Traditions and Trends
Frank O’Connor’s 1920s Cultural Criticism and the Poetic Realist Short Story
In a private letter to Sean Hendrick in 1925, Frank O’Connor wrote with the intention of seeking support ‘in a matter of pure necessity’ and asked his friend to write to the editor of the Irish Statesman under an assumed name. O’Connor and Geoffrey Phibbs were attacking the ‘literary language of our Dublin friends’ and he wanted Hendrick’s help to ‘dispose of the Irish Literary Renaissance in a suitably undignified manner’. Ironically, in the same letter O’Connor mentioned he was holding on to a copy of Ulysses for Hendrick as he was ‘afraid to send it through the post’.1 Though O’Connor was primarily engaged with the cultural debates that were taking place in ← 149 | 150 → the pages of the Irish Statesman, particularly the issue of re-Gaelicization and its impact on Ireland’s literature, the letter also reveals the aspiring writer’s own anxiety of influence concerning his immediate Irish literary predecessors. Caught between his two father-figures – writers Daniel Corkery and George Russell (AE), who had positioned themselves on opposing sides of the re-Gaelicization debate – and eager to distance his writing from both the romanticism of the Revival and the experimentalism of the modernist movement, O’Connor’s epistolary machinations in the 1920s formed part of a concerted effort to carve out his own literary philosophy. It is commonplace at this stage of course to situate O’Connor’s notions within a framework of disenchantment with Romantic Ireland and with the ascendant aesthetics of modernism, in conjunction with an implication that in the mid-twentieth-century Irish...
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