Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Long Lost Leprechaun of Irish Lit

Austin Ratner profiles the once-celebrated Irish writer Joyce called his "spiritual twin":
This much is known: he was very small as a child; when he grew up he was still so short that one journalist said he was no taller standing than sitting; others called him a leprechaun, and he didn’t much like that; he told a cartoonist, “Eh, you want to caricature me, eh? Well, the Almighty beat you to it.” This too is known: notwithstanding his diminutive beginnings, great men would come to worship at his feet. The Irish playwright Seán O’Casey called him “the jesting poet with a radiant star in his coxcomb.” Eugene O’Neill asked him to name his children and soOona and Shane O’Neill got their names. James Joyce asked him to complete Finnegans Wake should Joyce himself go blind. He published plays, novels, stories, and poems, including a series of them in The New Yorker in 1929, and his voice once pervaded the Irish airwaves like rainbows south of Skibbereen. This so-called leprechaun with a voice “nimble as a goat’s foot,” as one commentator puts it, was called James Stephens.
And he could be prickly:
It was in a 1915 essay in The New Age entitled “The Non-Existence of Ireland” that Joyce’s influential champion Ezra Pound dismissed Stephens as “a mild enough writer.” It enraged Stephens, who wrote a bitterly funny letter to The New Age deriding Pound in doggerel form. Stephens concludes that having written Pound’s name, he had to go “fumigate” his sullied pen.

1 comment:

Seán Haldane said...

Good to see something on James Stephens. He was, among other things, a master of writing 'with the left hand' - i.e. satirically, vituperatively, as in the famous:

The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer:
May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair
And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year...