Hugh Latimer, or The School Boys’ Friendship (1828)

I’ve wanted to read this extremely rare novel by Susannah Strickland for years, so you can imagine my excitement when I recently discovered a readable grainy microfiche version. I have to confess it’s the first time I’ve ever read a book this way, but it was well worth the effort.

The novel revolves around a 12 year old boy called Hugh Latimer who attends a foundation school as a scholarship boy. He is the son of a widowed shopkeeper and gee doesn’t he get some abuse from his aristocratic peers. The children taunt him with insults like ‘beggar’s brat,’ but Latimer struggles on bravely through his school days with the help of his best friend Montrose. As the book progresses the boys develop a deep and lasting friendship and they learn much from their uncles and school master, Mr. Manby. From the very start, when Hugh asks to be taken from the school, his uncle asks ‘what would you rather be a gentleman or a shopkeeper?’ when Hugh replies the former, his uncle retorts ‘well don’t let them take that advantage from you’. The novel is also rich in biblical lessons, especially those found in the the book of St. Matthew, and one is given a real insight into early 19th century mentality. The author Mrs. Strickland develops several themes in her writing which she feels strongly about; in particular, she exposes and tackles class and racial prejudices which were both problematic during this period. In one scene the boys are walking arm in arm and happen to meet a black youth who enters the school with a basket of cakes on his head. Being a book of its time we encounter a vexing racist attack. The author lectures the reader on the evils of idleness and highlights this as the reason for the assault. Our hero Montrose then appears on the scene and threatens to thrash the boys for their inhumanity. When they leave we hear him addressing the youth ‘so where do you live, Blackey?’ He is clearly a thoughtful boy, but he has much to learn! Anyway, after the youth refuses their financial assistance, Montrose decides they should all visit his uncle. The Colonel then repays old ‘Blackey’ and after a long fruitful lecture he joins their hands and solemnly declares they must remain friends for life.

Later in the story with the introduction of Sinclair, the novel turns its focus to class prejudice. The pompous Sinclair with his upper class ancestry causes great mischief to Latimer’s friendship with Montrose. Having seen this unfold, Mr. Manby invites Hugh to his residence for tea. Hugh confesses he is heartbroken after being forsaken by Montrose and here Mr. Manby reveals his own humble origins as a foundation boy. He recalls being bullied by a youth called Carey, who spared few opportunities in humiliating him in front of his peers. One summer’s morning while out walking his dog he noticed somebody struggling in the water. It was Carey, and feeling nothing but indignation he decided to stand by and watch him drown. It was only after his dog jumped in the water and swam towards the boy that he came to his senses and dragged Carey onto the riverbank. Manby continues by explaining how they wept in each other’s arms, forgave the past and how Carey died peacefully in God grace, washed free of all his sins [naturally Carey’s death is full of pious reflections and comforting promises of everlasting life].

In the latter part of the novel Montrose invites Latimer to his uncle’s for the holidays. Of course Latimer initially hesitates after hearing that Sinclair and his siblings will also be there. Latimer arrives at the Colonel’s house and a week passes without any news from the brats. The boys and the Colonel spend their happy days in the pursuit of knowledge and science. When the arrogant Sinclair finally arrives he sees Latimer playing chess with his sister and declares he is no suitable playfellow for his sibling. The next morning Sinclair ignores Latimer’s salutations, and Montrose launches into an angry rant in defense of his friend. The Sinclair brothers leave the room and the Colonel tries to patch things up. The week passes in haughty politeness but with no sense of any warmness developing. Later, during a group drama where the parts are divided according to personality, the Sinclair sisters remark that ‘Latimer’ should naturally be the servant. The wounded boy retaliates: ‘what of it. My father was once a proud servant who died fighting for his country’.

While Montrose is downstairs chatting with chums from school, Latimer hears one of the girls shrieking as her dress catches fire. She is completely engulfed in flames so he raps her in a blanket and manages to singe off his eyelids so severally he cannot see for days. Next there follows a mawkish and unrealistic scene where the Sinclair’s fall at Latimer’s feet weeping and forgetting their old prejudices, thank him for saving their sister’s life. A few days later when the party departs (with Hugh still bedridden) he is given ‘handsome gifts’ for the services he rendered to the girl. The Colonel then sits with Latimer and points out a sword hanging on the wall. When he asks the boy to guess who that sword belonged to, Hugh, answered ‘to a hero?’ to which the Colonel replies, ‘yes, it was your fathers’. An ecstatic Hugh then asks the Colonel how he knew his father.  The Colonel explains how he was not dissimilar to the haughty Sinclair in his youth and had treated Latimer’s father (who was his commanding officer) with much contempt because of his humble origins. After repeatedly trying to antagonise him he eventually struck him in the face. The noble officer reminded him that he could be sentenced to death for his affront, but concluded how he was grateful there were no witnesses, as the matter could now end in a truce. As a sign of new found respect they exchanged their swords.

