Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Friday, March 23, 2018

“The Child That Went With the Fairies”. - My Favourite Short Story by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1870

1814 to 1873, Born and died in Dublin

Sheridan Le Fanu (he is descended from Huguenots driven from France to Ireland in the 16th century)   

I have featured his work in all previous ISSM events and this month I decided to reread one of my favourite of his short works, “The Child That Went With the Fairies”, 1870.

Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (1814 to 1873, Dublin) is at the very least the best 19th century writer of ghost stories.   He also created the first lesbian vampire, Carmilla.  He is a really great writer and almost everyone who reads one of his works goes on to read lots more. I certainly have.  He is descended from 17th century French Huguenots.  Among his most famous longer works are Uncle Silas and The House by the Church Yard.

He seems to be the first author who made use of lesbian vampires in his stories.   He was a very prolific writer of horror, gothic, and mystery fiction.  

He had an interesting life that you can read more about here.    I was also very happy to see that almost all of his novels and a  lot of his short stories can be found online on the web page of the library of the University of Adelaide.    His  work is considered to have strongly influenced the work of Bram Stoker, also from Ireland, the author of Dracula.

A a deep seated belief in the supernatural seems to be an element in the Irish Short Story.    Alongside the beliefs sanctioned by The Church is vast structure of  beliefs in  fairies, witches, evil omens, leprechauns and much more.    This supernatural world is imposed on the mundane one we appear to live in.    Historians tell us that such belief structures are often found among the powerless peoples in colonized countries as a form of coping with their frustration with their situation.   

Le Fanu's prose style does not at all feel old fashioned or arcane to me.   Much of the history and pain of the common Irish country people is wonderfully shown in "The Child That Went With the Fairies”. 

The story is short and beautifully told and you can read it if you want in just a few minutes so I will not say much of the plot.   The story is very Gothic, very atmospheric and very scary.    A mysterious carriage, more beautiful than anyone has ever seen,  is passing through the village.   When young Billie comes out to see it, a beautiful women beckons him into the carriage with an apple.    As the children look into the carriage they see a horribly ugly woman with face that would scare the devil sitting next to the beautiful woman.   Billy gets in the carriage.   His mother is driven to great despair as she fears Billie is lost forever.     Once and a while he seems to appear at the door to her hut, her other children say they have seen him briefly in the village.    Then he disappears for years.   One day the mother returns and sees him in her house for sure.   He is dressed in the worst rags,  is filthy dirty, and looks starved.   As the mother rushes to him, he disappears  never to be seen again.    I think this story is in part about how parents tried to cope with the starvation of their children in the great Irish famines of the 19th century in which millions died.    

Mel u

“At The Automat” - A Short Story by Mariam Raskin - February 7, 1966 in Forward, translated from Yiddish by Laura Yaros

Born 1889, in what is now Belarus

Immigrated to USA, 1920, settles in New York City

1922, begins to publish Yiddish Language Short Stories in the Forward to which she will contribute many stories over the next fifty year period

Dies, 1973, New York City.

Mariam Ruskin is best known for her stories about Jewish Women living in New York City.

“In the Automat”, set in New York City centres on a middle aged single woman.  Critics describe Ruskin’s style as  “American Yiddish” meaning lots of American slang creeping into the language.   Here is how the story starts:

“ON A SUMMER’S evening, Miss Posner sat down at a small table in a restaurant to eat her supper after a turbulent day at work. She enjoyed spending an hour or two in the automat. 43 She was a saleslady in a women’s clothing store, and all day she had to stay on her feet and deal with the women customers. Here she could relax. Miss Posner was not in a hurry to go home. She knew that her clean, neat, comfortable room would be waiting for her. She reserved moviegoing for Saturday nights, when she didn’t have to hurry to get up early the next morning and when the whole next day would be a relaxed, leisurely Sunday. Miss Posner enjoyed eating her supper alone upstairs, on the balcony of the automat. It seemed to her that a better class of people sat there.”

Miss Posner always sits alone, upstairs as she feels the people up there are higher class. She loves to speculate about the lives of the people she sees there.  We sense she feels competitive with other women there.  As the story ends she is on the subway home.  There is a lingering submerged sadness to her story.

