Friday, March 13, 2020

Luck in Literature

Today, Friday the 13th, is considered an unlucky day. The Ides of March, the 15th and 16th of this month, traditionally bode ill luck as well. 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 in 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. Luck is a reoccurring theme in Irish literature. 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 a common 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 Greek tragedy derives from. Things don’t just happen. There is a cause and effect relationship. The Victorian writers used coincidence commonly in their plot lines, something modern writers try to avoid.

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 as observed 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 a 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.
My mystery novel, DEATH PROMISE, is set in Las Vegas, and surprise, luck does play a part in it.

Do you believe in luck? Do you have any favorite Irish authors? Your thoughts and comments welcome!


23 comments:

  1. You listed some of my favorite writers, Jacquie. Happy St. Patty's Day.

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  2. Timely and appropriate and a good reminder or examples of writers who expand their readers. I want to be like them...and you. Thanks

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  3. Nice walk through the literary contributions of some of my favorites. May you have the luck o' the Irish this month, even on Friday the 13th, Jacquie!

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  4. I love the quote from Napoleon: “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” That's the way I think it works. Making good decisions and preparing for the future is best. Relying on luck can be, and often is, disastrous. Great post, Jacqui. Happy Irish Days this month to you!

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  5. Wow! I'm lucky to have read your post. Learned an embarrassing amount about Irish authors. I think that luck comes to those willing to put in some sweat and teardrops.

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    1. Hi Kathy,

      Nice to hear from you! Love your book covers. Bold and colorful.

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  6. Great list of works, Jacqueline. And I definitely think we make our own luck with hard work and preparation.

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    1. Hi Paul,

      I agree. I do believe preparation and hard work make us lucky.

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  7. Sorry I'm late to the party Jacqueline! Had a busy day yesterday...my grandson graduated his DARE program and his essay was one of 6 (in the whole 5th grade class!) to be read aloud!

    Friday the 13th has never bothered me except for those stupid movies of the same name LOL and I LOVE the Luck o' the Irish :-)

    Don't have any favorite Irish authors but love Nora Roberts Born In trilogy set in Ireland. She has a few more set there to and I love them all but these 3 are some I keep and read over and over...I've had to replace them at least twice LOL!

    Great blog.
    Good luck and God's blessings
    PamT

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    1. Hi Pam,

      Yes Nora Roberts does set some great novels in Ireland. So does Carla Neggers. They combine mystery and romance so well.

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  8. Jacqueline, another intelligent, well constructed blog from you. And, of course, educational. I've always liked that line, "where preparation meets opportunity," and yet I didn't know who to attribute it to. Now I do! Thanks, Napoleon. I also didn't know that Bram Stoker's full name was Abraham Stoker, author of one of my favorite novels, and certainly one of the most unique, Dracula. Oscar Wilde's, The Picture of Dorian Grey is another of literature's finest. But the mentioning of these books wasn't your main premise, it was about luck in literature. So to link 'luck' with various Irish authors (among others) made for a very creative and enjoyable blog.

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    1. Thank you, Keith, for reading and commenting. The luck of the Irish with you on this day and every other!

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  9. Ah, I did read your blog last week...and enjoyed it.

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