Cronin, Anthony 1926–
Cronin, Anthony 1926–
PERSONAL: Born December 28, 1926, in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. Education: "Entirely self-educated."
ADDRESSES: Home—30 Oakley Rd., Dublin 6, Ireland.
CAREER: Writer and critic. University of Montana, visiting lecturer in English, 1966–68; Drake University, poet in residence, 1968–70; University of Ulster, visiting professor, 1996–2002. Republic of Ireland, cultural and artistic advisor to the prime minister, 1980–83, 1987–92.
MEMBER: Aosdana (elected saoi, 2003).
AWARDS, HONORS: Marten Toonder Award, Arts Council of Ireland, 1983, for contributions to Irish literature; honorary degrees from National College of Art, Trinity College, Dublin, and University of Ulster.
Poems, Cresset Press (London, England), 1957.
Collected Poems, 1950–1973, New Writers Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1973.
Reductionist Poem, Raven Arts (Dublin, Ireland), 1980.
R.M.S. Titanic (originally published in the magazine X, 1960), Raven Arts (Dublin, Ireland), 1981.
41 Sonnet-Poems 82, Raven Arts (Dublin, Ireland), 1981.
New and Selected Poems, Raven Arts (Dublin, Ireland), 1982.
Letter to an Englishman, Raven Arts (Dublin, Ireland), 1985.
The End of the Modern World, Raven Arts (Dublin, Ireland), 1988.
Relationships, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1994.
The Minotaur and Other Poems, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1999.
Collected Poems, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 2004.
Also author of "Acceptance Poem," 1979. Contributor to anthologies of poetry, including The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Verse, Faber (London, England), 1953; Mid-Century, Penguin (New York, NY), 1965; The Penguin Book of Longer Contemporary Poems, Penguin; and Irish Poets, 1924–1974. Contributor of poetry to periodicals.
(Editor) William Carleton, The Courtship of Phelim O'Toole and Other Stories, 1962.
The Life of Riley (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1964, reprinted, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1983.
A Question of Modernity (literary criticism), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1966.
The Shame of It (play), 1971.
Dead as Doornails: A Chronicle of Life (nonfiction), Dolmen (Dublin, Ireland), 1976, reprinted, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Identity Papers (novel), Co-op Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1979.
Heritage Now: Irish Literature in the English Language (literary criticism), Brandon (Dover, NH), 1982.
An Irish Eye (essays), Brandon (Dover, NH), 1985.
Art for the People?, Raven Arts (Dublin, Ireland), 1986.
Ireland: A Week in the Life of a Nation (pictorial essay with text), edited by Red Saunders and Syd Shelton, Century (London, England), 1986.
No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O'Brien (biography), Paladin Press (London, England), 1989, Fromm International (New York, NY), 1998.
Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor) Anthony Cronin's Personal Anthology: Selections from His Sunday Independent Feature, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 2000.
Contributor to books, including Edward McGuire, RHA, by Brian Fallon and Sally McGuire, Irish Academic Press (Blackrock, County Dublin, Ireland), 1991; author of foreword, Nights without Stars, Days without Sun, by Conleth O'Connor, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1997. Weekly columnist, Irish Times, 1974–80. Contributor to periodicals, including Times Literary Supplement, Times (London, England). New York Times, New Statesman, and Nation. Contributing editor, X; past associate editor, Bell; past literary editor, Time and Tide.
SIDELIGHTS: Anthony Cronin's writings, many of which draw upon his experiences in the literary bohemia of Dublin and London in the years after World War II, have earned him considerable literary stature in Ireland. Although an author of novels and biographies, Cronin was originally recognized for his work with the magazines Bell and Time and Tide and for his poetry, the first collection of which was published in 1957. Cronin is also respected as a literary critic.
When his New and Selected Poems was released in 1982, critics cited Cronin for the irony, wit, and intellectual vigor of his attacks on the tendency of people to live in a state of self-delusion. The collection includes his long poem "R.M.S. Titanic" which was originally published in 1960; termed by reviewers then as an allegory of Ireland's divided society, the poem presents a vision of the way tensions between the upper and lower classes could result in tragedy to their "ship," the nation of Ireland. David Profumo, reviewing New and Selected Poems in the Times Literary Supplement, described "R.M.S. Titanic" as "an archetype of [Cronin's] work," which he characterized as "intellectual, urbane, sardonic; his effects are … sombre, his verse … formally stringent."
