No Country for Young Men

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 8)

Any understanding of Julia O’Faolain’s No Country for Young Men must begin with an explanation of the title. O’Faolain borrows a line, “That is no country for old men,” from her countryman William Butler Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium,” and subtly alters it. For Yeats the “country” from which an old man must flee is the world of generation, the world obsessed with “whatever is begotten, born, and dies.” The preferable world is “Byzantium,” the place of “unageing intellect” in which mankind can achieve sanctuary from the chaos of the fleshly passions. O’Faolain makes that world of chaotic passion her own troubled Ireland and implies through her alteration of Yeats’s familiar line that this disordered country, subject to the most violent emotions of the human heart, is no place even for the young. Indeed, if there is anything “unageing"—that is, “eternal"—in the Irish situation, it is the presence of violence and death. The parallel stories of two young Americans, Sparky Driscoll and James Duffy, illustrate this persistent instability. Although their lives are separated by approximately fifty years, they are both drawn into the Irish maelstrom and die violently.

O’Faolain introduces Sparky with a complex allusion to the Yeats sanctuary of creative intellect and to the violence which makes that sanctuary so attractive. Sparky’s full name is John Chrysostom Spartacus Driscoll. John Chrysostom, a “golden-mouthed” saint of the early Christian Church, was, in fact, the patriarch of Byzantium, and Spartacus was the Roman gladiator who died leading a quixotic rebellion against Roman oppression. Sparky, the American delegate of The Friends of Irish Freedom, comes to Ireland to encourage American monetary support for the Irish Nationalist cause. During his stay, he is attracted to young Judith Clancy and begins courting her. At one point, he confesses to Judith that he has lost faith in the cause and abhors the death and destruction brought about by the Irish Civil War. When Sparky boldly announces to Judith that he intends to stop the flow of American dollars to Ireland, she responds by murdering him with one smooth stroke of a bayonet.

Many years later, another American, James Duffy, apparently named after the nineteenth century publisher of the patriotic Young Ireland volumes, also travels to Ireland to raise funds for the Irish Republican cause by producing a propaganda film to be shown in America. In order to do this, he must leave a Byzantium of sorts, a university where he teaches drama. James, however, is a failure at his mission and is easily led astray by Grainne O’Malley. Grainne successfully lures James into the world of “whatever is begotten, born, and dies,” and the two of them spend so many adulterous nights together that her marriage is threatened. Eventually, Grainne plans to leave Ireland with James but never achieves this finale to her passion because James mysteriously disappears. Later, it is revealed that he was murdered for much the same reason as Sparky. Duffy’s film contained embarrassing material about Sparky’s death which might have endangered the Irish Republican cause in America, and thus James was sacrificed, ironically, while Sparky’s murderer, Judith, present by accident, looked on. Judith, who had revealed to Duffy the unheroic circumstances of the supposed martyr’s death, thus becomes the symbolic link between the sordid past and the equally sordid present.

Judith resembles Sparky Driscoll and James Duffy in that her devotion to the Irish cause ultimately destroys her. Reminiscent of her biblical...

(The entire section is 1482 words.)

No Country for Young Men Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 8)

Best Sellers. XLVI, February, 1987, p. 410.

Booklist. LXXXIII, December 1, 1986, p. 547.

British Book News. August, 1980, p. 503.

The Christian Science Monitor. February 20, 1987, p. 24.

Kirkus Reviews. LIV, November 15, 1986, p. 1681.

Library Journal. CXII, January, 1987, p. 110.

Listener. CIII, May 29, 1980, p. 697.

Los Angeles Times. December 19, 1986, V, p. 1.

National Statesman. XCIV, June 6, 1980, p. 854.

The New York Times Book Review. XCII, February 1, 1987, p. 7.

The New Yorker. LXIII, March 16, 1987, p. 104.

The Observer. June 1, 1980, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXX, November 28, 1986, p. 65.

The Times Literary Supplement. February 15, 1980, p. 170.