by Liam O'Flaherty
by John Gabree
he was famous as a participant in the Irish Civil War (in 1922, he raised
a red flag over the Dublin Rotunda) and because his best-known book
Informer," Liam O'Flaherty is regarded primarily as a novelist
of the Irish rebellion. In a letter to the Irish Statesman, he celebrated
"the wild tumult of the untamed storm, the tumuilt of the army
on the march, clashing its cymbals, rioting with excess of energy."
Like our own Theodore Dreiser, he was capable of being crude, grandiose
and melodramatic, and he was often swamped by his own rhetoric. But
he was also capable, far more than Dreiser, alas, of reaching and expressing
astonishingly delicate perceptions of the human soul.
best, O'Flaherty was one of the great natural forces of 20th Century
literature. Like Jean Giono or Knut Hamsun, when writing about the
land, the sea and the simpler creatures, including here peasants and
seamen, his writing takes on the elemental forcefulness of classic
folk tales. "Famine," his greatest work in this mode, is matched only
in his best short stories. It reads as freshly today as it did when
it was first published 45 years ago.
the population of Ireland was estimated at 8.5 million. By 1851, it
had been reduced by two million, half of whom had died and half of
whom had fled, mostly to the U.S. and other former British colonies.
The raw numbers do not do justice to the magnitude of the catastrophe
that had befallen Ireland. In large parts of the south and west, traditional
culture had been uprooted and destroyed.
on a family of County Galway tenant farmers, the Kilmartins, "Famine"
inserts us into the horror of the "great hunger." A study
of the uses of power -- by the old English ascendancy, by the rising
middle class of usurious merchants, by the embattled (and mostly defeated
peasants), it records the final days of an ancient, ritualistic society,
unhinged by the destruction of the customs and traditions that had
given shape and meaning to life. It is also about survival, especially
that of Mary Gleeson Kilmartin, who fights for her family with fierce
was first published in 1937 but was never available in soft cover
until a handsome edition was offered by David R. Godine's line of
quality paperbacks, Nopareil, which also published works by Benedetto
Croce, Edmund Wilson, Paula Fox, William Gass and Stanley Elkin. It
was thought at the time that the publisher might be moved to reprint
O'Flaherty's excellent short story collections, "Spring Sowing"
and "The Tent." If you can find the Nonpareil edition, buy
it; it is avaialble now in a version from Interlink.](1985)
Famine by Liam O'Flaherty