In the process of time the two boys become top of their school. The famous Lord Peterborough is passing through the area and requests to see the establishment. Latimer as the head scholar delivers an excellent speech in Latin, and after making some enquiries Lord Peterborough learns he is the son of the brave soldier who had thrice saved his life. To return the favour Hugh is awarded a pair of colours by the peer and a 50 pound annual pension for his mother and lame uncle. And here the novel concludes with the following beautiful paragraph:

‘The two young friends entered the army together; they served in the same regiment, fought in the same battles, and bled the same cause. Montrose, after many gallant actions, was made Lord Grahame; and his friend Latimer, rising by degrees to the height of his profession, received the badge of knighthood from the hand of his sovereign’.

For me, this book was both charming and silly at the same time. Often the scenes were overly mawkish, and the boys’ relationship was too mushy. Nevertheless, if one can see past this, and have the patience to wade through the religious moralising and shallow characters, I think it is well worth a read, even if only to appreciate the forward thinking ideas of the author.


Forgotten British Novels (1800-1829)

For those of you who enjoy obscure or long forgotten books, I’ve found a superb database cataloguing British novels published between 1800-1829. Created by the good folks at Cardiff University, the database allows users to examine bibliographical records of 2,272 works of fiction written by approximately 900 authors, along with a large number of contemporary materials.

Perhaps you will discover something interesting like the works of the prolific Mary Meeke, who wrote novels with curious titles such as: Midnight Weddings (1802), Old Wife and Young Husband (1804) and There is a Secret! Find it Out (1808).

The database can be found at:

Keats & Coleridge – Romanticism

A brief look at Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale and Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight. What links them to the Romantic tradition?

In a letter to Benjamin Bailey (Nov 1817) Keats wrote ‘I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination – what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.’ This is an interesting quote as it sums up one view of Romanticism as a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Writers, artists, and composers during the Romantic period valued intuition over learning and imagination over doctrine. This is a direct contrast to the earlier Age of Enlightenment which valued both logic and science. The Romantics wanted their work to be for everybody (not just for the educated) and to bring back the spiritual with a new language connected to nature and beauty. It is with this view in mind that I would like to analyse two poems from this period and to demonstrate how their language and content links them as examples of ‘Romantic’ poetry.

In ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ the speaker directs his address to a nightingale as a way of expressing an intense thought and feeling. ‘The first half of the ode shows how the speaker desires to escape the self and its human condition’ (Wolfson, 2001, p.91). Stanza one begins with thudding alliteration – a sense of melancholy. This is reinforced with ‘numbness’, ‘dull opiates’ and ‘sunk’. He is too happy in his happiness and is tipping over into sadness. In stanza two he longs for wine and the sensuous joys of summer. We see this in ‘tasting of Flora’, ‘country green’ and ‘sunburnt mirth!’ In both stanzas the poet is focusing on his own feelings and intuition rather than trying to apply reason and logic. These were important ideas to the ‘Romantics’ who valued nature and spontaneity and the importance of the individual self. Continuing with the analysis, we notice the mood shift in stanza four where he connects with the world of the nightingale and talks of light in both the literal and spiritual sense. This ‘experienced’ enchantment is intensified (in stanza five) with vivid images and references to different sensory experiences. We have sight: ‘white hawthorn’ and ‘pastoral eglantine’, fragrance (or smell): ‘the coming musk rose’, taste: ‘dewy wine’ and lastly hearing: ‘the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves’.  This intensity peaks in stanza six with a moment of complete happiness ‘now more than ever seems it rich to die’. In stanza seven he refers to the bird as a symbol of immortality and links legend, romance, the bible and the timelessness of the nightingale’s song. The repetition of the word ‘forlorn’ interestingly punctures the poem and here the speaker returns grounded to the original place. We are reminded of the important ‘Romantic’ principle of imagination through the elevation of the poets self – the contrast between earth v. heaven and stasis v. movement. In the final stanza the speaker’s soul returns to the earth from its visionary world gentle and dreamy, ending with two questions ‘Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: – Do I wake or sleep?’ which concludes nothing other than ‘the ode itself and its musical fellowship with a vanished nightingale’ (Wolfson, 2001, p.92).

