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WILLIAM CARLETON, DEMIURGE OF IRISH CARNIVAL: FARDOROUGHA THE MISER, 1839 DAVID KRAUSE . . . only Carleton, born and bred a peasant, was able to give us the vast multitude of grotesque, pathetic, humourous persons, misers, pig-drivers, drunkards, school-masters, labourers, priests, madmen, and to Wll them all with an abounding vitality. . . . he was what few men have even been or can ever be, the creator of a new imaginative world, the demiurge of a new tradition. —W. B. Yeats the twentieth century comic world of James Joyce and the nineteenthcentury comic world of William Carleton—I want to begin with an analogy between the way these two literary giants created an abounding and indestructible vision of Ireland in their Wction. According to Frank Budgen, Joyce explained one of the aims in writing his great novel Ulysses in the following ambitious terms: “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.”1 With proper respect for Joyce’s grand scheme, it should be pointed out that the reconstructed picture of Dublin would be more faithfully accurate with the addition of some essential people and places from his Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man— as well as from the indigenous and earthy Dublin of Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan, and Flann O’Brien. And if a similar reconstruction had to be made of nineteenth-century peasant Ireland, which has indeed disappeared now, a faithful picture could be recreated from Carleton’s great folk-epic comedy Fardorougha the Miser, as well as from his Traits and Stories of the Irish WILLIAM CARLETON, DEMIURGE OF IRISH CARNIVAL 24 1 Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1934), pp. 67–68. Peasantry, but it would not be necessary to add any material from the writings of Maria Edgeworth, the Banims, or Gerald GriYn. I have decided to stress Fardorougha because it has too seldom been recognized and celebrated as a comic masterpiece; because, though it was apparently enjoyed by readers in Carleton’s time, it has since then been ignored or misunderstood by largely indiVerent critics who to this day have not perceived it to be a Wnely constructed and artfully rendered dark comedy; and because this novel, along with the short Wction in Traits and Stories, reXects the full measure of Carleton’s remarkable genius. Therefore , I want to present Carleton through Fardorougha as a striking example of what W. B. Yeats called the Celtic Demiurge, the symbolic creator who reigned over the primal and palpable peasant world of Ireland. I want to oVer this novel also as a quintessential illustration of what the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin called the carnival world of comic Wction, as a rare emblem of what, in their separate yet related ways, Yeats and Bakhtin saw as the vitality and variety of the rich folkloric imagination. From many perspectives Carleton is a complex Wgure who has been approached with too many qualiWcations in an attempt to account for his minor inconsistencies and contradictions. In his own time, as well as ours, William Carleton (1794–1869) emerges as something of an enigma, for he is a towering and elusive artist who deWes convenient classiWcation. As a man and as a writer, Carleton could be both wildly creative and conservative, rebellious and insecure, strongly profane and sometimes sympathetic to religious faith, antidoctrinaire and sometimes accommodating to secular views. He lived through some of the worst years of agrarian conXict and the disastrous Famine of early nineteenth-century Ireland, and these tragic realities of necessity appear in his Wction, particularly in his tragicomic novels , where some form of violence functions as an overriding symbol of grim Irish experience, tempered only by Carleton’s compassion and his comic vision of survival. Perhaps Sigmund Freud most eVectively accounted for this connection between the shock of a tragic experience and a comic reaction to it as a psychological impulse that creates compensatory laughter when he wrote: “Now humor is a means of obtaining pleasure in spite of the distressing aVects that interfere...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 24-46
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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