While some critics have faulted Cronin's adherence to formal styles and political topics, his verse collections The End of the Modern World and Letter to an Englishman have been positively reviewed. Assessing The End of the Modern World, a collection of 161 sonnets on various contemporary themes, Peter Porter stated in the London Observer that Cronin's "book is a feast of reason, and should be snapped up by anyone who cares for good sense decked out in rhetoric." Letter to an Englishman, a long poem detailing the history of Ireland's political turmoil, was cited by Tim Dooley in the Times Literary Supplement for its "sometimes baggy couplets and self-indulgent or self-vaunting asides," but the critic also noted "the acuity of [the poem's] observations and the easy, amusing conversational manner [that] make Letter to an Englishman an engaged poem which also manages to be engaging."
Some of Cronin's other writings draw directly on his experiences in the postwar literary circles in Dublin and London that included friends and writers such as James Stephens, Flann O'Brien, Brendan Behan, Robert Colquhoun, and Patrick Kavanaugh. First published in 1964 and reprinted in 1983, Cronin's first novel, The Life of Riley, is a comic account of the title character, a part-time poet and full-time drinker, as he moves among literary aristocrats, impoverished bohemians, and various social misfits in London and Dublin. Considered a successfully comic novel when it was first published, The Life of Riley was judged more critically by later reviewers. George Craig in the Times Literary Supplement appreciated the character of Riley but found the eccentricity of the other individuals in the book to be overly drawn. Craig insisted that "with only Riley to set against an army of knaves and fools, the novel loses direction: there are too many … slow executions for it to be really funny, there is too little of Riley for it to be satirical."
In his second novel, Identity Papers, Cronin presents another look at the society of Dublin pubs with a story focusing on the Baron, an unsuccessful painter who unknowingly sells forgeries of important historical documents to the Celtic Library of Ireland. Determined to clear his name by locating the original documents, the Baron journeys through the various drinking establishments of Dublin in hopes of discovering some useful information. Along the way the Baron encounters characters based on Cronin's associates, such as Stephens and O'Brien, in an atmosphere filled with uniquely Irish attitudes and dialogue. Patricia Craig, in the Times Literary Supplement, described the book as "genuinely funny" and notable for its "distinctive narrative pattern."
Cronin also has attempted to capture the spirit of his contemporaries through nonfiction writings. Dead as Doornails: A Chronicle of Life is a portrait of Cronin and his artistic peers, their struggles to get their work recognized, their reactions to such recognition, and the interpersonal dynamics between the various writers. Two figures featured prominently in the book are the boisterous and intimidating Behan and the elusive Brian [O'Brien], who also wrote under the name Flann O'Brien. Critics faulted Cronin for not providing a detailed picture of O'Brien in Dead as Doornails, but Cronin provided a full-length look at the author in his biography No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O'Brien.
"In writing the life of [O'Brien], Cronin knows that he is simultaneously describing an individual, marking a psychological type, and annotating a certain historical predicament," stated Denis Donoghue in a Times Literary Supplement assessment of No Laughing Matter. Donoghue characterized the work as "a full-scale biography of Flann O'Brien…. an extremely telling document, written with the intelligence and generosity for which, not only in Ireland, [Cronin] is admired." Noted Kevin Barry in the London Review of Books: "Cronin's biography is absorbing…. Yet too much of the dreariness leaks into these pages. Cronin, as biographer, cannot detach himself from the milieu in which he grew up as a friend and acolyte to [O'Brien]. However, Cronin has achieved that distance in his more significant role as poet." Barry further commented on No Laughing Matter: "Cronin's other failure, to hunt down the pathology of [O'Brien's] satire, its purity and its cruelty, in the recesses of neurosis and sexuality, is an honourable one. What this memoir does give us is a storehouse of information about [O'Brien] at university, about the influence upon him of Niall Montgomery and his peers, about the shape of the life…. [However,] nowhere does it emerge from the pages of this book that economics, politics and the relationship of church and state were complex in these years. Many of the literary figures remain marooned in the cliches and taboos of their own dissent."
