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“A PARTICULAR FLAIR, A HOUND’S NOSE, A KEEN SCENT”: SEAN O’FAOLAIN’S EDITORSHIP OF THE BELL HEATHER BRYANT JORDAN sean o’faolain chose the occasion of the Wrst birthday of his monthly magazine The Bell to reXect upon its progress toward “distinguish[ing] between life and non-life.”1 In the autumn of 1941, it was his view that continued success could only be assured through vigilant application of a “hound’s nose” to all matters Irish.2 Such spiritedly self-conscious exhortations mark O’Faolain’s editorials which opened almost every issue of his determinedly eclectic journalistic enterprise. In April, 1946, when O’Faolain passed the torch to his managing editor Peadar O’Donnell, a great deal was lost, although the diminishment did not make itself immediately apparent . It became clear that it had been O’Faolain who made cohere the contradictory and energetic paradoxes The Bell embodied; when he turned his attention elsewhere, the pressing vitality continued to dissipate until it Xickered out in the fragmentary last issue of December, 1954. His editorship became synonymous with an era of imaginative and practical possibility in a time of war and isolation. It comes as no surprise that the magazine O’Faolain founded expressed his own far-reaching attitudes and interests. Every issue plays out the conXicting convictions he held in tension. What is perhaps more remarkable is the way he fearlessly and eagerly sought to expose and explore these clashes. He craved intellectually honest debate, a goal that sounds all too elusive today. His editorials and the myriad monthly choices he made show him mediating passionately among the debates informing his time: between old and new, regional and international, rural and urban, Catholic and sectarian, isolated and uniWed, sophisticated and plain, myth and reality, SEAN O’FAOLAIN’S EDITORSHIP OF THE BELL 149 1 Bell 2(6): 12. 2 Bell 2(6): 12. romantic and sentimental, native and European, Gaelic and English, literature and politics, artiWce and laissez-faire, church and state, intellectual and practical, northern and southern, colonial and independent, established and Xedgling, subjective and objective. His selection of a name for the magazine, taken from Kolokel, a Russian newspaper supplement edited by Alexsandr Herzen and published in Geneva and London from 1857 through 1867, illustrates O’Faolain’s manylayered quest. Such a choice underscores Hubert Butler’s observation that O’Faolain was “not merely making a magazine but shaping a literature, or calling it into being.”3 Saying he was taken by “bell” as a “spare and hard and simple word,” he also claimed to want a word with no associations.4 By following in the liberal tradition of Herzen’s earlier publication under an oppressive regime—one which had inspired the imaginations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev—he was placing himself within a context, within a parameter of associations already made. At the same time that he longed to strike out on his own, to create a new and unsullied medium for expression, O’Faolain was recalling an already established nontraditional tradition. Such paradoxes color every aspect of O’Faolain’s tenure at The Bell. Hoping the magazine could simultaneously see within and without Ireland, O’Faolain yearned “to see clearly” into the heart of a “young nation” but also to direct “a telescope on the busy coast of Europe.”5 He also found himself caught between his articulated desire to provide the life spirit of the publication while fervently and repeatedly declaring his mandate to his readership “This is your magazine.”6 Even as he wished to allow “nature” “to give the magazine its own time created character,” he fought to impose his own unmistakable imprint.7 This was a sleight of hand extraordinaire. In his juggling act, O’Faolain further struggled with the deWning schism of his career: the life of the mind and the life of action. By heeding his perennial desire to forge a link between idealism and realism, he set up his criteria for discourse “decent, friendly, possibly hot-tempered, but always polite and constructive.”8 Whatever the internal dichotomies, they spoke SEAN O’FAOLAIN’S EDITORSHIP OF THE BELL 150 3 Hubert Butler, “The Bell: An Anglo-Irish...


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