Comic Tradition (cover) Vivian Mercier
The Irish Comic Tradition

Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1992
London, Souvenir Press, 1991
ISBN 0-285-63018-0

The following description is taken from the Souvenir Press paperback edition.

Wit and humour have always played a large part in the make-up of the Irish character. The comic spirit running through Anglo-Irish literature of the twentieth century is well known, and it is a fact that most of the masters of English stage comedy since the Restoration Congreve, Farquhar, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw - either grew up in Ireland or came of Irish stock.

In this lively, erudite study, first published in 1962, Vivian Mercier set out to trace for the first time the unbroken comic tradition in Irish literature, from its oral roots in the ninth century and earlier, down to the present day. His book has never been superseded and remains a key work for any student of Irish and Anglo-Irish literature. From an exploration of the comic tradition in the early bardic literature the author moves on to the main characteristics that distinguish Irish humour fantasy, the macabre and the grotesque - and the emphasis on wit and word play. He illustrates the startling continuity in the satires and parodies of Early and Modern Irish and of the Anglo-Irish writers like Swift, Joyce and Beckett, in all of whom can be seen the underlying primitive impulses of comic expression. He finds the comic as the central tradition of Irish literature, and suggests that the comic spirit may have antedated the tragic throughout world literature.

Unobtainable for many years, the reissue of this indispensable book will be widely welcomed, not only by students of Irish literature but by all lovers of the written word. The author, one of that rare breed of scholars who can impart their knowledge and ideas with a light touch, has left us a classic of literary criticism.

VIVIAN MERCIER was born in 1919, into an Irish Protestant family of Huguenot descent. Educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he read French and English, his subsequent Ph.D. thesis was the first to pay serious attention to the fiction of Samuel Beckett.
He spent many years in the United States, teaching at the City College of New York, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He retired to Dublin and died in London in 1989. Apart from 'The Irish Comic Tradition', he published a monumental study of Samuel Beckett, 'Beckett/Beckett', which was reissued by Souvenir Press in 1990, a study of the nouveau roman, 'The New Novel: from Queneau to Pinget', and 'Great Irish Short Stories', a delightful collection which, with its short introductions to each story, is almost a history in miniature of Irish literature. He also coedited '1,000 Years of Irish Prose'.

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