Category Archives: Books

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CARY GRANT ·

Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best

Nancy Nelson’s Evenings with Cary Grant, which uses the icon’s own words—and is enhanced with material from Grant’s personal papers—draws from the remembrances of Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Reynolds, Sophia Loren, Quincy Jones, Deborah Kerr, and George Burns (over one hundred and fifty voices in all). Together these friends, colleagues, and loved ones provide a sublime, truthful, and candid portrait—as close to a memoir as Grant ever got.

Foreword by Barbara and Jennifer Grant.  Available now.  

“Forget the other Grant books, this is it.  Superb.”–Kirkus Reviews.

“It’s a lovely, funny book about Cary.”–Katharine Hepburn.  

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WB YEATS, THE SPANISH FLU AND AN EXPERIMENT IN QUARANTINE ·

(Joseph M. Hassett’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 11/20.)

The elixir of love is potent medicine for all locked in by pandemic or the virus of hatred

WB Yeats’s December 14th, 1918 letter to New York lawyer John Quinn alludes to the dramatic impact of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 on the Yeats family. He recounts that his wife George fainted upon receiving the telegraphed news that his father had been stricken with potentially fatal influenza and pneumonia. The poet’s initial impression that the fainting was caused by this news turned out to be wrong – in fact, George also had life-threatening flu and pneumonia.

The situation was especially dire because George was expecting their first child in February. The prospective parents were temporarily living in premises at 73 St Stephen’s Green that had been leased by Maud Gonne, the longtime elusive object of Yeats’s romantic pursuit and the subject of many of his poems.

The Yeatses had taken over Gonne’s lease for six months while she was imprisoned in England on suspicion of participating in a wartime conspiracy between Irish republicans and the Kaiser’s secret service. On November 24th, 1918, Gonne, who had been released on medical grounds, but barred from travelling to Ireland, suddenly appeared at the Yeatses’ door demanding entry. Given George’s condition, the potential for a police raid in search of Gonne, and the tight quarters occasioned by the presence of nurses attending George, Yeats refused entry to his erstwhile muse. A bitter quarrel ensued. Yeats eventually found new accommodationsdown the Green, his wife and father recovered, and Anne Butler Yeats was born on February 26th, 1919.

The month before Anne’s birth, her father was writing his apocalyptic poem The Second Coming, which famously declares:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned….

The first World War, the Russian revolution and incipient anarchy in Irish politics were part of the cauldron of disturbance out of which the poem emerged. Still, one wonders, following the lead of Ambassador Daniel Mulhall in The Irish Times on May 25th, 2020, whether the turmoil visited on the Yeats family by the 1918 pandemic was part of the mix. The Second Coming vividly captures a sense of the world spinning out of control.

Lessons to be discerned from this traumatic experiment in living were not articulated until three years later when the sequelae of 1918 merged with similar turmoil, troubling Yeats while he was isolated in his Galway tower amid the violence and uncertainty of civil war. The poem that emerged this time was The Stare’s Nest by My Window. It describes the circumstances of its origin in terms that resonate with the fear and anxiety we suffer while locked in, physically and psychologically, by Covid-19:

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty.

Yeats later explained that he responded to these pressures with “an overmastering desire not to grow unhappy or embittered, not to lose all sense of the beauty of nature”.

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LOST LETTERS REVEAL JM BARRIE AND ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON’S MUTUAL AFFECTION ·

(Donna Ferguson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/25; Photo: JM Barrie, who shared a deep friendship with Robert Louis Stevenson. Photograph: Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images; via Pam Green.)

Newly unearthed correspondence shows deep respect between Peter Pan and Treasure Island authors, who never met

They are two of the greatest writers in history and they were also the greatest of friends. But they never met, and the importance and intensity of their relationship has never before been fully understood.

Now, the lost letters of JM Barrie to Robert Louis Stevenson – missing for over a century – have been found in a cardboard box in a library archive and will be published for the first time in a forthcoming book. The letters reveal how ardently the young Barrie both adored and admired Stevenson, who was an older and more established writer. A year into their friendship, which was initiated by Stevenson, Barrie wrote to him: “To be blunt I have discovered (have suspected it for some time) that I love you, and if you had been a woman…” He leaves the sentence unfinished.

