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France and Ireland

Notes and Narratives


Edited By Una Hunt and Mary Pierse

The rich association between Ireland and France is embodied in music, art and creative writing from both countries and this collection provides a tantalising selection of these interweaving influences. The book presents a vivid picture of interactions between composers, performers, poets and novelists on each side of the Celtic Sea. Surprises abound, with music unexpectedly linking Ireland and France through George Alexander Osborne and Frédéric Chopin, through Thomas Moore and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, through Irish-inspired French opera and a French-directed Irish orchestra. Words and music meet in a Kate O'Brien novel, a musical interpretation of Verlaine and a selection of Paula Meehan's poetry, while the encounter between wine and music creates new possibilities for artistic and cultural expression. Exploring the works and influence of a wide range of figures including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Jacques Derrida, J.M. Synge, Hélène Cixous, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Hector Berlioz, Maurice Ravel, Neil Jordan and John Field, the essays collected here uncover a wealth of artistic interconnections between France and Ireland.
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Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour: When Words and Music Chime


The Irish writer Kate O’Brien (1897–1974) is a significant literary figure of the 1930s, 40s and 50s in particular, decades during which she produced such classic novels as Without My Cloak (1931), The Ante-Room (1934), Mary Lavelle (1936), and The Land of Spices (1943). She also wrote plays and short fiction and was highly regarded as a travel writer. Music was a constant in O’Brien’s life and this emerges very clearly in her final novel, As Music and Splendour (1958), which she had originally intended to entitle My Redeemer Liveth, after the aria from Handel’s Messiah. While this chapter will concentrate on As Music and Splendour, it will also dwell briefly on The Ante-Room and The Land of Spices, both works wherein music plays a significant role.

Born on 3 December 1897, the seventh child of a comfortable Limerick bourgeois family, O’Brien was educated from an early age by the Faithful Companions of Jesus, a French order of nuns to whom she felt greatly indebted and who are evoked in the most wistful and laudatory manner in The Land of Spices. Éibhear Walshe notes how O’Brien’s educators had to be politically astute to survive the religious fanaticism that dominated the writer’s youth:

The nuns at Laurel Hill, the ‘French’ convent, had to tread a very careful line in relation to this religious extremism and also in relation to the emergent cultural nationalism of Ireland in the early twentieth century. Ireland was still part...

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