A tale for Bloomsday – June 16, 2015

TURNING THE TABLES

By J. A. O’Brien

“A nice thing to find in one of the largest bookshops in the city. And in one of the main streets of Dublin no less,” Dan slammed the book on the manager’s desk.

Mr Molloy looked at the book. “My good man there is no way we would have that book for sale,” he said.

“It was with the Greek literature. Any young student could have picked it out thinking it was by Homer,” Dan snorted. “Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful. Ulysses indeed.”

“I assure you there has been a mistake. We have never ever stocked that man Joyce’s book in our store. We have very strict rules.” Mr Molloy said.

“It’s a banned book.” Dan pointed to the notice that was prominently displayed around the shop and could be seen through the glass panel of the office. It read:

“THERE ARE OVER 8000 BOOKS BANNED IN IRELAND. IF BY CHANCE WE HAVE ONE ON DISPLAY, PLEASE INFORM US AND IT WILL BE DESTROYED.”

“So much for that indeed,” Dan snorted. “Not only banned by our own Irish censors but I believe it is on the Index too.”

Mr Molloy went white. “Not the Index. Oh my God you mean the Churches’ Index of Forbidden Books?”

“The same.”

“A filthy piece of work. And it gets worse at the end. A married woman languishing in her bed recounting her escapades and indulging her fantasies. A disgusting soliloquy.” Dan said.

Mr Molloy reached for the book. “As bad as that?” he asked.

Dan detected more eagerness than shock in his tone. “I’ll show you,” he said and opened the book. “Forty-five pages.” He held the last chapter between his fingers.

Mr Molloy licked his lips. He leaned forward as if to try to read the vertically held pages.

“Will I read some of it to you?” Dan asked.

“Yes. Yes of course.”

Still holding the pages together, Dan turned to the last page of the chapter and read:

I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

“My God,” Mr Molloy said. “What a wanton hussy. How could any man write it?”

Dan looked him in the eyes, “A dirty mind, Mr Molloy?”

Mr Molloy’s eyes were wide. He licked his lips. His breathing was heavy. “Leave it with me then. I’ll burn it this very day. It shouldn’t be held with the tongs.”

“Ah now I think that I had better take care of it. After all you didn’t even know it was on your shelf.”

“It’s just that I wouldn’t want it to be an occasion of sin for any young man. You know what I mean.”

“Or any young woman for that matter,” Dan said, with just the right touch of innuendo.

Mr Molloy flushed a bright red. He licked his lips again. “God forbid and may He keep the women of Ireland pure,” he said. By now he was almost panting.

“I’ll take care of it for you,” Dan said. “After all there is your reputation and that of your store to be considered. You supply most of the schools in the city. And it would never do for this to get out.”

Mr Molloy sought to recover himself. “Perhaps we can come to some arrangement then,” he said.

Afterwards Dan told his delighted friend, Mick, “Brother, I got all the books the kids need at school this year. All free of charge. A very nice little deal, Mick. We can always benefit from the influence of the obscurants in this country.”

“Yeh turned the tables there alright. But I’m glad you didn’t let him keep me book,” Mick laughed. “Brand new and smuggled across the border via Belfast. From one peculiar and closed society to another. Jayus! The bould Joyce himself would be tickled pink at it all.”

This story is based on an incident that occurred in 1950s Dublin that involved two friends of our family. They did not live to see a statue of James Joyce erected close to where the bookshop with the sign once stood. Acknowledgements to the James Joyce Estate for the lines from Ulysses. ©

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Extract from “Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner”

The political and the personal

Truth to tell, it was not economic reasons alone that concerned me. After living in England I found that life in the stifling social and cultural conditions of Ireland was hard to tolerate. I missed newspapers of the quality of the Guardian and although it had dropped the prefix Manchester in 1959 it had not lost its reputation as a quality read. For a weekend treat I had ordered the Sunday Observer from our local paper seller who delivered newspapers door to door. He informed me in tones of disapproval; ‘You’re the only one in the district who reads a paper like that’. In Ireland there were no weekend papers of the quality of the British Sunday paper The Observer at the time.

