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“THE REST SHOULD BE SILENCE”: THE SECOND SELF IN THE WORKS OF JOHN O’DONOVAN BERNARD MCKENNA in his Abbey plays, his correspondence, and his critical biographies, John O’Donovan (1921–1986) betrays a fascination with the eVort to build a second self, a public mask or disguise, to protect the private self.1 O’Donovan further reveals that the impetus for protection is natural and benign . He builds one for himself to counteract bar-room gossip. Ultimately, however, he shows the more malignant consequences of constructing the mask. Success or failure becomes the ability to manufacture a convincing second self rather than satisfying the impulse that made the mask necessary . Further, a careful reading of his works reveals that O’Donovan has a personal dissatisfaction with the mask; he represents characters bitter and dissatisWed as a consequence of their disguises. The second self in O’Donovan ’s writing functions initially as a protection but evolves into a destructive force that eventually destroys the substance of his characters. In a letter to Robert Hogan, John O’Donovan writes that the “hint” of “public gossip . . . amused” him.2 His characters, however, do not assume THE SECOND SELF IN THE WORKS OF JOHN O’DONOVAN 165 1 John O’Donovan (1921–1986) was born in Dublin and educated by the Christian Brothers. Before the Second World War, he worked as a clerk at several Dublin businesses. During the war, he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service and was assigned to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. In 1945 he returned to Dublin and gradually entered into journalism working for the Radio Times, The Irish Press, and the Evening Press. His career as a playwright began slowly. Four early plays were rejected by the Abbey. Eventually, the Abbey accepted The Half-Millionaire, and would stage it and four other plays between 1954 and 1963—The Less We Are Together, The Change of Mind, the Shaws of Synge Street, and Copperfaced Jack. In 1965 O’Donovan published Shaw and the Charlatan Genius—an account of Shaw’s relationship with Vandaleur Lee. O’Donovan has also written plays for RTÉ and the BBC including Carlotta and The Fiddler and the Dean. However, for the Wnal twenty years of his life, O’Donovan’s energies were consumed by journalism and the Society of Irish playwrights. 2 John O’Donovan to Robert Hogan, September 1, 1965. O’Donovan Papers. University Delaware Library, Newark. such an indiVerent air. Eliza, from Copperfaced Jack, notes that “a woman can’t aVord to have people talk about her,”3 and Swift’s character, in The Fiddler and the Dean, points out that “people generally talk most about what they know least.”4 Furthermore, O’Donovan himself revealed a fascination with public scandal when he chatted with Lady Hanson. . . . She happened to mention that Mrs. Shaw’s carryings-on in Dublin were a cause of great scandal. I pricked up my ears, especially when L.H. . . . went on to talk of broken homes, separations and a suicide. But presently it transpired that this Mrs. Shaw was not the Mrs. Shaw.5 O’Donovan, like characters in the Dublin society of Copperfaced Jack and The Fiddler and the Dean, longs for contact. They begin to construct myths, to manufacture masks, in order to achieve contact with an elusive other. Their construction obviously belies full communion; they gain contact with the myths and not the individuals. But it also has a subtler eVect. It compels the objects of the gossip to protect themselves against the public talk. Each constructs a mask to rival the masks built against them. For O’Donovan, it was a neo-Shavian persona: “My fellow writers could forgive me for my writing if it weren’t that I’m a non-smoker, which makes them distrust me; and a teetotaler, which makes them hate me. As for my vegetarianism . . .”6 For George Bernard Shaw, whose life occupied much of O’Donovan’s creative work, it took the form of a direct assault. He “refused to sanction O’Bolger’s manuscript [a Shaw biography] when the publisher submitted it to him for approval” (SCG 12); apparently, it examined Shaw’s mother’s...


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