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‘A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials’

Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland


Lynn Brunet

The artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) both convey in their work a sense of foreboding and confinement in bleak, ritualistic spaces. This book identifies many similarities between the spaces and activities they evoke and the initiatory practices of fraternal orders and secret societies that were an integral part of the social landscape of the Ireland experienced by both men during childhood.
Many of these Irish societies modelled their ritual structures and symbolism on the Masonic Order. Freemasons use the term ‘spurious Freemasonry’ to designate those rituals not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge. The Masonic author Albert Mackey argues that the spurious forms were those derived from the various cult practices of the classical world and describes these initiatory practices as ‘a course of severe and arduous trials’. This reading of Bacon’s and Beckett’s work draws on theories of trauma to suggest that there may be a disturbing link between Bacon’s stark imagery, Beckett’s obscure performances and the unofficial use of Masonic rites.


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Acknowledgements vii


Acknowledgements This research project represents a new way of looking at the work of crea- tive individuals in the light of their association with members of secret societies and fraternities. As such, it is a challenging study that in some ways asks the reader to re-evaluate the relationship between artist, writer and society. Thus the commitment of those trusted friends and colleagues who have stood by me in this research is all the more to their credit as it would have been very easy for them to back away. My greatest apprecia- tion goes to Professor Kristine Stiles, Duke University, whose career in art theory has been focused on the relationship between trauma and violence in the work of contemporary artists and who has offered me invaluable editorial guidance and ongoing mentoring of my overall project; to my friends and colleagues at the University of Newcastle, namely Professor Lyndall Ryan, who as an historian has confronted some of the darkest aspects of Australian history, who was undaunted by my views and has remained an important mentor; to Sharon Walsh for her invaluable per- spective from the Child Welfare sector; and to my constant friend and fellow artist Maureen Clack, who has patiently stayed with me on this theme over the years of this research. Amongst family, much gratitude goes to my son Daniel, who understands, with great insight, the impact across generations of the abusive use of initiatory rites; to my daughter Alice, for providing the constant motivation to pursue...

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