Throughout the week, of the three biggest Irish morning papers the Irish Times was streets ahead of the other two that were both subservient mouthpieces of the major political parties – The Irish Press to Fianna Fail and the Irish Independent to Fine Gael. On Monday mornings, Da would snort, ‘The Irish Press and the Independent vie with each other to see who can report and publish the most pictures of fawning politicians kissing the ring of some bishop or other’. And for the seven weeks of Lent they would publish verbatim, pages of the pastoral letters of every bishop in the country.

One Sunday morning the paper seller was delighted to tell me, ‘There’s no Observer this week. Banned because of an article on birth control. And rightly so’. This from a father of seven kids was both amusing and at the same time dismaying. I watched as he walked away pushing his small box-cart of newspapers before him and trying to protect them from the gusts of cold wind that was blowing. My father’s words ‘pissing against the wind,’ came to my mind. Christ! The paper seller is not the only one, I thought. He is pushing against the wind. While I am in effect pissing against the wind in this damned country. What chance for my daughters growing up in this bloody place? I asked myself.

True, winds of change were gradually blowing away the crud that had encrusted Irish society for so long and English television was slowly breaking through the customs barrier. But not fast enough for me.

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Taking a stand against the slaughter

The Irish Neutrality League
and the Imperialist War
1914-18
Published by PANA

Reviewer: Michael Halpenny

In the present commemoration-fest around the First World War you could be forgiven for thinking that no one ever asked the question at the time – “Why should we be involved in this imperialist conflict?”

Yet to their undying credit some, a minority admittedly, including our own union did, and decided to march to a different drumbeat – that of opposition to the war.

This recent publication by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) tells their story.

Some in Europe opposed the war because of their strongly-held Christian values: some because they were pacifists. Others, many of them from the left were not pacifists, and viewed the war as a contest between competing imperial powers in which they and workers generally should play no part.

In Dublin, the banner over Liberty Hall in that autumn of 1914 said it all: “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser, But Ireland”

In England socialists such as Keir Hardie, George Lansbury (grandfather of actor Angela) and the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst campaigned against the war, while thousands of “conscientious objectors were later jailed or forced into uniform at the front. (Though not a pacifist, one of those was war resister and Irish trade unionist, John Swift senior).

In Germany one pacifist, Otto Umfrid, described their endeavours as akin to “fixing a truck rolling into a precipice with a thread of silk”. Other Germans, such as socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, were jailed for treason.

Ireland saw the coming together of a broad but disparate group of socialists, trade unionists, pacifists, feminists, republicans and nationalists under the banner of the short-lived Irish Neutrality League (INL). Its initial meeting, chaired by James Connolly, resolved to respond to John Redmond’s recruitment drive for the British Army and the tsunami of jingoism and war hysteria.

As the editor Roger Cole of Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) notes “… its core ideology was to unite all of those opposed to the imperial war and to promote Irish independence and neutrality”.

Writer, Francis Devine, gives an extensive history of the INL, and notes that in a circular of October 5, 1914, the League warned that efforts were being made by the British government and employers to force young male workers into the army – what they termed “commercial conscription”.

Historian, Margaret Ward deals with the contribution of Countess Markievicz to the INL’s activities. Aidan Lloyd with that of pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington’s while Jack O’Connor points to the relevance of the League’s core principles today as Europe’s ruling elites flex their muscles on both the economic and military fronts.

He argues: “We must hold firm to our union’s traditional policy of support for Irish neutrality and non-alignment…”

This publication shines a light on a little discussed and unfashionable aspect of our history, that of neutrality, but one which in the words of Francis Devine “should not be obscured”, not least because it is certain where Connolly would stand on those same issues today.

Available from PANA at http://www.pana.ie : email info@pana.ie

This review is posted courtesy of Liberty Magazine and PANA and with acknowledgement to the reviewer Michael Halpenny.

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Many shades of seduction

Fifty Shades of Grey
By E L James
Arrow Books
Reviewer: Janet M O’Brien

What motivates 100 million readers around the globe to read three installments of an erotic novel that received negative reviews with literary critics giving the style ‘no prizes’ for its prose? It has even been described as ‘poorly written’? But let’s face it; romance sells. Add explicit sexual acts that involve bondage, dominance and submission and we have a formula that traps readers as they are enticed vicariously and seduced. Once the reader is bonded (pun intended) to this intimate interplay, seduction is complete.

