IRISH SHORT STORIES WHAT was it, I wondered, that gave
one a sense of immediate confidence on reading the first paragraph of the first story of Mr. O'Faolain's ? It was the same confideice one felt when one first opened Dubliners—the boy in the dark street looking up at the window of his dying—perhaps dead—friend, Father Flynn, and murmuring to himself the word. "paralysis." " It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony' in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being." One was caught up into. a complete and individual world of experience : the. writer's whole future is in the paragraph, the priest in Portrait of an-Artist preaching hell-fire, Dedalus in the brothel quarter, Anna-Livia Plurabelk.
So, too, with the simplest possible means Mr. O'Faolain establishes his future :
" That's a lonely place ! " said the priest suddenly. He was rubbing the carriage7window with his little finger. He pointed with the stem of his 'pipe through the window, and the flutter of snow and the blown steam of the engine, at the mountainy farm to his right. He might have been talking to himself, for he did not stir his head or remove his elbow from its rest. He was a skeleton of a man, and the veins of his temples bulged out like nerves. Peering I could barely see, below the pine-forest of " The Depart- ment," through the fog of the storm, a lone chapel and a farmhouse, now a tangle of black and white. Although it was the middle of the day a light shone-yellow in a byre. Then the buildings swivelled and were left behind. The land was blinding.
The secret, I think, is simultaneity. The short story has not time to take our imaginations by anything but rape ; it cannot begin like a novel of Scott or Hardy : " It was on a moonless night in the autumn of the year s8— that a lonely traveller was observed. . . ." In this opening paragraph of his first story of Mr. O'Faoliin establishes simultaneously (not one thing at a time as Mr. O'Flaherty would) the inner and the outer scene —the railway carriage, a whole landscape through the steamy pane, the observer and his thought—" a lonely place." It's not easy to compress all that into a few lines-=to keep all your balls in the air at once. There's nothing that follows—the bitter priest silenced by his superiors describing to his' chance companions the broken moral unity of the Irish countryside— that hasn't been shadowed in that paragraph.
There are a few unsuccessful stories in this book—" A Born Genius," which sprawls untidily, more novel than short story ; " There's a Birdie in the Cage " which contains too much plot for so short a tale—but " A Broken World," " The Old Master," " Sinners," " Admiring the Scenery," all have the same superb grasp, the fist closed simultaneously on the par- ticular character; hii environment and the general moral back- ground of the human mind failing always to live, up to its own beliefs. The old boasting Cork librarian with is talk "of Art and Civilisation flinches from the public opinion he has affected to despise when the priest and the young Puritan firebrands ban the Russian ballet : the old priest in the confessional, irritated by the girl who calls him father instead of canon, exasperated by her innocent stupidity, fails in compassion.
And one salutes, too, in these stories an immense creative humour, as broad in speech as Joyce's gloom.
Mr. O'Flaherty's talent is shallower, sourer, less mature. He has a craving for violent action—a sniper unconsciously shooting down his own brother across the street, a cultured and refined woman beating her drunken husband—and when he gives
way to it he is invariably sentimental and occasionally—to my mind—pornographic. Pornography is only a form of senti- mentality, and there is really nothing aesthetically to choose between his luscious account of a woman in bed in " The Sinner " and such rhapsodies about nature as this : " The shining star was pouring down upon the dewy earth myriads of beams that rippled like the laughter of a happy God." Some of his animal stories are admirable—like Lawrence, another violent, sentimental and immature writer, he persuades us that he is following with uncanny divination the obscure and irrational source of animal action (it's sleight of hand, of course). Perha'ps a diizen of the stories will lodge in the memory, but his talent is more local and temporal than Mr. O'Faolain's : it 'is bounded by the ambush and the traditional
grudge. And that grudge is social and economic—it changes with political conditions—it isn't the permanent and universal grudge the human mind bears itself for its own failure set
against its own image of perfection. GRAHAM GREENE.