On 3 February 1911, a 40 year-old signwriter and decorator called Robert Noonan died of tuberculosis in the Royal Infirmary in Liverpool. Without family or friends in the city, he received a pauper’s burial. Three hundred miles away, in a deed-box in Hastings, lay the handwritten manuscript of his unpublished novel, ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’. The story of how this book became a major influence on socialist thinking is rather more remarkable than his life.
W(illiam) B(utler) Yeats (1865-1939) was an Irish poet, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He is widely regarded as the best poet to write in English during the twentieth century, and was the driving force behind the Irish literary revival.
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 – 1873) was an Irish novelist and short story writer. A moderately successful writer during his lifetime, he slipped into obscurity after his death, until the writer M.R. James published a collection of his stories under the title of ‘Madam Crowl and Other Tales of Mystery’. The success of the book led to greater popularity for a further collection, ‘In a Glass Darkly’, and the novels ‘The House by the Churchyard’ and ‘Uncle Silas.
“I have put my genius into my life, all I have put into my works is my talents”. In many ways, the written works of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) are overshadowed by the drama of his life, and the incandescence of his personality, but they should not be undervalued. Whether it is the wit of his plays, the intriguing premise of his only novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray, the sporadic brilliance of his poetry or the delightful charm of his children’s stories, not just the talent but the genius of the man shines through.
James Joyce (1882 – 1941) was an Irish novelist and playwright, and is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His short story collection, ‘Dubliners’, and his novels ‘A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man’, ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Finnegans Wake’ are unique.
Laurence Stern (1713 -1768) was an author whose work divided opinion during his lifetime and has continued to do so ever since. His most notable work, ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy’ was a ground-breaking novel which experimented with new forms of narration, parodied other authors and included some bawdy humour for good measure. Dismissed as a novelty by some critics, his book has been cited as an influence on Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and many others.
It has been said of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, that it “not only set the standard for subsequent novels in the horror-mystery genre but also helped establish the vampire as one of the most recognizable figures in the popular arts.” Stoker (1847-1912) wrote many other works of some merit, but achieved lasting fame through his iconic invention.
Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) was born and educated in Ireland, but moved to England in his early twenties, and became an ordained priest. In ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, he created a book that has been one of the most consistently popular books written in the eighteenth century, and probably the finest prose satire in the English language.