Lord Dunsany was born Edward John Morton Drax Plunkett, becoming eighteenth baron Dunsany on the death of his father in 1899. He spent his early boyhood at Dunstall Priory in Kent, but in later years his principal residence was Dunsany Castle in Meath, Ireland. The influence of the Irish side of his heritage was muted greatly by political connections to England, his grandfather being seated in the House of Lords and his father and two uncles holding seats in the House of Commons. Dunsany himself stood as Conservative candidate for the Commons but lost in a local election.
Educated in England at Eton, Cambridge, and Sandhurst Military Academy, Dunsany accepted his role in the conventional upper-class life and adopted most of the attitudes and habits current among his peers. While writing was important to him, he gave every evidence of pursuing his literary career in a gentlemanly fashion, claiming that it engaged no more than 3 percent of his time.
In the spirit of the country gentleman, Dunsany led an active life as a sportsman, enjoying fishing, horseback riding, cricket, and hunting. He was a crack shot and became pistol-shooting champion of Ireland. A yearning for adventure led him to more serious pursuits in the military, and he first saw action at age twenty in the Coldstream Guards, fighting for the British in the Boer War. While in South Africa, he met Rudyard Kipling, a man similar in temperament and outlook, who was to remain his friend for life. Like Kipling, Dunsany was preoccupied with the conflict between the instinctive, primitive nature of human beings and the rational, respectable façade of civilization.
After leaving the army and experiencing the disappointments of political life, Dunsany married Lady Beatrice Villiers, the daughter of the earl and countess of Jersey, in 1904. Two years later, the Dunsanys’ only child, Randall, was born. During this period, Dunsany wrote three volumes of stories, beginning with The Gods of Pegna (1905). In these early tales, Dunsany set the tone for much of his later writing, evoking magical worlds of his own creation with great originality and humor. The language in which they are presented is poetic and biblical. They stress the beauty of the land, the power of fate, and the impotence of human intellect.
Dunsany’s first play, commissioned by Yeats, was received with some acclaim by Abbey Theatre audiences, but when his...
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