He also imagines in the letters that he and Stevenson are related and were descended from the same Scottish family, a fantasy that allows him to open up to the older man about the intimacies of his family life and his close relationship with his mother.

Treasure Island had already been published when the two authors began corresponding in 1892; 12 years later, Barrie went on to write his own masterpiece, Peter Pan, about a dangerous amputated pirate, a young boy and a journey to a far-off fantasy island.

He repeatedly fantasises in his letters about meeting Stevenson, who had left their native Scotland in 1879 and was living in Samoa to improve his health. In one letter, Barrie even writes a funny, self-deprecating playlet – never seen before – in which he imagines himself visiting Stevenson’s 314-acre estate, and Stevenson “glumly” saying to his wife about Barrie: “Perhaps he will improve after he has rested a bit.”

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HOW I MET THE RECLUSIVE GEORGIA O’KEEFFE ·

(Roxana Robinson’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 10/1; Photograh: Georgia O’Keeffe lived in a small village in rural New Mexico and rarely gave interviews. Seclusion and withholding were part of her persona.Photograph by Allan Grant / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty.)

The story of two encounters—one in life, the other on the page.

I once met Georgia O’Keeffe. This was not easy to do, and I considered it an achievement.

It was in the early nineteen-seventies, when I was in my early twenties. I was working at Sotheby’s, in New York, in the American paintings department. One of the things I did there was catalogue the works that we sold. I held each picture in my hands, felt its shape and weight. I measured and described it, recording the medium, condition, signature. The date. The provenance and exhibition history. I came to know the works very well.

During this time I had begun to write about American art. I was particularly interested in the modernists, those early-twentieth-century artists who were part of the rising tide of abstraction. I wrote about different members of this group—Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove. I wanted to write about O’Keeffe, but this was difficult. She held the copyright to many of her paintings, so it was necessary to ask permission from her in order to reproduce them. This was one reason that relatively little scholarship had appeared on her: How could you write a book about art without using images? Another reason was the confusion that permeated critical response to her work until well into the sixties. All those flowers! Was she a great artist or a cheap sentimentalist? The work was so easy to like—could it be important? She was scorned by the guys, and, if you wanted to be taken seriously as a scholar, it seemed risky to write about her.

Another reason for the paucity of writing about O’Keeffe was her own inaccessibility. She lived in a small village in rural New Mexico and rarely gave interviews. Seclusion and withholding were part of her persona. She was not interested in publicity, and it is said that she once refused a request for a one-person show at the Louvre. Here was a paradox: the work, so intimate and engaging, even accessible, and the artist, so remote and self-controlled, clothed in severe black and white. The mystery gave O’Keeffe a kind of charged glamour. A sighting was a significant event.

That season, Sotheby’s had received an O’Keeffe painting of Canadian barns. It had been done in the early nineteen-thirties: two dark gray buildings in a wintry landscape. I catalogued it, and asked Doris Bry—O’Keeffe’s private agent, who had once been the assistant to Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s former husband—for information on it. Later she called me.

“Mrs. Alger,” she said (for that was my name then), “this is Doris Bry.” Of course I knew who it was. She had a dry, gravelly voice, very distinctive, with a Waspy drawl. “I’m calling about the painting of Canadian barns.”

“Yes, Miss Bry.” I used my formal, fluty, professional tone. “How may I help you?”

“I’d like to have the painting brought over to my apartment.”

Doris Bry lived in an apartment in the Pulitzer mansion. This was a grand Beaux-Arts building, only a few blocks away from our offices on Madison Avenue. But it didn’t matter how close she was. “I’m so sorry, Miss Bry,” I said, “but our insurance policies don’t permit the works to leave the premises until they have legally changed hands. If you’d like to bring someone in to see the painting, I’ll be happy to have it brought out to the viewing room and put up on the easel. But I can’t allow the painting to leave our property.”

“Mrs. Alger,” Miss Bry said, “the artist is here. She would like to see the painting.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” I said, in my normal voice.

I called storage to have the painting brought out. I had it under my arm and was walking down the hall on my way to the front door when I ran into my boss.

“What are you carrying?” he asked.

“Canadian barns,” I said, putting a hand over the frame protectively.

“Where are you going?” he asked. “It can’t leave the premises.”

“The artist wants to see it,” I said.

My boss put out his hand. “I’ll take it.”

“I answered the phone,” I said. “I’m taking it.”