Other reviewers presented contrasting assessments of No Laughing Matter, praising Cronin's sensitive documentation of O'Brien's difficult life and career. According to Edward L. Galligan in Sewanee Review, the biography has "the blessed effect of making you want to read more of what [its] subject [has] written…. I admire … Cronin's clarity and charity in relating both the difficulty of O'Brien's private life and the large achievement of his novels … to the dingy complexities of life in Catholic Ireland in the first half of this century…. [Cronin does not waste] time gassing about books or the psychology of the men who wrote them…. [The biography has] some of the free-standing quality of good novels … you don't have to have much prior knowledge of … O'Brien's work to find the [book] absorbing." David Widgery commented in New Statesman & Society: "Cronin, the poet and ex-bohemian who is now a senior figure in Irish letters, is one of the few biographers capable of dealing with a man who was simultaneously an avant-garde literary stylist, industrious civil servant, Joycean, hack journalist and voluntary inhabitant of the Grangeogorman Hospital for alcoholics…. Cronin's biography is a joyous book…. His command of source material, especially letters and anecdote, is remarkable and his own experience of the Irish literary world is sparingly but tellingly utilized."
Cronin details another author in Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist. Some reviewers have compared Cronin's work to other biographies on Beckett, particularly James Knowlson's authorized Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. Some critics praised Cronin's book, as New York Review of Books contributor John Banville put it, as "by far the most elegantly written" of the many Beckett biographies. Samuel Beckett is also positively set apart from other works because in reporting on Beckett's twenty years in France "Cronin is splendidly informative on the intellectual and social milieu of Paris in the 1930s," wrote Banville, who generally described Samuel Beckett in the following manner: "His book is aimed at the general reader … and he has an eye for the good story and the startling detail. He is cool, measured, amused, and maintains a respectful yet often wittily ironic attitude toward his subject, acknowledging Beckett's human weaknesses as well as his strengths, his artistic failures as well as his triumphs."
Also comparing Cronin's unauthorized Samuel Beckett to Knowlson's "authorized biography," Lois Gordon summarized in the Times Literary Supplement that Cronin's book "has a more incisive feel for 'Frenchness' and Parisian life; more graphically describes pubs, heavy drinking, brothels and nocturnal wandering; has a more realistic grasp of the ambiguity of writer-publisher relations; and is more willing to take risks in making lively, albeit psychoanalytical, deductions, such as when he evokes Beckett's need for 'mother substitutes' or discusses the writer's friendship with Thomas MacGreevy, who was homosexual." Cronin's biography of Beckett "is a work of real novelistic flair by an Irish writer who knew both Beckett and his Dublin associates," observed Morris Dick-stein in the New York Times Book Review, noting other distinctions of Samuel Beckett: "Cronin, relying heavily on Beckett's letters and early fiction, is more attentive to the byways, hesitations and failures as they were experienced at the moment…. One virtue of [Samuel Beckett] is its shrewd and convincing portrayal of the many stages of Beckett's transformation from a quirky, self-conscious regional writer to a more universal one…. Cronin tries to make Beckett normal, to make him imaginable, but he is also attuned to the essential strangeness of his personality."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cronin, Anthony, Dead as Doornails: A Chronicle of Life, Dolmen (Dublin, Ireland), 1976, reprinted, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Library Journal, June 1, 1997; February 15, 1998, p. 141.
Listener, July 8, 1976; October 26, 1989.
London Review of Books, January 25, 1990, Kevin Barry, review of No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O'Brien, pp. 20-21; November 14, 1996.
New Statesman, September 27, 1996.
New Statesman & Society, November 3, 1989, David Widgery, review of No Laughing Matter, p. 38.
New York Review of Books, November 14, 1996, John Banville, review of Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist, pp. 24-29.
New York Times Book Review, August 3, 1997, Morris Dickstein, review of Samuel Beckett, p. 11.
Observer (London, England), October 3, 1986; August 20, 1989, Peter Porter, review of The End of the Modern World, p. 38; October 22, 1989; November 11, 1990.
Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1990.
Sewanee Review, spring, 1993, Edward L. Galligan, review of No Laughing Matter, pp. 282-289.
Spectator, October 28, 1989; September 21, 1996.
Times Educational Supplement, October 3, 1986, p. 30; October 18, 1996; October 30, 1996.
Times Literary Supplement, May 5, 1966, p. 388; March 21, 1980, Patricia Craig, review of Identity Papers, p. 326; August 19, 1983, David Profumo, review of New and Selected Poems, p. 886; October 21, 1983, George Craig, review of The Life of Riley, p. 1170; October 10, 1986, p. 1147; November 21, 1986, Tim Dooley, review of Letter to an Englishman, p. 1325; October 27, 1989, Denis Donoghue, review of No Laughing Matter, pp. 1171-1172; May 18, 1990, p. 522; September 27, 1996, Lois Gordon, review of Samuel Beckett, pp. 3-4.
Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1997, p. A12.
Washington Post, July 13, 1997, p. 9.
Washington Post Book World, August 11, 1991.