I could not find an image of Mariam Ruskin, if you can help me on this please leave a comment.

I read this story in s wonderful anthology of Yiddish short fiction,
Have I Got a Story for You - More than a Century of Fiction from the Forward edited by Ezra Glinter with an introduction by Dana Horn. It was a 2016 finalist for the Jewish Book of the Year.   Founded in New York City in 1897, Forward was the most renowned Yiddish newspaper in the world. For generations it brought immigrants news of their homelands, recipes, as well as lots of information about how to get along in America.  It also published many works of Yiddish language fiction by some of the greatest writers in the language.  

(You can learn about the history of Forward on their website 

An Informative Article on Mariam Ruskin.

Mel u

Thursday, March 22, 2018

“The Secret of the Growing Gold”. - By Bram Stoker, 1897- A Short Story by the author of Dracula

Born 1847 Dublin

Dracula published 1897

Died 1912 London

In addition to publishing  Dracula and starting a vampire craze the world still is gripped by in the same year he published an entertaining ghost story about the revenge of a woman scorned,  “The Secret of the Growing Gold”.

As the story opens we learn of the history of two families, both with long histories in the same area of rural England.  One family has an aristocratic linage, the other yeoman roots.  The families have both  seen better times.  Stoker liked to write about declining aristocracy and we see that in the higher society family.  A romance has developed between a woman from the common family and an aristocratic man.  One day they are out for a carriage ride together.  The man gets out briefly and during this time the carriage falls of a cliff, destroying it and killing one of the horses. The body of the woman and one of the horses is never found.  An investigation finds nothing and in time people forget the incident.  After a time the man, who went to Italy, sends word he is coming back with his bride, an Italian lady.  He has the house renovated to look like the mansion of her father back in Italy.  Now things get scary!  The missing woman seems to return one night, horribly scarred from the wreck.  He has no idea how she got in past the servants.  Stoker has created a very powerful atmosphere befitting his many years in the theatre.  A terrible revenge is taken on the man and his innocent pregnant bride.

Probably very few would still read this story if Stoker had not blessed or cursed the world with Dracula but in any case it was fun to read and if you accept things scary.

I read this story in a book I acquired on sale as a Kindle for $1.95, Irish Ghost Stories edited by David Davies.  Ten classic writers are included, half of the 520 pages is devoted to Sheridan la Fanu and the Introduction is good.  You can read the story at the link above.  I hope to read a few more Irish Ghost Stories this month.  Ireland has lots of ghosts.

Mel u

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“The Springs of Affection” - A Short Story by Maeven Brennan, from The New Yorker, March 18, 1973

I first encountered  the work of Maeve Brennan during Irish Short Story Month I in 2011 when I listened to a wonderful podcast of of the story on the webpage of The New Yorker in which Roddy Doyle reads the story.   During Irish Short Story Month Year II in 2012 I posted on a truly great cat story, set in her adopted home town of New York City, "Bianca, I Can See You".

Born Dublin, 1917, died New York City, 1993

Maeve Brennan's life should have been a perfect fairy tale of happiness.   There is a fey beauty in her face but I also sense fear and a dark hunger.   

Brennan's father was the first Irish Ambassador to the United States.   Her father fought for freedom from British rule in  the Irish War for Independence.     The British imprisoned him for a while.    Brennan and her family lived in Washington DC until 1944 when her father returned to Ireland.   She stayed on in the US and moved to New York City where she got a job writing copy for Harper's Bazaar.   She also wrote a society column for an Irish publication.     She began to write occasional articles for The New Yorker.    In 1949 she was offered a job on the staff of the magazine.   She was incredibly beautiful, very intelligent, witty, petite, always perfectly dressed and made up.   She moved about frequently and had extravagant tastes.    Some people feel she was the inspiration for Holly Golightly, the lead character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958).   In the 1960s people began to observe that she was now beginning to appear unkempt.    In the 1970s Brennan became paranoid and was an alcoholic.    She began to drift in and out of reality and was hospitalized   several times.    She ended up living either in transit hotels or in the ladies room at the offices of The New Yorker.   (I also read William Maxwell's introduction to one of her collections of short stories published posthumously and learned that to its great credit the magazine had secured for her a place where she could stay and be fed but she rarely went there.)    In  the 1980s she all but disappears.   She died in 1993 in the Lawrence hospital, a  ward of the state.    As I read this I could not help but be reminded of Jean Rhys but I think the story of Brennan is more tragic in that Rhys partially recovered from her years of darkness and was seen as a great writer while still alive. 

