Liam O’Flaherty wrote four regional novels, of which Thy Neighbour’s Wife (1923), The Black Soul (1924), and Skerrett (1932) are set on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands; the fourth, The House of Gold (1929), is set in Galway City. Four novels of Dublin city life are The Informer (1925), Mr. Gilhooley (1926), The Assassin (1928), and The Puritan (1931). The Return of the Brute (1929) concerns O’Flaherty’s World War I experiences in trench warfare; The Martyr (1933), Famine (1937), Land (1946), and Insurrection (1950) are Irish historical novels for the years 1845-1922. O’Flaherty wrote three books of autobiography, The Life of Tim Healy (1927), several essays on social conditions and on literature, poems, and stories in Gaelic.
The source of many of Liam O’Flaherty’s achievements is his birthplace off the coast of the west of Ireland. The Aran Islands’ remoteness and stark natural beauty, the dependence of their scattered population on the vagaries of wind and sea, the inhabitants’ preservation of the Irish language as their primary means of communication, and the virtually mythological status accorded such phenomena by leading figures in the Irish Literary Revival such as William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge, all exerted a crucial influence on the development of O’Flaherty’s work.
Both his short fiction and novels are noteworthy for their unsentimental treatment of island life, the vivid directness of their style, and their attention to natural detail. While by no means all, or even all the best, of O’Flaherty’s work draws on his Aran background, the marked degree to which all of his work emphasizes the spontaneity and volatility of all living things is the product of his formative exposure to the life forces of Aran. One of the consequences of this background’s influence is plots that deal with the problematical socialization of natural energy. These plots tend to take on a melodramatic or expressionistic coloration that can mar the overall balance and objectivity of the work. Such coloration also, however, unwittingly reveals O’Flaherty’s essential opposition to the aesthetic and cultural codes of the Irish Literary Revival and lends his work an often overlooked but crucial, critical dimension.
O’Flaherty won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1926 for his novel The Informer. That same novel won him several other awards and honors in France and England, including two Academy Awards in 1935. O’Flaherty was honored with a doctorate in literature from the National University of Ireland in 1974, and with the Irish Academy of Letters Award for literature in 1979.
Cahalan, James M. Liam O’Flaherty: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991. An introduction to O’Flaherty’s stories by an expert in Irish literature. Discusses the peasant consciousness in the stories, as well as the stories’ relationship to the Irish language. Comments on issues of gender and politics raised by the stories. Also includes many comments by O’Flaherty from letters and articles, as well as secondary sources.
Costello, Peter. Liam O’Flaherty’s Ireland. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1996. Explores O’Flaherty’s life and times, how his environment influenced his writings.
Daniels, William. “Introduction to the Present State of Criticism of Liam O’Flaherty’s Collection of Short Stories: Dúil.” Eire-Ireland 23 (Summer, 1988): 122-134. A summary of criticism of O’Flaherty’s stories in Dúil. Takes issue with a number of criticisms of the stories, such as their lack of focus on setting, plot, and point of view. Argues that the stories deserve much better criticism than they have received from critics in both Irish and English.
Doyle, Paul A. Liam O’Flaherty . Boston: Twayne, 1972. The first comprehensive...
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- Critical Essays