The Dark is the second novel by Irish writer John McGahern, published in Plot introduction. The Dark is set in Ireland’s rural north-west, and it focuses . Shortly after its publication in , John McGahern’s second novel, The Dark, was banned by the Irish state censor for obscenity. The story. I thought this a couple of years ago when I read John McGahern’s The Dark ( ) was McGahern’s second novel and, true to the title, it’s as.
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S hortly after its publication inJohn McGahern’s second novel, The Dark, was banned by the Irish state censor for obscenity. The story was set, as so much of McGahern’s later fiction would be, in isolated rural Ireland and dealt with the bleak consequences of parental and clerical child abuse.
On the instructions of the Archbishop of Dublin, McGahern was sacked from his job as a primary school teacher. He later left the country. Despite these apparent setbacks, McGahern’s literary friends reassured him that all this was a wonderful opportunity in terms of publicity and sales.
Remember Joyce and Beckett being forced overseas? This was Irish literary history repeating itself, and preparations were soon being made to mount a campaign against the anachronistic and widely derided censorship laws with McGahern as the figurehead. McGahern agreed that the situation was indeed absurd, and says that even as an adolescent reader he had nothing but contempt for the censorship board. But he nevertheless decided not to protest and instead maintained a public silence.
He was particularly grateful to Samuel Beckett, who had read the book and agreed to speak on his behalf, for writing to him before going public to ask if his support was wanted.
If it wasn’t for Mr Beckett writing to me I wouldn’t have even been asked. I was secretly ashamed. Not because of the book, but because this was our country and we were making bloody fools of ourselves. But in the wake of the banning he didn’t publish again until his collection of stories, Nightlines. He has also published four collections of stories and a handful of plays. His work has been consistently acclaimed and he is often called the Irish Chekhov, but despite this combination of praise and notoriety for a long time he maintained a remarkably low public profile.
Until the late 70s he had hardly given an interview, and the huge impact of his banning combined with his comparatively small output meant that for many years he was a generally misunderstood figure in Ireland. He jokes that for a long time he was just “that fella who writes the dirty books”, but Declan Kiberd, professor of Anglo-Irish literature at University College Dublin, says he now occupies an almost uniquely exalted position.
Amongst Women is seen by many ordinary Irish people as the essential chronicle of a whole phase of our nation’s life. You’d find it in houses without all that many other books because of the extreme truthfulness, accuracy and demonstrable honesty of his writing. The writer Colm Toibin says that McGahern has been enormously influential “in that he has established the notion of a small place becoming a whole world and sticking to that throughout a writing life without in any way lessening the power of his work or its appeal.
When I was growing up in a provincial town there was nowhere more dreary than Ireland and nothing more dreary than Irish writing. The world you could describe was an outside world, a place we would find on our departure from Ireland and Irish subjects. But he disposed of the notion that the house I was brought up in, and the landscape he and I knew, was anything other than something to be brushed aside.
Publication of That They May Face The Rising Sun has aroused considerable expectations in Ireland, so much so that earlier this year the main morning radio news programme devoted a quarter of an hour to McGahern reading from what was then a work in progress. In its first week in the book shops it went to the top of the bestseller list.
The writer Dermot Bolger explains that “there are certain Irish writers that are hugely important to, and inextricably bound up with, the Irish psyche. But they don’t always travel as well as they might. McGahern isn’t as well known outside Ireland as he should be. When he was shortlisted for the Booker prize, I remember watching the chairman of the judges mispronounce his name because it was so unfamiliar to him.
Creeping modernity in the form of newly erected telephone poles and a sheltered housing scheme for the old people encroaches on a small, isolated community living around the edge of a lake. While the book is broadly a communal portrait, one of its most important animating themes arises from those characters who have for various reasons worked over the water in England. It was a very bad time in Ireland, the place was stagnant and the boat trains were full. The trade unions always looked to Britain for help, but the political organisations, like Sinn Fein, always turned to America.
Ireland’s rural elegist
The contribution made by Irish people to the trade union and Chartist movement in Britain has been practically written out of Irish history while the contribution the Irish have made in America have been lauded in song.
He says over half the people he was at school with went to England, including more than half of his immediate family. McGahern was born in and brought up on a small farm in the border county of Leitrim. He had six younger siblings; a brother who was financial controller of BBC Radio until his death a few years ago and five sisters, two of whom were nurses, two teachers and one a civil servant. McGahern still lives on and works a farm in Leitrim, and friends say that even though he has held high profile academic posts round the world as a visiting professor he remains essentially a countryman.
Last term he taught in an upstate New York college, but seeing him in the soulless urban grid of downtown Syracuse wearing an old tweed flat cap and long black overcoat, he could have been in an Irish agricultural town on market day as he casually engaged strangers on the street to ask for advice on finding a decent restaurant.
Friends say he has extraordinary confidence in who he is and where he’s from – he behaves pretty much the same way wherever is and whoever he is with. McGahern’s mother, Susan, had been the first person from her village to go to secondary school.
