John Millington Synge
Few of Ireland's great writers led a life more private than John Millington Synge. Indeed, had he not written his three best-known plays, he might have remained no more than a minor footnote to the Irish literary revival. However, "In the Shadow of the Glen", "Riders to the Sea" and "The Playboy of the Western World" have secured his place as a main figure in 20th-century theatre. Synge was born into an Anglo-Irish community which had already lost much of its power and wealth and had become very much a garrison in an alien society. His reading of Darwin at the age of 14 placed him at odds with the evangelical Protestantism of his family. Although not temperamentally given to mysticism, some of Yeats's influence rubbed off on him. When he first visited the Aran Islands, at Yeats's prompting, it was part of his mental baggage. But he saw, through direct experience of the harsh island life, that his own cosmology would be earthier in character and content. The islanders' strange and wild faith - a grafting of Christianity onto a pagan nature worship - fuelled Synge's growing beliefs.
These, allied to his intensely musical temperament, produced the extraordinary language of his mature plays.
New & Used
Out of Stock
What Reviewers Are Saying
After the dense official 1989 biography of Synge (1871-1909) by David H. Greene and Edward M. Stephens comes this first book from Irish freelancer Kiely, a readable but lean digest version of the Irish Revival's playwright laureate. With the hard biographic work of researching the brief life already done, Kiely takes his background almost for granted, cribbing more from previous writers than from Synge's own autobiography or correspondence. Kiely's approach gives Synge's life as much a novelistic treatment as a biographic one: splashy local color, swift and utilitarian characterizations, nonlinear chronology, recreated dialogue, and switches into the present tense. This arrangement of Synge's life opens spiritedly with his stays on the isolated Aran Islands, which would supply the raw plots for his plays - notably Riders to the Sea and The Playboy of the Western World - as well as catalyze his Synge-song of Hiberno-English. This firsthand knowledge of peasant Ireland seemed out of place with his evangelical Protestant Anglo-Irish background and his European education in Paris and Germany - and critics on both sides freely chose among those elements for ammunition when his plays first appeared. Ironically, Kiely underplays the most notorious of these incidents, the Playboy "riots" - a nightly hissing audience finally harangued by W.B. Yeats - for a more academic comparison of Synge's antihero playboy with Cuchulain and Charles Stewart Parnell. Otherwise his depiction of the cultural and political struggles and infighting during the Irish Revival are as compelling as his portrayal of Synge - his musical ear for speech, his humanist's curiosity, and his caustic wit - is sympathetic. (Kirkus Reviews)