“The Sorings of Affection” is regarded by all as Maeve Brennan’s best work, Alice Munro loved it.  This is the sixth of her stories to be featured during an 
ISSM.  Among Brennan’s favourite works of short fiction were The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Turgenev’s The Sportsman’s Notebook, any anything by Colette (I am drawing on an essay by William Maxwell who for twenty years was her editor at The New Yorker.)  She had a photograph of Colette, from her older years, on the wall at the New Yorker office.  

This magnificent story brought to my mind an equally magnificent classic Irish poem, “The Great Hunger” by Patrick Kavanagh for its focus on the emotional emptiness at the heart of many Irish lives, a hunger for a connection to others.  In fact in both of the stories from Dubliners I featured this month as well as the very contemporary stories by Brian Kirk and Steve Wade, Dublin writers, develop this theme.  

“The Springs of Affection” is a very sad story, heartbreaking for the cruelty of the people in the story to each other.  The story is told by an eighty year old woman, for the last six years she has been living with and taking care of her twin brother.  He has just passed and she feels relieved of a duty she resented and free to return to her own home.  Growing up she lived with her brother, her two younger sisters and their parents.  She thinks back to the day her brother, in action she never forgave, ruined everyone’s future by getting married.  She sees his transferring his love from the family to his wife, an outsider as a deep betrayal.  

“My mother was never the same after Martin married, she thought, and it was then, too, that Clare and Polly became restless and hard to get along with, and stopped joining in the conversation we always had about the family fortunes and talked instead about what they were going to do with their own lives. Their lives-and what about sticking together gether as a family, as we had been brought up to do? They got very selfish all of a sudden, and the house seemed very empty, as though Martin had died.”

We go back into her life when she was growing up.  Her father cannot read or write.  His wife gives him no love or respect.  In a segment just so briiliant and sad the father acquires the money to buy some piglets.  He soon finds in these pigs more love than from his family, he loves feeding them and is so gratified when they recognize him.  One morning he walks in and slams some money on the table, telling his wife, “Here is your blood money”.  He sent the pigs to the butcher.  After that the father begins to wander.  Once the brother marries, the other two sisters marry Protestants, not Catholics.  

There is so much in this story.  

Please share your experience with Maeve Brennan with us 

Mel u

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“The Visitor” - A Short Story by Brian Kirk, February, 2018

I first became acquainted with the work of Brian Kirk when I read his very well done short story, "The Shawl" in Long Story Short.  Brian Kirk's story "The Shawl" represents to me one of the most basic  reasons I have continued Irish Short Story Month for eight years and hope to continue it many more.   It is a great feeling to me to read a story by a new to me writer who seems just at the start of his writing career and hope I will be able to watch her or him develop into a major writer.  I have learned enough about the life and business world of Irish writers to know that it takes more than just talent.  You have to find people willing to read your work and at some point pay you for it.   This is far from easy, I know.  (My post on "The Shawl" is here-it contains a link to the story.)
From my post of March 2013

I am very pleased to include a story by Brian Kirk in Irish Short Story Month VIII. (You can read the story at the link above, reading time is a very well spent ten minutes or so).  “The Visitor” is the third story by Kirk upon which I have posted.  

The story is set on Aran, an island of the coast from Galway.  The narrator, a woman writer has come there to escape from the distractions of the city which blocked her writing, she feels.  Aran is not named but she does, in a morning amble she thinks of Antoine Artaud, a French theater of cruelty writer, who in 1937 came to Aran to find peace, six weeks later, he was deported.  I sense she  tries to understand herself almost as a daughter of Artaud, trying to find a peace he never did.

The narrator came to Aran to be alone, but she finds this too painful.  She has invited a formed college boyfriend to stay with her.  He has brought with him thr city she longer to escape from but she is not yet ready to be alone.  She cannot escape her involuntary memories, try as she might.

