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This chapter reflects on the implications of censorship for writers working after 1940, first, by questioning the extent to which its imposition hampered the expression of a modern literary generation, and second, by exploring the strategies through which it was sidestepped and transgressed by both writers and readers in this period. It considers both the cultural implications of domestic censorship for Irish writers between 1940 and 1980, and the means that existed for circumventing the policing of ‘foreign’ literature. It highlights the pervasive effects of censorship across the middle decades of the century. First, the focus is on Kate O’Brien, Seán O’Faoláin and Frank O’Connor, all born before independence, who found themselves directly at odds with the country they had seen created. Faced with the banning of their own books, they battled to resist official strictures of their work. It then considers a subsequent generation of writers – including Edna O’Brien, Leland Bardwell, John Montague, John McGahern and Julia O’Faoláin – born during a period in which censorship had already become embedded within Irish literary culture. Finally, this chapter concludes by examining the experience of Colm Tóibín, who grew up in the 1950s, when censorship was still a dominant force.
In 1941, on the occasion of the eighty-fifth birthday of Bernard Shaw, the playwright Denis Johnston published a profile of the celebrated man in The Irish Times. Johnston's affectionate discussion of Shaw's quirky and lively qualities and of a memorable lunch meeting led him to make a comparison between the living man, now at the height of his fame, and his disgraced compatriot, the long-dead Oscar Wilde: ‘One is Westland Row dressed up as Merrion Square. The other is a poor relation of the Royal Bank living in Portobello. One is Trinity and Oxford. The other is a clerk's stool in Molesworth Street’. At the end of the profile, Johnston remarked on the beginnings of a change in popular attitudes towards the infamous Wilde and made a shrewd prediction:
For all his iconoclasm, Shaw never seems to have done a really foolish thing in the whole of his life … Oscar Wilde ruined and disgraced himself at the very height of his powers, with an arrogance that can only have been deliberate and that disastrous plunge would seem at first sight to symbolise the truism that bad brilliant boys get what is coming to them and clever good ones get the first prizes. But I sometimes wonder whether Father Time has not still another joker up his sleeve. We are beginning to realise that Wilde's disaster was really his apotheosis and gave a meaning to all his life. It will be interesting to see who lives longest – the foolish genius who died first or the clever genius who was always smart enough to keep out of mischief.
Johnston was prophetic. Wilde's literary reputation gradually revived after the disaster of his public disgrace and imprisonment, particularly in terms of Irish cultural perceptions of his life and of his writings from the late 1940s onwards. Wilde eventually regained popularity and visibility in Ireland, particularly in the years after Shaw's death, while Shaw himself slowly fell from favour in terms of popular taste and scholarly interest. Wilde was gradually reclaimed, first as Irish and then as sexual dissident, while Shaw's presence in Irish literary culture diminished. This rebalancing of the public perceptions of the clever genius and the foolish genius has become more pronounced now in the twenty-first century.
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