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Literary and Cultural Relations

Ireland, Hungary and Central and Eastern Europe

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Edited By Maria Kurdi

The lively, informative and incisive collection of essays sheds fascinating new light on the literary interrelations between Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic. It charts a hitherto under-explored history of the reception of modern Irish culture in Central and Eastern Europe and also investigates how key authors have been translated, performed, and adapted. The work of Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, Flann O'Brien, Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Martin McDonagh, it is indicated, has particularly inspired writers, directors, and translators. The searching analyses presented here illuminatingly reflect on the far-reaching political and social import of multicultural exchange. It is shown to be a process that is at best mutually defining and that raises questions about received forms of identity, the semiotics of genre and the possibilities and limits of linguistic translation. In addition, the histories compiled here of critical commentary on Irish literature in Hungary or of the staging of contemporary Irish plays in Hungary and in the Czech Republic, for example, uncover the haphazardness of intercultural exchange and the extent to which it is vulnerable to political ideology, social fashion, and the vagaries of state funding. The revealing explorations undertaken in this volume of a wide array of Irish dramatic and literary texts, ranging from Gulliver's Travels to Translations and The Pillowman, tease out the subtly altered nuances that they acquire in a Central European context. By the same token, it is demonstrated that Ireland has been changed by the recent migration of workers from Eastern Europe and that consequently projections of the figure of the emigrant or asylum seeker in current drama warrant scrutiny. This original and combative collection demonstrates, not only that literary exchange between Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Ireland has been prolonged, multifaceted and, above all, enriching, but also that it exposes blind-spots, and forces confrontation with issues of racism, failure of empathy and cultural misprision.

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6 | Irishness or Otherness: Two Irish Versions of Uncle Vanya

6 |   Irishness or Otherness: Two Irish Versions of Uncle Vanya

Extract

Zsuzsa Csikai

Virginia Woolf, one of the earliest critics of Russian writers, when analysing the spirit of Russia and her literature, attempted to account for what she saw as the inability of the English, despite all their enthusiasm, to understand Russian literature, especially Chekhov. She believed that it was due to the difference between the two civilizations, namely, that their civilization bred into the English ‘the instinct to enjoy and fight rather than suffer and understand’,1 suffering and understanding used to sum up the features of the Russian psyche. Following her train of thought, one starts to ponder whether the Irish, having to deal with the legacy of colonization, have more in common with the Russian character implied above, which might partly explain the huge popularity of Chekhov among contemporary Irish dramatists, many of whom created new versions of some of his major as well as minor plays or are greatly influenced by them in their own original work. Woolf’s idea, though perhaps a summary observation, seems to be justified by Brian Friel, himself an enthusiastic adaptor of classic Russian writers, who explained the attraction Chekhov’s figures held for him making the cautious remark that they are not unlike members of his own generation in Ireland, behaving ‘as if their old certainties were as sustaining as ever’.2

It is not only Friel, sometimes labelled as ‘the Irish Chekhov’, however, who is attracted to the Russian master. In Ireland, within a wider tradition of rewriting and...

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