With the painting under my arm, I walked down Madison Avenue to the Pulitzer mansion. Doris Bry ushered me into her apartment. She was a tall, stately woman, rather ponderous. She had dark eyes, pale, lightless skin, and a mass of short gray curls. She brought me into the living room, where there were three other people—two lawyers in dark suits and an older woman. Bry introduced me.

“This is Mrs. Alger, from Sotheby’s.” The woman nodded pleasantly but said nothing. She was much smaller than I, which surprised me. She had a lined face, dark, hooded eyes, and long silvery hair coiled into a low bun. She wore a gray cotton housedress with a white collar and a narrow self-belt. On her feet, she wore flat black Chinese slippers, with straps across the insteps.

Everyone watched as I carried the painting across the room and set it on the easel. The small woman came with me, but Bry and the lawyers stood at the back of the room, talking. Georgia O’Keeffe and I stood in front of the painting. She looked quietly at the canvas, as though it were part of her, as if she were alone with it.

I stood silently beside her. But that wasn’t enough. When people meet someone famous, often they want to inflect themselves upon the moment, to impose their own identities upon that of the famous person. They say, “I grew up in your town,” or, “I have that same scarf,” or, “I met you once in a train station.” It’s a hopeless venture.

“I hope you like the frame,” I said. I had ordered it myself. It was a simple silver half clamshell, the kind that Arthur Dove had used. I knew O’Keeffe had liked Dove and had admired his work. I knew she’d like the frame. She’d be grateful. This was my moment.

She answered without turning. “I like them best without frames.”

I said nothing more. She stood looking at the painting, calm and utterly self-possessed. I think she was wearing a black sweater, a thin little cardigan, not buttoned up.

She’d have been in her early eighties then.

Nearly twenty years later, in the spring of 1986, I was living in northern Westchester County. We had moved there ten years earlier, my family and I. We were out in the country, in an old farmhouse with a big barn and some fields. Living with us were four or five horses, two or three dogs, and some large cats. My daughter was fourteen. I had left the art world.

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AN AMERICAN WRITER FOR AN AGE OF DIVISION ·

(Alexandra Schwartz’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 9/14.  Photograph by Cole Barash for The New Yorker.) 

Ayad Akhtar’s autofictional novel cunningly entwines outrage and ambivalence.

The playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar has never been afraid of provoking audiences. His latest work explores the origins of Trump’s toxicity, the tensions of Muslim identity, and the splintering of a family and a country.

Ayear after Donald Trump assumed office, Ayad Akhtar was at the American Academy in Rome, contemplating populism, the degradation of democracy, and ruinous civil strife. He had been mulling over the idea of a play about the brothers Gracchus, plebeian politicians in the century before Caesar whose defiance of the senatorial élite and championship of the poor led to an unhappy end. Akhtar wasn’t alone in consulting Roman history to gain perspective on the present. From his window, he could look out at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, whose husband, Newt, was studying Augustus, rumor had it, for pointers on how to counsel a President who fancied himself an emperor.

Akhtar, who is forty-nine, is an obsessive autodidact, with a mind like a grappling hook for any subject that attracts his interest. There are many. As a kid growing up in the Milwaukee suburbs, he studied the Quran with a rigor that flummoxed his secular Pakistani parents. As a theatre major at Brown, he taught himself French, attaining enough fluency in a year to direct his own translations of Genet and Bernard-Marie Koltès. When he was in his twenties, working in New York as an assistant to the director Andre Gregory, he spent his free time analyzing the prosody of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” and poring over Freud, which led to a years-long study of Jung, then Lacan, then Winnicott. Although he lost his faith in his teens, religion of all kinds continues to fascinate him. “He’s the only American I know who has read Meister Eckhart,” the German writer Daniel Kehlmann, a good friend of Akhtar’s, told me, referring to the medieval Christian theologian and mystic.

Success arrived late, but Akhtar has made up for lost time. His first novel, “American Dervish,” about the coming of age of an innocent Pakistani-American boy, was published in January, 2012, when he was forty-one, the same month that his first play, “Disgraced,” about the unravelling of a jaded Pakistani-American lawyer, premièred, in Chicago. After a buzzy run at Lincoln Center, where tickets were scalped for fifteen hundred dollars apiece, “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, then moved to a sold-out run in London, and to the Lyceum Theatre, on Broadway.

