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243 COVER JAMES P. LEONARD The image on the cover of this issue first appeared on the dust jacket of the Irish translation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (published in 1934). This graphic is significant not for its artistic merit, but rather for what it reveals about early-twentieth-century Irish publishing history. The image testifies to the intriguing, often ironic, legacy of An Gúm, Dublin’s state-sponsored, state-funded publishing bureau. The Irish translation of Doyle’s popular English novel appeared at the height of An Gúm’s ambitious Irish-language publishing program, which, beginning in 1926, produced and marketed hundreds of Irish-language texts for middle -class consumption. During this period, Irish readers purchased heavily from the best seller lists in New York and London. Thus, An Gúm’s choice to balance titles of Irish interest with more popular, mass-market titles testifies to a cultural “tug of war” that defined the struggle to gain political independence—and to establish the character of the Irish nation after independence. In the early years of the Irish Free State—a period that cultural historians typically chronicle as unadventurous and bland—Irish readers gravitated to popular romance novels. Authors like Charlotte Brame, an English writer, and American Zane Grey topped the best seller lists, and Irish authors Annie Smithson and Maurice Walsh—both publishing light fiction —also sold well (Russell 27). While critics, religious leaders, and newspaper columnists were extolling or condemning publications like Joyce’s Ulysses or Bertrand Russell’s Marriage and Morals—both of which whipped the Catholic Truth Society into censorship frenzies—average Irish readers were gobbling up periodicals and mystery novels. Eason’s Monthly Bulletin of Trade News, which tracked public buying trends, confirms that those same readers remained fascinated by the lives of the English royals. “Cultural sophisticates they were not,” notes Elizabeth Russell (16). COVER COVER 244 Given that environment, the government-funded An Gúm had a difficult mission: to produce, promote, and sell Irish-language translations of popular literature and intellectual or scholarly subjects for middle-class Irish consumption. That mission became problematic, as the agency’s goals became entwined with the ideological agendas of its directors. Those directors did reach consensus on one overarching goal: to produce translations that stimulated Irish language activities and bolstered the vernacular . Of course such a mission had historical roots, for after 1916 most Irish nationalists regarded the Irish language as inextricably linked to the attainment of independence. Moreover, through the late 1920s and early 1930s, artists, critics, and politicians associated the revival of the spoken language with the nation’s survival and prosperity after independence (Kelly 29). For the cover of this issue, we have chosen an image borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel rather than one from a more familiar nationalist text such as Standish O’Grady’s The Coming of Cuchulainn—a favorite larger-than-life nationalist icon with “authentic” Irish roots. Our choice reflects the ideological and economic struggle between Irish cultural nationalists and intellectuals on the one hand, and the conservative bureaucrats at An Gúm on the other. An Gúm’s publishing catalog reveals how the organization sought to deliver both mass-market fiction and a substantial number of “Irish interest” titles to its audience. Many of the latter focused on the plight of the insurgent or featured tales of nationalist or folk heroism, editorial choices that suggest the agency’s political agenda. By publishing dozens of Irish authors and Irish interest titles in Irish translation, An Gúm supported a native language and culture that had been in decline. But to fund its less profitable projects, the agency sought to build a publishing program catering to the mass-market tastes of the Irish middle class. Thus, An Gúm’s ideology could work with—in fact, exploit —the economic benefits of popular tastes and spending habits. A sampling of some “Irish interest” titles suggests An Gúm’s nationalist bent: S.R. Keightley’s The Pikemen; James Murphy’s In Emmet’s Day and Hugh Roach, the Ribbonman; Mrs. M.T. Pender’s The Last of the Irish...


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pp. 243-245
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