Through the ages female sexuality has been the subject of fascination for many male writers. Fanny Hill, Moll Flanders, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the exploits of the notorious Molly Bloom, were all written by men. In more recent years, Anais Nin, Erica John, Linda Jaivin and Nicky Gemmell have evened the score to some degree and now E L James has blown away any traces of male dominance.

Times and women have changed. A recent national survey of Australian women has shown that there is a sexual revolution taking place and that women are very much to the fore when it comes to being adventurous as far as sex is concerned. This cultural shift has led to the burgeoning of erotic romance novels and chick-lit. The survey found that women of all ages now have a more liberal attitude to sex than any group surveyed including men of all ages and teenagers.

This trilogy is a page turner, 1624 pages to be precise; the reader is seduced from the outset with the prolonged sexual sequences. In particular, millions of women are enjoying the uninhibited sexual content. Every sex scene is fresh, explicit and varied. No two scenes read the same. Even so, at times, I skimmed some of the sex scenes to return to the development of the characters and the progress of the relationship.

Anastasia Steele, the narrator, is a young graduate who is introduced to the enigmatic and intimidating Christian Grey when she is persuaded by her friend to interview him for a student newspaper. Grey subsequently pursues Ana and introduces her to his vast wealth and power and the terms he imposes on women that are prepared to be his “submissive”. It turns out that Grey has very explicit sexual tastes and is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy”. And he wants control over every aspect of her life. A complex relationship ensues as Ana considers his list of contractual requirements once she’s been introduced to his ‘play room’. Even though she is shocked, she finds him irresistible and wants to get close to him. So she is willing to expose herself to the extremes of his sexual needs.

Ana is no submissive. Her relationship is one that demands equal power. She yearns for romance in the traditional sense and the challenge for Grey is whether he can let go of his demons; the origins of his inability to love. In turn, he too is seduced by Ana’s independent spirit and quiet intelligence.

This is no Cinderella story, but a narrative of male/female relationships that fits the modern era. Grey seduces Ana, Ana seduces Grey and the author has seduced millions of readers with sales that far surpass novels such as “Justine” and “The Story of O” which so shocked previous generations. With “Fifty Shades of Grey” that goes to “ Fifty Shades Darker” before emerging as “ Fifty Shades Freed” E L James explores the pleasures and pains of romantic love while recognizing that sexuality is the most powerful driving force in human experience.

 

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Examining the world of work

The Empty Raincoat
By Charles Handy
Arrow Books

Reviewer: J.A. O’Brien

In THE EMPTY RAINCOAT: MAKING SENSE OF THE FUTURE, Professor Charles Handy addresses the “confusion” that stems from the “pursuit of efficiency and economic growth” in the name of progress. And he asks how work can be “re-grounded in a natural sense of continuity, connection and purposeful direction”.

In a world where organisations are growing without growing the labour force, he sees hope in the growth of independent workers, he says, “Organisations will still be critically important in the world, but as organisers not employers”.

Discussing the many “paradoxes of our times” he points out that as “productivity” means more work from fewer people we are at the same time seeing the growth of the “do-it-yourself economy” and the self-employment sector.

“This is not a temporary paradox, governments and the unemployed please note. Society and individuals will have to get more used to the do-it-yourself economy as the new growth sector. Most of us are going to be in it, whether we like it or not. Better technology means more and more of us can run businesses or services by ourselves”.

Four of Professor Handy’s previous books have dealt with “organisations” and their impact on how people work and live. In a previous work, ‘The Age of Unreason’, he presented “an optimistic view” of the way work was being reshaped. ‘The Empty Raincoat’ retains this optimism but at the same time questions the functions of organisations more closely. And while he is hopeful for the individual in society, he is “more chary” as he says, in “offering general solutions to our individual predicaments”.

“We are not where we hoped to be”, he tells us. Perhaps that is why he followed this book with one that is titled ‘Beyond Certainty’.