In short order, Akhtar had three more plays première, including “The Invisible Hand,” a thriller about an American hostage in Pakistan who, to pay his ransom, teaches his fundamentalist captors how to manipulate financial markets, and “Junk,” another Broadway hit, which transformed the dry subject of high-yield bonds in the nineteen-eighties into unexpectedly riveting drama. “Ayad’s particular brilliance is that he makes systems kinetic,” Josh Stern, a producer who is working with Akhtar to develop a television show, told me. “He’s able to take this huge, complicated infrastructure and distill it down to visceral character drama in a way that is unique.” As arcane as his intellectual tastes can be, Akhtar is determined to appeal to a broad public. “Proust meets Jerry Springer” is how he described his work to me when I met him, earlier this summer.

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13 ESSENTIAL BOOKS FOR THEATRE STUDENTS ·

(Dan Meyer’s article Appeared on Playbill, 9/3.)

Check out these reads before heading to class this semester.

Now that the school year is here, it’s time for students to put down their summer beach reads and get back into their academic reading lists. To help narrow down the many choices for incoming theatre majors, Playbill has selected thirteen books essential for any budding artist.

Head to the (virtual) book store or library with these titles below, arranged in alphabetical order.

An Actor Prepares
By Constantin Stanislavsky
Originally written in the 1930s, this is the one of the first modern day books on performance, and it remains crucial for students to this day. Using a system the performer-director developed on his own, Stanislavsky provides a primer on training, preparation, and technique. Republished in 2011 by Read Books.

The Art and Craft of Playwriting
By Jeffrey Hatcher
Featuring interviews with American playwrights Lee Blessing, Marsha Norman, and José Rivera, Hatcher examines what it takes to make a well-written story in the theatre today from character development and setting up a scene to building suspense and getting a character across the stage. Republished in 2000 from Writer’s Digest Books.

The Director’s Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre
By Katie Mitchell
A step-by-step guide on directing perfect for beginners or those looking for a refresher, Mitchell explains how to helm stage works with a steady hand. In addition, the book looks at challenges directors often face and provides some solutions. Published in 2008 by Routledge.

A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre
By Anne Bogart
In this look at theatre directing, Bogart presents seven aspects of storytelling that can be considered both a partner and an obstacle to success: violence, memory, terror, eroticism, stereotype, embarrassment, and resistance. Published in 2001 by Routledge.

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LINN ULLMANN ON HER FATHER, INGMAR BERGMAN: ‘IT WAS AS IF ALL THE WINDOWS OF HIS MIND HAD OPENED’ ·

(Alex Clark’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/29; Ingmar Bergman with his daughter Linn Ullmann during the filming of Autumn Sonata (1978). Photograph: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri.)

When Linn Ullmann’s father was well into his 80s, he began to refer to the life that he was now experiencing as “the epilogue”. Lying in bed in the mornings, he would tot up his ailments, allowing himself one per decade: if there were fewer than eight, he would get up; if there were more, he would stay put. But these strategies denoted realism rather than appeasement, and his determination to continue work remained largely unshaken.

Ullmann’s father was the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, and the work that he fixed on in his last years was a collaboration with his daughter, a book that would capture something of his life and thoughts as he approached the end. Recalling the beginnings of the project as she talks to me from Oslo, Ullmann emphasises the centrality of the creative process to Bergman’s life. “When it’s work, you know, then we know what we do. We’re working: good. We had so much fun discussing when we were going to write the book, how, what form it would take.” His preferred title, he joked, was “Laid & Slayed in Eldorado Valley”, a phrase that he’d always hoped to use for the name of a film.

Instead, what emerged, over a decade after his death in 2007, was Ullmann’s sixth novel, Unquiet, a powerful and unsettling hybrid of memoir, fiction and meditation, braided together in a fragmentary structure that reflects, among other things, Bergman’s love of Bach’s Cello Suites.

It is, she tells me, a work built on “the ruins of a book that I didn’t write”. As father and daughter delightedly planned their project in numerous letters, phone calls and meetings, Bergman “kept getting older”. By the time work began in earnest, in the spring and summer before his death, physical frailty had been joined by something else: “Things had changed very much; just in a few months, his language had changed, the memory loss was now very obvious to him and to me. It was as if all the windows of his mind had opened up so that things that were real and things that were imaginary or dreamlike – he didn’t always have the capacity to see the difference.”

