John Calder spoke at the Abbey Theatre some years ago. The founder and director of Calder and Boyars had published a host of Nobel Prize winners, including Samuel Beckett. Calder stressed that Beckett’s early writing, his novels, had attained modest success. His reputation grew slowly…”Ideas take time” Calder explained.
Seamus Deane was born in Derry on February 9 1940. In 1972 he was lecturing in English in UCD, when I, aged nineteen, studied English and Latin there. One lecture of his stands out in my memory.
It had to do with Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent. Although there are no Irish characters in the story, Conrad records that the book issued out of the political milieu of late Victorian London in which the Fenian dynamitards featured.
Conrad’s labyrinthine plot focusses on a plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. The anarchist Verloc, his wife Winnie, her somewhat retarded brother Stevie head a cast of characters which includes European conspirators and the British police.
1972 was not short on political and military action.
Seamus weaved the novel into the historic tapestry of Victorian London, and demonstrated how it foreshadowed some of what was happening in 1972. He unveiled an idea: politics and literature are closely linked.
In 2021 that proposition might not cause a stir. In 50 years, its caught on. In UCD, in 1972, it was radical and novel. It struck me forcibly and changed how I viewed things. An image of the pale young man from Derry talking about Joseph Conrad remains with me.
Featured Image is of (from left to right) Seamus Deane, Ann Kearney, Richard Kearney, Imelda Healy, Marion Deane and Ronan Sheehan in c. 1985.
Help keep this show on the road! We depend on readers’ support. You can contribute on an ongoing basis via Patreon or through a one-off contribution via Buy Me a Coffee. Any small amount is hugely appreciated.