For five years Professor Handy, though a layman, contributed to “Thought for the Day”, a religious reflection slot on BBC Radio Four. He has been described as “A renegade professor of business with theological affinities” and in ‘The Empty Raincoat’, he asks that we rediscover “a respect for something otherworldly, something beyond ourselves”.

Even so there is radical intent in his work. Handy offers a blueprint that can be adapted to the needs of companies and individual freelancers in many industries and many nations, and provides a philosophy to support the agents of change.

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The diary of an emigrant and dissenter

Against the Wind
By J. A. O’Brien

Reviewer: Michael Halpenny

The full title of this book is Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner. However, this is not the diary of someone strenuously opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, but rather the thoughts of a working class writer, bricklayer and one time member of an earlier Republican movement, who grew up in the Dublin of the 1940s and 50s and left to work outside Ireland.

As such it is different from many books of its type which reflect the experience of those from a more rural or “provincial” setting. Donal MacAmhlaigh’s Dialann Deorai (Diary of an Exile) or the earlier Rotha Mor an tSaol (The Hard Road to Klondike) by Donegal’s Michael MacGowan stand out as examples of such tales of the lives of migrant workers in England and North America, respectively.

Born in 1936, the author, James O’Brien, grew up in the South inner-city and went to St. Louis National School in Rathmines in the period quaintly referred to by the then “Free State” as the “Emergency”.

His father was a bricklayer and his mother worked in domestic service and he tells a colourful and sometimes heart-rending tale of the difficulties faced by working class families just trying to survive.

He also tells of the casual brutality of school life and the all-pervading oppression of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, in the South Circular Road area of the city, he was also exposed to different views and experiences, those of Protestant and Jewish neighbours which helped to broaden his mind.

In particular, he was lucky enough to be raised by strong, loving, but above all, independent and class-conscious parents who were not afraid to think for themselves or stand up for their rights if required.

Leaving school he became an apprentice bricklayer and there is a wonderful chapter on his initiation into the trade and the union, called Before the Green Cloth. He writes tenderly of first love and of his political awakening. This partly derives from his experience as an immigrant worker with Yorkshire miners.

The other impulse came from the IRA Border Campaign of the 1950s at a time when it was said that young men with ambition joined Fianna Fail and young men with principles joined the Republican Movement. James O’Brien joined the Movement. Young men like Charlie Haughey joined the party of Dev.

The book covers the period up to the 1960s, including his subsequent involvement with the Connolly Association and its work with the organised labour movement in England on the injustices in the North.

While his later life took him to Australia, this memoir stands out among those which tell a wider tale than interesting anecdotes about growing up in Dublin or other places in “the Rare Oul’ Times”.

It looks into the developing mind of a young person who is not only intensely observant of the world but conscious of their class and the challenges before it, and most critically, can convey it to the reader.

Michael Halpenny
Liberty
Nov/ Dec 2014 issue.

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Extracts from reviews of ‘Against The Wind’

O’Brien’s long held view is that it was necessary to remove the gun from Irish politics. Some years later the IRA came to the same conclusion. An erudite and entertaining read.
Bendigo Weekly

Ah, yes, the Irish sure do have a way with words – a very entertaining, humorous, intelligent, loving and proud memoir. More literary gold from the “Emerald Isle”.

Wendy O’Hanlon, Acres Australia

I loved this little bit of history about a big period of sadness that happened in a proud country where people stood solid for what they believed to be right and just. A powerful story written from a heart that witnessed the country he loved torn in two.

John Morrow’s, Pick of the Week

O’Brien weaves together the many threads of history and his own life to produce an informed tale that will interest many readers well beyond the globe’s enormous Irish Diaspora.

Robin Osborne, Media Adviser

The book will also appeal to the Irish Diaspora, as O’Brien’s memories of migration to and from England for work in the lean years of 1950s Ireland will resonate with many. As thousands continue to emigrate every week for places like Australia, O’Brien reminds us in his closing lines, ‘There are Irishmen and there are men from Ireland… I am as Ireland made me. Intentionally or not’.

Dr Sarah Campbell,
Modern Irish History
Newcastle University UK

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