The six conversations between them, recorded at Hammars, Bergman’s home on the Swedish island of Fårö, form a vital strand of Unquiet but for many years Ullmann didn’t even listen to them, believing them to be part of the “huge fiasco” that the unfinished project had become: “It was physically painful, almost, to listen to those tapes. So I just put away the tape recorder … I mean, I should have started earlier, I should have insisted that we do it earlier, I should have asked different questions when we sat there, I should have had a better tape recorder because the tape recorder was lousy. I shouldn’t have been so high pitched.” It was her husband, the writer Niels Fredrik Dahl, who prodded her into retrieving the recorder from the attic: “Don’t you want to just listen to it now that you’re writing this book? And then I listened to it. And I transcribed it. And I translated it from Swedish to Norwegian. And it was just delightful.”

These initial feelings, of course, are an acute form of the regrets that so often accompany death; the conviction that had we acted differently, we might somehow have mitigated our bereavement, or preserved something more tangible of our loved one. But in Ullmann’s case, there is a sense of something particularly heightened – almost primal – about the experience.

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Read the Stage Voices review of the book, 2/20/19

 

PINKERTON: THAT TIME WHEN DEMOCRATS’ VETTING OF A FEMALE VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WENT AWRY (REVIEW OF ‘REAGAN’S COWBOYS’, BY JOHN B. ROBERTS II) ·

(James P. Pinkerton’s article appeared on Breitbart, 8/12; Photo: Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress.)

Male Democrat presidential nominees don’t always do a good job of vetting their female vice presidential choices. Admittedly, there’s only been one such instance in the past, back in 1984, when Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate—and she didn’t work out so well.

So to put that history in baseball terms, the Democrats’ historic record is no hits, one error—or .000.  

Today, of course, in 2020, Joe Biden has just picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, and so we’ll see how the Democrats do in their second outing with a lady at bat.

Yet in the meantime, we might gain some insight into the proper vetting of a running mate, or lack thereof, from a new book by John B. Roberts, Reagan’s Cowboys: Inside the 1984 Re-election Campaign’s Secret Operation Against Geraldine Ferraro. 

Roberts knows—because he was there. Beginning in the late 70s, Roberts had worked for Ronald Reagan; his immediate boss, however, was Lyn Nofziger, the hardboiled D-Day-veteran-turned-reporter who had served as press secretary in the Gipper’s very first campaign, his successful 1966 bid for the governorship of California.  

Roberts gets right to the point: “During the 1984 presidential campaign, I and a colleague were put in charge of a secret investigation of Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate.” That colleague was Art Teele, Republican lawyer who had earlier served in Reagan’s sub-cabinet.   

Roberts continues, “This book is my political memoir of how the White House and Reagan-Bush ’84, the president’s reelection committee, handled the unprecedented challenge posed by a female vice-presidential contender.” And he adds, “The details of how our opposition research operation was run and why it was so effective have been kept secret for decades.” 

As Roberts relates, he was first persuaded not to reveal any of his activities at the request of Stuart K. Spencer, who had been Reagan’s top political adviser for nearly a quarter-century. And yet, Roberts adds, the recent flap over Christopher Steele, the peddler of the now-discredited “Russia dossier” on Donald Trump, got him thinking that people should have a better understanding of how opposition research should function in a campaign.  

Thirty-six years later, Roberts obviously believes that the details of his work—in contrast to the Steele dossier—can withstand scrutiny. The Steele document, which was so widely spread by an over-eager MSM in 2016-7, then provoked Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, which haunted the Trump administration for more than two years. And yet, Roberts writes, the Steele dossier “is more appropriately thought of as a product of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.”  

How the dodgy Steele dossier metastasized into a run-amok inquiry will be the subject, of course, of many books. And yet in the meantime, we have Reagan’s Cowboys to show us how legitimate opposition research can be collected, assembled and utilized. So the Trump campaign might take note.  

For his part, Roberts was well-qualified for the role. He has, shall we say, hovered around the federal intelligence community for the entirety of his career, and so the ideas of discretion and compartmentalization came naturally to him; of all the people working on the Ferraro case, only he and Teele knew all the details. 