I find the prose of Kirk exquiste, he brings out hidden truthes

“I try to imagine living in the city again, dragging myself from fretful rooms to busy workplaces day in day out, suffering the passive cruelty of the commute and the ritual inanity of office talk. My heart sinks and my pulse races as I pause before the door and turn my face once more to the sky, feeling the early morning September sun—what little there is of it—wash over my face. I open the door at last to find him sleeping on the battered sofa in the open kitchen. For a moment I imagine he is dead, but his nasal breathing sets me straight. And then I see an opportunity. If I bludgeoned him with one of his dumbbells he might never wake at all. What would that mean for him? Would his senses have time to register the final shut down or would a sudden curtain fall on his flickering dreamscape, never to be raised.”

I can relate to a fear or hatred of the return to the city, I think many will.

She wants the man to leave but she fears being alone.  She smells whiskey in his empty battle.  Whiskey means something in west of Ireland it might not mean elsewhere.  Maybe she wants the man with her as a kind of affirmation of her sexuality, her ability to hold a man, one who has had many women.  But she hates her weakness and she knows she lacks the depth of self knowledge to rid herself of her dependency. She knows the man will leave her and is probably already unfaithful.

There is much more in “The Visitor”.  It is a very Irish story but the characters are universal.  I did feel I was back in west of Ireland.

I endorse this story to all lovers of Short Stories.  I also urge the Reading of My Q and A with Brian for his insights into a very interesting set of topics. Be sure to visit his very well done webpage.

I hope to post on another of his Short Stories in April and in May.  I hope he will be back for ISSM IX

Brian Kirk is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist from Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Crannog, The Stony Thursday Book, Revival, Boyne Berries, Wordlegs and various anthologies.

Mel u

Monday, March 19, 2018

“The Call of the Sea” - A Short Story by Steve Wade

A Wide Ranging Q and A with Steve Wade. Including a link to his “Land of The Ever Young”. As well as my post

A Link to “Call of The Sea” by Steve Wade

I am very happy to be able to include a story by Steve Wade in this year’s Irish Short Story  Month.  I urge everyone interested in the short story, Irish Literature and culture to read his wide ranging Q and A session. I first read his work for Irish Short Story Month in March, 2013.  I return to his work with great pleasure.

“The Call of the Sea” shows us how the lead character, a financially stressed father, is influenced by his view of nature on a seaside walk and conversely how his state of mind shapes what aspects of the natural word he focuses upon.  It is also deals with the human  consequences of the fall of the Irish economy, the weak or missing Irish father (seen by Declan Kiberd, among others, as a dominant theme of Irish Literature),the impact of the closeness of the sea on the Irish psyche, and the sad growth of suicide in Ireland.  Additionally in just a few pages we feel a deep sympathy combined with an unavoidable aversion to the lead character.  We also must finally ponder was the lead character taking the weak way out or did he show great courage. Plus we are treated to an early morning sea coast walk.

As the story opens a man, married with children, wants to leave home early, before he will be stressed by his children needing food, a pain he finds hard to bear.  He looks at his car knowing it will be repossessed soon.  

“Early Sunday morning, before the trains and busses started. Not that he had the fare, but he might have chanced the Dart without a ticket. He’d got away with it before. He left their home in Ballsbridge, Dublin, before the kids awoke. Before their hungry cries clawed and slashed at the inside of his head. Before Jeannette began her wailing, her accusations and her threats.”

He begins a walk along the seashore, in the hopes watching the birds, who he knows well, will renew his spirits.  He notices a magpie, a large predatory bird, with a dove hatchling in her mouth.  She swallows it whole. He observes other species of birds struggling to feed themselves and their young.  He goes into a coffee shop and realising he cannot even afford coffee leaves.  He notices the clerk is of Asian descent, maybe he thinks is Ireland being stolen from the Irish?

He passes people but basically is sunk into a trough of despair.  I don’t want to tell the very powerful close of the story so I will just urge all lovers of the form to read this story.  At one point I falsely thought I saw the end coming but I did not. Wade’s account of the feelings of the man when he discovers the body of a young woman who has drowned herself are very powerful, almost painfully 

“Who she was, the memories she’d made, the people whose lives she had touched, and who had played a part in moulding hers, was irrelevant. Without knowing the details, he understood her plight. He respected the moment when, in despair, she chose another way – the bravest of choices.
There was something else he understood. It all made sense. As a husband to Jeanette, he had let her down. As a father to their two girls, he had failed. His impulse to get himself to where he now stood, with one step between atonement and failure, was written. The insurance payout would provide for them. Jeanette would have the means and the dignity to raise the girls into adulthood.”

