Gerald Griffin was a dramatist and poet as well as a novelist, but his chief claim to fame is THE COLLEGIANS, which was extremely popular in the years immediately after its publication. The story is more familiar to Americans in drama form, having been dramatized by Dion Boucicault under the title of THE COLLEEN BAWN, a play that capitalized upon the melodramatic qualities of the novel. Griffin attempted to do for the Irish and Ireland what Sir Walter Scott had done in portraying Scotland and the Scottish people, and like Scott, Griffin was intensely interested in the folk traditions, customs, and personalities of the people about whom he wrote. The pages of THE COLLEGIANS are filled with items of Irish folklore and more than a little attention has been paid to capturing the language of the peasants.
Padraic Colum has called THE COLLEGIANS the best of the Irish Romantic novels. THE COLLEGIANS possesses a unique charm and vitality. It is definitely a young author’s book, and it is no surprise to learn that Griffin was only twenty-five years old when it was written. A novel of love and murder, it is also a book rich with native humor and filled with delightful characterizations of the Irish folk. The book treads dangerously close to preciousness but fortunately misses that fatal flaw.
The superstitions of the common people are used like embroidery to fill out the picture of Irish life. A wonderful example is when Lowry Looby meets the redhaired woman on his way to get his new job, turns back because it is unlucky to meet a redheaded woman on a journey, and thus loses the job. A certain morbid quality, however, is also discernible in many of the characters; shadings of light and dark in their personalities give them a unique vividness.
It seems that the higher an individual’s station in life, the more serious and rational he or she is portrayed. The lower classes and servants tend to be filled with comic chatter and droll observations and to perform comic routines that hold up the...
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