Brian Friel Analysis

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...

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Brian Friel is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and Aosdana, the national treasury of Irish letters. He received an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in 1982. In 1986, he accepted a seat in the Irish senate, the lower house of the Irish parliament. Aristocrats (pr. 1979) won him a 1989 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best foreign play, and Dancing at Lughnasa won him an Olivier Award in 1991. His play The Loves of Cass McGuire was produced on television in Dublin.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bonaccorso, Richard. “Back to ‘Foundry House’: Brian Friel and the Short Story.” The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 17 (December, 1991): 72-77. Claims the story can be read as a satire of two bankrupt worlds or as an elegy of a lost past; argues that part of the problem with the story is Friel’s reticence and use of the dramatic mode without commentary.

Bonaccorso, Richard. “Personal Devices: Two Representative Stories by Brian Friel.” Colby Quarterly 32 (June, 1996): 93-99. Discusses the comic-elegiac tone and the transactions between character and community in “The Flowers of Kiltymore” and “The Saucer of Larks.” Argues that in Friel’s stories technique is embodied in the creation of characters whose hearts are free.

Cronin, John. “‘Donging the Tower’—The Past Did Have Meaning: The Short Stories of Brian Friel.” In The Achievement of Brian Friel, edited by Alan J. Peacock. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993. 1-13. Discusses how Friel’s stories anticipate themes and techniques used more effectively in his plays. Argues that the stories are largely derivative of other Irish writers but contain hints of what is to come.

Dantanus, Ulf. Brian Friel: The Growth of an Irish Dramatist. Göteborg, Sweden: ACTA Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1985. Although most of this study focuses on the plays, a long chapter on the short stories explores the physical and political landscape of Friel’s fiction, including his focus on community, imagination, poverty, the past, and family. Includes a detailed discussion of...

(The entire section is 700 words.)