St. John Ervine Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

St. John Ervine was the author of several novels that were highly regarded in their day. His novels, such as Mrs. Martin’s Man (1914) and The Foolish Lovers (1920), display the same strengths as the best of his plays—realism and clarity of design and structure. Ervine also wrote abrasive and controversial drama criticism for several newspapers. Finally, he was the author of several opinionated biographies of literary and public figures, including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

St. John Ervine holds an honorable place in the Irish Literary Renaissance ; as such, he is aligned with William Butler Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and the Abbey Theatre. His greatest achievements are his early Irish plays, two of which, Jane Clegg and John Ferguson, have long been recognized as minor classics. After a brief time as manager of the Abbey Theatre followed by wartime military service, Ervine settled in England and was chosen as a member of the Irish Academy. He served as professor of dramatic literature for the Royal Society of Literature from 1933 through 1936. His critical theory supports his practice in his early plays: Dramatic value resides in the author’s attempt to present real people dealing with believable human situations. Though he turned from playwriting to novels, criticism, and political and biographical essays, Ervine is best remembered as a spokesperson for and practitioner of dramatic realism. His influence on a later generation of Irish playwrights, while indirect, may be seen in the continuation of the realistic tradition. Ervine serves as an exemplar of honest, realistic, economically plotted, straightforward playwriting.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bell, Sam Hanna. The Theatre in Ulster. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972. Bell considers Ervine as an Ulster dramatist and compares his work with that of other playwrights of his generation from Northern Ireland. Discusses briefly productions of Ervine’s works and mentions their main social and cultural features, though the brevity of this study’s overview limits discussion.

Cronin, John. Introduction to Selected Plays of St. John Ervine. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1988. Contains Mixed Marriage, Jane Clegg, John Ferguson, Boyd’s Shop, and Friends and Relations. The introduction provides biographical information and establishes a cultural context for Ervine’s work. Includes extracts from Ervine’s dramaturgical writings and a bibliography of Ervine’s dramatic and numerous other works.

Hogan, Robert, and James Kilroy. The Modern Irish Drama: A Documentary History. 6 vols. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1975-1992. A multivolume history of Irish drama, including dramatists such as Ervine.

Hunt, Hugh. The Abbey: Ireland’s National Theatre, 1904-1978. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. This historical narrative deals in passing with Ervine’s plays. Provides a more detailed description of the playwright’s sojourn as manager of the Abbey Theatre and assesses its effects. Includes a full list of productions at the Abbey from the theater’s foundation, facilitating a preliminary chronology of Ervine’s dramatic career there.

Maxwell, D. E. S. A Critical History of Modern Irish Drama, 1891-1980. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Locates Ervine’s drama in the context of developments in realism in the Irish theater and provides a critical analysis of his most noteworthy plays. Draws attention to the Ulster origins of much of Ervine’s dramatic material. Contains a bibliography and a chronology of Irish theater.