Looking at the structure of the poem we notice the ode is composed of ten line stanzas: a Shakespearian sonnet-quatrain (abab) plus a Petrachan sestet (cdecde). According to Wolfson (2001) ‘this form subscribes to a metrical contract, against which a contrarian poet such as Keats could play the urgencies of passion and impulse. The ode is graceful and free and it is fluidly handled’. It builds to a climax and returns to earth gently. This is a wonderful example of a poem that focuses on the less tangible ‘Romantic’ areas of human experiences.

If we now consider Coleridge’s poem Frost at Midnight. We notice that the overriding concern of the speaker is his relationship with his infant son and his aspiration for him to have a better start in life. We notice ‘the silence of the house is pregnant with preternatural energy’ (Keanie, 2002, p.64) but it is a quality silence ‘the kind of silence that has absolutely nothing to do with loneliness, or emptiness; the kind of silence that actually empowers the consciousness’ (Keanie, 2002, p.64). An interesting ‘Romantic’ platform to begin our analysis of the ideas within the poem.

As with Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, nature plays an important part in ‘Frost at Midnight’ and it is used to great effect in the poem. The speaker is acutely aware of what is going on both inside and outside of the cottage. In stanza one he is hyper-aware and dwells on a mixture of intrusive thoughts ‘abstruser musings’ and mix of sensory information ‘inaudible as dreams’ ‘thin blue flame’ and ‘fluttered’. In addition to this the silence is broken twice by an ‘owlets cry’. These are important as they show the poet being both introspective and highly aware of his surroundings. He is using his imagination and internalising, two important ‘Romantic’ ideas. Stanza two is a recollection of his school days. We find ‘stirred’ and ‘haunted’ and ‘wild pleasures’. He also adds ‘supernatural’ qualities to his childhood memories as when he refers to the church bells as ‘sounds of things to come.’ In stanza three he comes back to the present and contrasts his upbringing in the city with images of nature and the sublime. He imagines his child growing up submerged in the awesomeness of nature ‘wander like a breeze/by lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags/of ancient mountains, and beneath the clouds.’ The poem also has a strong Christian element where nature represents the physical presence of God’s word. We notice this in ‘Himself in all, and all things in himself’. This is important as he links nature with the divine. The final stanza concludes with a message of hope for his child. It is full of optimistic gems from all the seasons. We find ‘summer and greenness’ the ‘robin redbreast betwixt tufts of snow’ and ‘the secret ministry of frost.’

The poem is a verse monologue. It was classed by Coleridge as one of his ‘conversational’ poems. According to Audet (1970) ‘much of the poems success derives from the tension created between the poet’s extreme emotion and his natural, conversational language’. The poem ‘has a restraint and naturalness of language which suits the rather simple events described. To obtain this naturalness, Coleridge has employed a flexible, easy-flowing blank verse’ (Audet, 1970). It is this conversational style that marks it as a truly ‘Romantic’ poem that can appeal to anybody no matter how educated or uneducated. It is full of natural imagery, human instinct and is considered by many to a seminal poem from this period.


AUDET, R.A. 1970. ‘Frost at Midnight’: The Other Coleridge [www] (6th Jan, 2012)

FERGUSON, M., SALTER, M.J., STALLWORTHY, J. 2005. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 5th edn. London: W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 935-937 & pp. 810-811.

KEANIE, A. 2002. Student Guide to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: Greenwich Exchange, pp. 62-64.

WOLDSON, S.J. 2001. The Cambridge Companion to Keats. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 90-93.


KRAUZE, A., SPENCER, L. 1997. Introducing the Enlightenment. Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd.

O’HARA, K. 2010. The Enlightenment. Oxford: One World Publications

WHITNEY, E. 2010. English Romanticism [www] (6th Jan, 2012)

Drift: Verses (1900) – Horatio Brown

I’ve decided to share with you today a small poem from Horatio Brown’s extremely uncommon anthology “Drift: Verses” which made a limited appearance in 1900. It was suppressed before publication due to its homoerotic nature. Brown spent most of his adult life in Venice, a dedicated aficionado of Italian history and young gondoliers.


