Other Literary Forms
Brian Friel has published two collections of short stories, The Saucer of Larks (1962) and The Gold in the Sea (1966). Two selections from these works have appeared: The Saucer of Larks: Stories of Ireland (1969) and Selected Stories (1979), reprinted as The Diviner (1982). The short stories in these collections are gentle, well-turned tales of ordinary people caught, largely, in the coils of personal circumstances. They belong firmly in the tradition of pastoral frustration, to which the majority of modern Irish short stories belong. The narrative tone of Friel’s stories is genial, quizzical, and often humorous, and it anticipates the affection and dignity that Friel’s plays typically accord the common person.
After a modest but assured beginning as short-story writer, Brian Friel has grown, thanks to his plays, into one of the most important figures in the cultural phenomenon that will surely come to be known as the Ulster Renaissance. Like many other artists from the North of Ireland, Friel has had his work deepened and darkened by the history of his native province, yet it is also true that his willingness to face that history and its web of cultural subtexts has thrown into bolder relief the innate humanity of all of his work, rendering it all the more estimable.
Throughout his plays, Friel has persistently exposed stereotype, cliché, and narrowness of various kinds. In their place, he has substituted joy, openness, and individuality, qualities that enhance the human lot and for which his birthplace has not been noted. A deep sense of division informs both his characters and his dramatic practice, yet acknowledgment of division is an avenue to sympathy, not a recipe for impairment. Emphasizing with increasing vigor, range, and sophistication the value of spontaneity and the necessity of love, Friel’s work is a moving—and stirring—statement of human solidarity in a dark time.
This statement is constantly renewed by the author’s formal innovations. Friel’s technical brilliance, however, does not permit him to break faith with the heritage of twentieth century Irish drama: its attachment to a sense of locale, its concern for the common lot, and its resistance to institutionalized modes of thought. In fact, Friel makes these elements interrelate fruitfully and unexpectedly by subjecting them to the clear, unblinking light of his moral intelligence.
Historically and artistically, Friel’s place as Ulster’s most important dramatist ever and as one of Ireland’s most significant dramatists in the twentieth century is secure. Friel’s achievements have been acknowledged with numerous drama awards on both sides of the Atlantic, and in 1981, Translations received the Ewart Biggs Memorial Prize, instituted to recognize outstanding contributions to Anglo-Irish understanding. In 1992, Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa won a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the 1991-1992 theater season. Also in 1992, Dancing at Lughnasa received a Tony Award for best play in addition to two other Tony Awards: for featured actress (Brid Brennan) and for director (Patrick Mason).
The American staging of Molly Sweeney in 1996 received both the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding Off-Broadway play of the season.
Friel was elected to Aosdana, a national association of Irish artists, in 1982. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from the National University of Ireland in 1983 and was elected to the Irish senate in 1987. The Irish Times awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 for his contributions Irish literature and theater. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.
Other Literary Forms
Although Brian Friel began his literary career writing short stories, he has achieved critical acclaim and popular success with his plays, the most famous of which are Philadelphia, Here I Come! (pr. 1964), Translations (pr. 1980), and Dancing at Lughnasa (pr., pb. 1990).
Brian Friel is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters...
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