Eilís Dillon DOROTHY McCLEARY - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Bitter Glass"] is a gem of a first novel by an Irish writer who knows how to remove all barriers between her readers and her characters. From the moment Eilis Dillon shows us her little group of young people arriving in Galway—where they change trains for Keel—we are drawn into their lives. During the five troubling days which follow, we keep anxiously at their side, forgetting that all this is going on away back in 1922, during one of Ireland's civilwar crises….

What brings the reader close to this warm and subtly written story is not the catastrophes alone but the emotional tissue of the characters themselves….

Another unifying element, tying together the incidents and the characters, is the spirit of Connemara itself—the wild, stony countryside and the village people, ignorant yet with their own ancient wisdom, who step into the breach when the young people need them….

Readers of Yeats will recognize the source of the title:

       Gaze no more in the bitter glass
       The demons, with their subtle guile
       Lift up before us when they pass,
       Or only gaze a little while∗∗∗
       For all things turn to barrenness∗∗∗
       The tender eyes grow all unkind:
       Gaze no more in the bitter glass.

The lines echo the theme of the novel: the sadness of awakening to ugly reality.

Dorothy McCleary, "Irish Interlude," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1959 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 4, 1959, p. 38.