‘“explainable paralysis”: Anthony Cronin and a Portrait of the Artist as a Failure’

Brian Fox

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


As the biographer of perhaps the two most Joyce-adumbrated Irish writers, Beckett and O'Brien, Anthony Cronin is a particularly apt figure for exploring the influence and challenge of Joyce. This paper focuses in particular on Cronin's 1964 novel The Life of Riley and argues that here Cronin attempts to negotiate the Joycean legacy in post-war Ireland through his 'portrait' of Riley the accidental artist. It will set the work alongside other specific instances of negotiation with Joyce's influence in Ireland, including the 1951 special 'James Joyce' issue of Envoy, the 1954 Bloomsday celebrations, the 1967 First International James Joyce Symposium held in Dublin, and the 1970 response to the symposium, A Bash in the Tunnel, James Joyce by the Irish, which added to the material already published in Envoy. Alongside these we might also place Cronin's own A Question of Modernity (1966), which included the subtitle Essays on Writing with Special Reference to James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, and his Dead as Doornails, Bohemian Dublin in the Fifties and Sixties (1976). As such, this historical context provides us with lines of connection which are indexed and anticipated throughout The Life of Riley. I will argue that Cronin's portrait of Riley bears the marks of specific historical debates over Joyce, including aspects of the fetishisation of the Irish artist by certain international audiences and concomitant reassessments of the role of the artist in Ireland. The 'explainable paralysis' to which the beggar-poet Riley aspires reflects Joyce's ambiguous influence as Cronin, in a manner not dissimilar to Beckett, erects 'vast superstructures of idleness' in which Riley functions as a tragicomic antithesis of the Daedalean artist. Finally, writing of O'Brien's generation, Cronin noted: 'It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Joyce in their view of things'. This paper then aims to delineate specifically the importance of Joyce in Anthony Cronin's view of things and to gesture towards some larger issues of literary influence and legacy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Jun 2011
Event‘Joycean Literature: Fiction and Poetry, 1910-2010’ - Institute of English Studies, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Jun 201114 Jun 2011


Conference‘Joycean Literature: Fiction and Poetry, 1910-2010’
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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