I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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A Terrible Thing

Pauline Hall
In Chapter Seven of The Red and the Green, Barnabas (Barney) Drum, drunkard and spoiled priest, sees how “rival spires of Kingstown, Catholic and Protestant, [are] shifting constantly in their relation to each other, except when from the Martello Tower at Sandycove they could be seen as superimposed”. This passage is one of Murdoch’s precise and vivid descriptions of the Dún Laoghaire seafront, which are among the pleasures of this novel. It also illustrates the shifting relationships within the extended Anglo-Irish family at its centre. This is a cousinry of some complexity, with branches on both sides of the Irish Sea, Anglicans and converts to Catholicism. Through them, Murdoch dramatises the historic tensions between the two countries. She particularly sharpens the symmetry between the two young soldiers, cousins and rivals: Andrew Chase-White, newly commissioned in King Edward’s Horse (Murdoch’s father’s regiment) and Pat Dumay, an officer in the Irish Volunteers. Several dates are important here: The Red and the Green was published in 1965, at about a midway point in Murdoch’s oeuvre. The structure and style are relatively conventional, and the sexual antics are tamer than in her other books. There is evidence here of her philosophical preoccupations: how thought and image relate to action, how to achieve authenticity. Further, both Pat and Andrew are uncomfortable in their bodies and fearful of sex, and each discounts his mother’s anxiety. In his introduction to the Vintage edition, Declan Kiberd suggests that these are traits which, in the 1960s, chimed with studies that discerned a pathology of inhibition and self-denial in some leaders of the Easter Rising. Nineteen sixty-five was also a period of lull in the often troubled relations between red and green: just short of fifty years after the Easter Rising, on which the action of the novel converges, and four years before the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Another date: The Red and the Green ends with an epilogue, set in 1938. The novel proper ends just as the Rising begins. The epilogue tells us what subsequently happened, listing how many of the male characters came a cropper, in various ways, during the “interminable week” of the Rising. In a sort of Platonic dialogue, Frances Bellman (arguably the author figure of the novel), and her “tall son”, evaluate 1916. Her son is on fire with the current moral challenge of the Spanish Civil War, in which a friend has already enlisted. He considers…



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