, and letters.
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William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Yeats is regarded as one of the 20th-century's finest poets. He studied at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, and published his first poems in The Dublin University Review in 1885. From his early years, he developed a fascination with occult subjects, such as reincarnation, automatic writing, communication with the dead, and Oriental mysticism. Yeats was very curious about the subject of Celtic identity as well, spawning an interest in folk tales. In addition to his many poems, dramatic and prose works, he published a number of collections and retellings of Irish fairy tales, folk tales, and stories taken from Irish and Celtic mythology. Yeats received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Recommended Selection
The Yeats Reader, Revised Edition : A Portable Compendium of Poetry, Drama, and Prose
The Yeats Reader presents more than 150 poems, eight plays, prose tales, and excerpts from both published and unpublished memoirs. A bonus presented as an appendix contains six early drafts of poems later revised by Yeats.
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