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ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S PUBLISHED WORKS LITTERED WITH ERRORS, STUDY CLAIMS ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2; Photo:  The Guardian.)

Experts find hundreds of errors in the writer’s works, mostly made by editors and typesetters

Ernest Hemingway’s published writings are riddled with hundreds of errors and little has been done to correct them, according to a forthcoming study of the legendary writer’s texts.

Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds”. Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.

The majority of Hemingway’s manuscripts are held at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where Trogdon has pored over the originals.

He singled out, for example, the 1933 short story A Way You’ll Never Be, which mistakenly features the word “bat” rather than “hat” when the character Nick Adams is explaining catching grasshoppers to the confused Italian soldiers. Hemingway originally wrote: “But I must insist that you will never gather a sufficient supply of these insects for a day’s fishing by pursuing them with your hands or trying to hit them with a hat.”

Misspellings in one edition of The Sun Also Rises, his 1926 novel about disillusioned expatriates in postwar France and Spain, include the bullfighter “Marcial Lalanda” appearing as “Marcial Salanda”, an easy mistake to make because of the similarity of the author’s handwritten “L” and “S”, Trogdon observed. There is also a restaurant called “Ciqoque” when Hemingway meant the real-life Paris eatery Cigogne, again an easy mistake for someone unaccustomed to distinguishing the author’s “q” and “g”.

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THE 40 BEST IRISH FICTIONAL CHARACTERS – IN ORDER ·

(Chosen by Rosita BolandDonald ClarkePeter CrawleyMartin Doyle, and Hilary Fannin for the Irish Times, 8/1; Photo: The Irish Times.)

FROM NIDGE AND CONNELL WALDRON TO GRETTA CONROY, RASHERS TIERNEY AND PEGEEN MIKE, ALL OF THESE PEOPLE EMERGED FROM ACTS OF IMAGINATION – BUT ARE SO DEFTLY CREATED THAT THEY ARE AS REAL TO US AS ANY LIVING PERSON

40. BESSIE BURGESS

From The Plough and the Stars
Play, 1926
It befits an unsentimental classic like The Plough and the Stars that its heart resides in such an unlikely place. Bessie Burgess, the cantankerous, self-demolishing, crowing unionist (“Oh, youse are all rightly shanghaied now!” she spits at her revolutionary neighbours) is ultimately the spine of compassion, quiet heroism and genuine sacrifice amid all the posture and chaos of Seán O’Casey’s street-level view of the 1916 Rising.

39. AISLING

From Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling
Book, 2017
For a modest, sensible twentysomething from Ballygobbard, Aisling has taken Ireland by storm. The first three books featuring her, written by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, are the bestselling Irish fiction titles this century. Compared to “an Irish Bridget Jones”, Aisling is as much in the tradition of a Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes heroine as she is a rival to Helen Fielding’s creation.

38. CONNELL WALDRON

From Normal People
Book, 2018; TV drama, 2020
Despite being a young man both studying literature and writing it, Connell’s trademark characteristic is an inability to be articulate, especially with Marianne, his love. What Sally Rooney’s creation doesn’t, or can’t, say to her during their school and college years together is partly what makes his character so realistic, frustrating and engaging.

37. CATHERINE MCKENNA

From Grace Notes
Book, 1997
In Scotland, Catherine, a composer, is trying to literally compose her life. She is a new mother, but her partner is abusive. She is estranged from her family back in Northern Ireland. Music and her career-changing composing commission both ground her, Bernard MacLaverty’s novel, and then lift her onwards from where she has been in a paralysis.

36. SADIE JACKSON

From The Twelfth Day of July
Book, 1970
Sadie, a Protestant teenager, is sassy and feisty. As we follow her love-across-the-divide relationship with Kevin, a Catholic, over five books, we grow with them. Joan Lingard’s young-adult-fiction series brought the Troubles home to generations of young people elsewhere and brought fiction home to young people in Northern Ireland.

35 CATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN

From Cathleen Ni Houlihan
Play, 1902
“Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” WB Yeats wondered about Cathleen Ni Houlihan. If so, they must have been as naive as the question. In 1798, a mysterious old lady disturbs a family dinner to sing of blood sacrifice, tell of her stolen “four beautiful green fields”, and lure a young man to join the Rebellion. Thus appeased, she transforms into a girl with “the walk of a queen” and struts away into several more Irish dramas.

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