Wade made me feel I was once again walking the Irish coast, his descriptions of the birds are wonderful.  He even works a drunk into the story!

I hope to post on one of Wade’s stories in April and another in May

Stephen Wade is a prize nominee for the PEN/O’Henry Award, 2011, and a prize nominee for the Pushcart Prize, 2013. Wade’s fiction has been published in over thirty-five print publications. His unpublished novel ‘On Hikers’ Hill’ was awarded First Prize in the UK abook2read Literary Competition, December 2010. Among the publications in which is work appears are: Crannog, Zenfri Publications, New Fables, Gem Street, Grey Sparrow, Fjords Arts and Literary Review, and Aesthetica Creative Works Annual, 2011 and 2015.

Mel u

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Violin of Auschwitz by Maria Angela Anglada 1983, translated by Martha Tennent, 2010

The Violin of Auschwitz by Maria Angels Anglada is a work so beautiful it will haunt many  readers for a lifetime.  The 
hour and a half it will take you to read this book might well be the best experience you will have this month.  Set in one of the ugliest places ever created, the Auschwitz death camp in Poland in 1941, Anglada shows us how remembrance of the beauty of art and of love can sustain us through very dark times.  

The story opens in 1991 at a classical music concert in Krakow, Poland.  The narrator, a musician traveling in Eastern Europe, met and was enchanted by a female violinist from the concert.  She is twenty years his senior.  He takes her out to dinner and they bond over their love of music.  He makes arrangements through his agent for her to join in his four person group on a short tour.  He notices an elegant violin she plays and she begins to tell him the story of how the violin came to be created.  

It is 1941, Daniel has just arrived, in a train with other deportees, most all Polish Jews, at Auschwitz.  Upon arrival people are divided into two groups, those felt not able to work as too old, under fourteen are sent at once to be executed 
They are lead to believe it is for a shower.  Daniel, a violin 

maker, a luthier, when asked his occupation says “Cabinet Maker”, thinking that may keep him alive.  He is assigned to make shelves and cabinets for the sadistic, cultivated camp commandant.  Four inmate classical musicians are playing at a party.  One of the violins is damaged and Daniel tells the musician, they stay in the same barracks, that he can fix it and he does.  The camp commandant hears of this and he tells David he is to make a violin for him.  Daniel knows as long as he is working on the violin he will be safe from punishment or harsh physical labor.  He finds out the commandant and his sadistic doctor friend, modelled on the horrible Josef Mengele, have made a bet involving him.  If he can produce a quality violin the doctor will give the commandant a case of wine, if he cannot, he will be sent to the lab of the doctor for experiments testing how long one can be immersed in freezing water and survive, a death sentence.  

I don’t want to reveal the close but I cannot imagine anyone not loving it.

In a very interesting touch, included in the chapter 

beginnings are actual translations of manuals and reports from Auschwitz, treating it as the very profitable enterprise it was.  The last chapter will, I think, very much move most readers.  I felt a powerful sense of joy and relief as I read the closing chapter.

This book is suitable for young adult readers but will resonate with the most cultured of readers.

I’m seeing this as excellent book for teachers to use for advanced high school readers.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR MARIA ÀNGELS ANGLADA (1930–99) is one of the most important figures of Catalan twentieth-century literature. Her success as an author was confirmed in 1978 when she was awarded the Josep Pla Prize for her first novel, Les Closes. She subsequently became one of the most respected and widely read of all Catalan authors, with works such as No em dic Laura, L’agent del Rei, and El violí d’Auschwitz.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR MARTHA TENNENT, a translator from Catalan and Spanish, was born in the United States, but has lived most of her life in Barcelona, receiving her B.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Barcelona. She recently edited Training for the New Millennium: Pedagogies for Translation and Interpreting and has translated the novels Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda and The Invisible City by Emili Rosales.