She became a teacher and bought a small farm because in s Leitrim it was easier to buy a house with land than without. She died of cancer just before McGahern’s 10th birthday. His father, who McGahern describes as “a much more aggressive person than me”, had fought in the civil war and was a sergeant in the Garda. He lived separately at the barracks in Cootehall a few miles away. He had a maidservant there and we would go and stay with him during the holidays. Following the death of their mother, the McGahern children moved to live with their father full time at Cootehall.
McGahern has said that “as a child there was a certain sense that I was going back to the fortress of the enemy, of living in an alien place. But while some of the detail of daily barracks routine was as he remembered it, McGahern has said that “I have found the most serious mistakes I have made were when I have drawn from life, when I have actually stuck close to the way things happen.
That’s where the prose is dead. Despite his difficult upbringing, he was always a good student and says he was very lucky when young to have access to a library in the house of some Protestant neighbours. Even as a teenager he began to think like a writer and read books more for the style than the story. When he was 18 he enrolled at teacher training college in Dublin because he thought the short working day would allow him time to write. The eight-year-old Declan Kiberd was taught by McGahern.
We kind of knew he was a writer, so he was always a figure of some interest. Sometimes you could tell that his mind was elsewhere and he’d tell us to do mental arithmetic for 20 minutes in silence while I’m sure he was thinking about a word or a phrase.
McGahern says that as reading for pleasure was not really approved of in Ireland the idea of a literary career was unlikely, as writers had no expectation of making any money.
But he recalls that “if you were young with literary interests Dublin was a very lively city. There were many good second-hand book shops, there was the national library, there were plenty of cinemas, there was an incredible number of small theatres. I remember one very good company who would perform Pirandello and Chekhov at the back of the gas showroom.
He had looked Irish life in the face in a way it didn’t like being looked at. But his pale glance was formidable. It was never published, but a friend sent an extract to the London literary magazine X and McGahern was quickly contacted by several publishers.
When The Barracks was published in Anthony Burgess said that nobody “has caught so well the peculiar hopelessness of contemporary Ireland”.
David Lodge praised its “scrupulous yet enhancing accuracy”, before presciently noting that this new writer “was mcbahern real thing”. McGahern says that his family and friends were not pleased when the book was published.
A local butcher offered me money to put in my next book a portrayal of a customer he didn’t like that would make him ashamed to show his face in the town. It was like the tradition of the Gaelic poets, who were paid money to write in derision about people. When McGahern sent his father a copy he received a “sharp response” saying thank you but he had no intention of reading it.
But when The Dark was banned his father complained that McGahern wasn’t standing up for himself enough. He removed my book from the library and when she heard she told him that until he put it back he could buy mcgaahern cigarettes somewhere else. Although McGahern says he doesn’t believe and doesn’t belong to the church, he also acknowledges it as the most important influence on his life.
Before the printed adrk, churches were the bibles of the poor. In that sense the Catholic church was my first book and it remains my most important book. Just after the banning he was on a live TV programme in Belfast. He was invited to attack the church but said he could no more attack it than he could his own life. He recalls that an Orangeman in the audience stood up and said to huge applause “here is a man whose book has been banned by the Papist government in the south, has been sacked by the Archbishop of Dublin, and he comes up here to Belfast and praises the Catholic church.
The Dark (McGahern novel) – Wikipedia
Moscow dadk do a better job of brainwashing”. Enda McDonagh, emeritus professor of moral theology at St Patrick’s College, Datk, says many church people have a great appreciation of McGahern as a writer, and a great many priests never believed in the censorship board in the first place: I think McGahern’s work has a genuine spiritual quality that reveals dimensions of humanity that are very significant, for all their depictions of the ugliness and tragedy of life.
You can’t help but be moved by his sense of humanity in these characters. When I was teaching theology in the 70s and 80s I made use of novels, including those by McGahern, to help people understand some of the complexities of human life and mcgaherm character and morality.
Denis Sampson of Vanier College in Quebec, who wrote the first critical survey of McGahern’s work insees him as a post-Catholic writer in that he is always asking how we discover what is real in life. In many of his books these apparently simple people continually jojn up with statements that question what is real rark meaningful in life.
Although McGahern chose not to protest at the banning of his book, he did make a point of turning up at the school and insisting that he was sacked rather than resigning. He dqrk said since that when he used to see rows of Morris Minors in a school car park he thanked the archbishop of Dublin for liberating him.
He was publicly supported by parents of the children he taught, but having lost his job he moved to London where he worked with his brother-in-law on building sites and did some jonh teaching as well as writing occasional book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and adapting 19th-century novels for radio.
By this time he had married, a fact his teacher trade union general secretary claimed counted against him in his dismissal.
He says, “I was told ‘if it had just been the book maybe we could have done something for you. But by going and marrying this foreign woman in a registry office you have made yourself a hopeless case.
There are hundreds and thousands of Irish women going round with their tongues out looking for a husband. For six months they lived in Helsinki, where they were married. She had a good job as a producer there for the theatre as well as radio and television. She hated Ireland and didn’t like London much, so she would go home for longer and longer periods. They married in They bought a farm in County Leitrim in and returned to Ireland. But in hindsight the farm was a foolish idea.
I thought it would be a place where I could write and we could live cheaply.