JOHN MILLINGTON SYNGE: A Biography by David M. Kiely


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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.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's