Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Quote of the Day (Diarmuid Russell, on Humor, Irish Writing’s ‘Most Marked Characteristic’)

“Perhaps it was just this severity of existence which brought into Irish writings that sense of comedy which seems to me its most marked characteristic. It seems to matter little whether the subject is one of sadness or marked for tragedy. Everywhere in Irish prose there twinkles and peers the merry eye and laugh of a people who had little to laugh about in real life. Swift’s humour is savage, Stephens’ is impish, Wilde’s sophisticated, and Lever has the schoolboy touch, but they all share the common characteristic of using humour to achieve their ends. The only offset to unhappiness is happiness and it was probably some divine law of compensation that gave to the Irish the ability to squeeze laughter out of an existence from which they could extract little else.”—Irish editor and agent Diarmuid Russell (1902-1973), Introduction to The Portable Irish Reader (1946)

Nowadays, if Russell were to include more contemporary names to demonstrate Irish humor, I think he would put high on his list Roddy Doyle (pictured), most famous for his novel (and screen adaptation), The Commitments. Here, for instance, from the 1991 film, is a choice bit of dialogue between the pianist of “The World's Hardest Working Band" and a priest:

Steven Clifford [in confessional]: “Used to, when I studied I would sing hymns, but now all I can sing is ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ by Marvin Gaye.”

Father Molloy: “Percy Sledge.”

Steven: “What?”

Father Molloy: “It was Percy Sledge did that particular song. I have the album.”

Steven: “Oh...”

(The image accompanying this post, showing Roddy Doyle in the festival garden at Haus der Berliner Festspiele during his participation in the Children´s and Young Adult Program of the 15th International Literature Festival Berlin, was taken Sept. 14, 2015, by Christoph Rieger.)

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