Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Luck and Irish Literature by Jacqueline Seewald

The Ides of March, the 15th and 16th of this month, traditionally bode ill luck. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the emperor is warned to “Beware the Ides of March” by the Soothsayer. Julius, not being a superstitious sort of fellow and believing the nonsense about his personal immortality, sneers, ignores the warning, and refers to the Soothsayer as “a dreamer.” Not Caesar’s wisest decision.

 It will soon be St. Patrick’s Day which supposedly brings good luck and fortune. People do at times have lucky things happen to them and at other times suffer misfortunes like ill health, accidents or assaults. However, authors prefer to believe that for the most part we make our own luck.

According to Napoleon: “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” I apply that statement to authors. We get lucky with our work when we’ve done adequate preparation—that is being well-read, writing, rewriting, and editing until we’ve created something of value and quality. If we’re too lazy or too full of ourselves to make this kind of effort and commitment then alas we’ll never “get lucky.”

Luck is often a theme in literature. For example, Thomas Hardy created characters that were unlucky like Tess or Jude. Yet it could be argued that their bad luck came as a direct result of fatal flaws in their own characters. This is where tragedy derives from. Things don’t just happen. There is a cause and effect relationship.

I write about and admire main characters with positive values who make their own good luck and overcome obstacles through personal effort, not bemoaning their fate or bad luck. To quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar again, as Cassius observes: “Our fate, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

In tribute to Irish literature which often deals with themes related to luck, I want to mention a few of the outstanding Irish writers I’ve appreciated over the years.

As an undergraduate English major, I read and enjoyed John Millington Synge’s The  Playboy of the Western World. Synge celebrated the lyrical speech of the Irish in his boisterous play.

In graduate school, I took a semester seminar on the works of
William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet. I learned a great deal about Irish mythology from his work.

George Bernard Shaw was also of Irish origins and a great playwright, another favorite of mine. His plays still hold up because of thought-provoking themes and clever dialogue.

I’ve read James Joyce’s stories and novels but most appreciated his earlier work. I thought Portrait of the Artist was brilliant as was Dubliners, his short story collection. His style was original and unique.

Satirist Jonathan Swift is often thought of as a children’s writer, but this is, of course, completely false.
Notable Works: Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift
Oscar Wilde was a talented Irish writer and playwright. Sentenced to two years in prison for gross indecency (homosexuality), he eventually lost his creative spark.
Notable Works: The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest (play), Poems, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (children’s book), A Woman of No Importance (play)
Abraham Stoker (Bram Stoker) gave us Dracula (enough said!)
Lawrence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, C.S. Lewis all had Irish origins as well, although they left Ireland for England. The list of outstanding Irish men and women who have provided great literature is very long and therefore beyond the scope of this mere blog.

Did these Irish writers believe in luck? Were they merely lucky?  Do you have any favorite Irish authors? Your thoughts and comments welcome!


  1. As always,Jacquie, I learned interesting facts from your blog. One of my personal favorites is William Butler Yeats. I began my writing sojourn with poetry and will always love it.

  2. Very interesting info. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I didn't know that Stoker was Irish. Learn something new every day. The next book up on my TBR list is The Picture of Dorian Grey. Looking forward to it. I'll probably be reading it on St. Patrick's Day, so I hope it'll bring me luck. :)

  4. An excellent post, Jacquie.I agree about the need to make our own luck. And I love the mention of these Irish playwrights. Many years ago I directed and acted in The Playboy of the Western World. I directed Synge's tragic Riders to the Sea, too.So beautiful and so tragic, losing all her sons.

    1. Nancy,

      Acting and directing must have been an incredible experience, especially working with such great plays.

  5. I do firmly believe that we make our own luck via determination and extended study and application. I don't think luck comes out of nowhere to land magically on us and change our destinies.

  6. For the most part, I think success in anything is a combination of talent and hard work.

  7. My own Irish roots (maiden name: McDaniel) have given me perseverance and a dram of luck--both necessary for publication in my estimation. An English major and teacher, I LOVE all the Irish lit you name and have taught much of it with surprising success. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

  8. Thanks for dropping by, Susan. I guess tomorrow, everyone can be Irish!