The Key Book of Irish Literary Criticism
“An original and important book which combines much lightly carried learning with ingenious and entertaining speculation.”
“Mercier has proved the continuity of the Irish comic spirit beyond all doubt.”
“An enormously ambitious, sometimes exasperating, frequently brilliant book.”
‘The Yale Review’
Wit and humour have always played a large part in the make-up of the Irish character. The comic spirit running through Anglo-Irish literature of the twentieth-century is well known, and it is a fact that most of the masters of English stage comedy since the Restoration – Congreve, Farquhar, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw – either grew up in Ireland or came from Irish stock.
In this lively, erudite study, first published in 1962, Vivian Mercier set out to trace for the first time the unbroken comic tradition in Irish literature, from the oral roots in the ninth century and earlier, down to the present day. His book has never been superseded and remains a key work for any student of Irish and Anglo-Irish literature.
From an exploration of the comic tradition in the early bardic literature the author moves on to the main characteristics that distinguish Irish humour – fantasy, the macabre and the grotesque – and the emphasis on wit and word play. He illustrates the startling continuity in the satires and parodies of Early and Modern Irish and of the Anglo-Irish writers like Swift, Joyce and Beckett, in all of whom can be seen the underlying primitive impulses of comic expression. He finds the comic as the central tradition of Irish literature, and suggests that the comic spirit may have predated the tragic throughout world literature.
Unobtainable for many years, the reissue of this indispensable book will be widely welcomed, not only by students of Irish literature, but by all lovers of the written word. The author, one of that rare breed of scholars who can impart their knowledge and ideas with a light touch, has left us a classic of literary criticism.