[At a London Music]

Two rows of foolish faces blent

In two blurred lines; the compliment,

The formal smile, the cultured air,

The sense of falseness everywhere.

Her ladyship superbly dresses –

I like their footman, John, the best.


The tired musicians’ ruffled mien,

Their whispered talk behind the screen,

The frigid plaudits, quite confined

By fear of being unrefined.

His lordship’s grave and courtly jest –

I like their footman, John, the best.


Remote I sat with shaded eyes,

Supreme attention in my guise,

And heard the whole laborious din,

Piano, ‘cello, violin;

And so, perhaps, they hardly guessed

I liked their footman, John, the best.

Left to Themselves (1891)

Left to Themselves: Being the Ordeal of Philip and Gerald (1891)

By Edward Irenaeus Prime Stevenson

Known to scholars as the author of the first openly American gay novel, Edward Irenaeus Stevenson remains a largely forgotten and neglected writer. Over a decade before the publication of his ground breaking literary milestone, he published Left to Themselves a fascinating young adult novel, which in my humble opinion is a gem that deserves a revival. Stevenson writes with gusto as we follow the adventures of two boys, who united in romantic friendship, overcome the most incredible obstacles. It’s really hard to believe that such an enthralling novel with a shipwreck, an attempted kidnap, an equinoctial tempest and a relentless predator could have remained out of print for over a hundred years! It was reissued only earlier this year by the excellent Valancourt Books.



Patrick Sip, a seasoned tramp, is grumbling about life, after his fifth escape from the workhouse. He is asking himself what people find so attractive about nature when he can’t even get a morsel to eat except berries in season. He sees the twelve year old, well-to-do, Gerald Saxton, who is fishing and decides to harass him for his hamper. The startled boy sprints towards a farmhouse and the chase is only cut short by the intervention of an older boy, Philip Touchstone.

Philip and Gerald bond instantly on their wagon journey to the Ossokosee Hotel. Gerald notices how Philip becomes red in the face when he talks about his father. At the lodge they overhear General Sawtelle discussing Philip’s deceased father, and Philip decides it’s only fair that Gerald should hear the truth before they become firmer friends. It transpires that Mr. Touchstone was involved in the infamous Suburban Trust Company robbery for which he was later sent to prison. After his release he died of consumption. His wife also died, and Philip was left an orphan. The chapter concludes with a closer intimacy between the two boys, with Gerald declaring he doesn’t believe what people say about Philip’s father.

The following day Mr. Marcy and Gerald go to the river to watch the annual regatta. Gerald is excited and hopes to see Philip rowing for the Ossokosees crew. The Ossokosees have been beaten three consecutive times by the Victors, so many have turned up for the race. The race is beautifully narrated by the author and we see a glorious victory for the Ossokosee Club. At the end of the chapter we are told Philip and Gerald go to sleep, ‘Gerald with one hand under his yellow head, and the other just touching Philip’s arm’.

Mr. Marcy receives a letter from Gerald’s father requesting his presence in Nova Scotia. Philip is asked to escort Gerald on the long trip, and the boys are delighted with the idea. On their train journey to New York they fail to notice a strange man listening to their conversation. He reads the letter that Gerald has carelessly dropped and disappears. Minutes later the train arrives at the next station and the supposed ‘Mr. Hilliard’ greets the boys with some alarming news. His apartment has apparently been involved in a fire, and he suggests the boys come to the Windsor hotel for the night. Of course, Philip is suspicious, but Gerald thinks it will be fun! Thankfully, the train experiences engine troubles and stops for repairs. The passengers decide to stretch their legs until they are summoned back by the whistle. During the interval, ‘Mr. Hilliard’ sees to some business, and the boys explore an abandoned cellar. Suddenly, they hear the whistle, but they arrive too late and the train departs without them! Finding themselves in a quandary, they catch the adjacent freight train, and alight somewhere in up-town New York. They find Mr. Hilliard’s apartment and ask the butler where he is. Curiously, Hilliard is upstairs on the second floor, and it appears there was no fire! The boys are astonished when they meet the real Mr. Hilliard, and conclude the other must have been an imposter!

The next day Mr. Hilliard takes the boys to the Old Province steamer and they sail for Halifax. It’s a rough passage and the seasick Gerald retires to his cabin. Philip removes to the dining room where he notices the imposter ‘Hilliard’ sitting with a gentleman in the corner. Returning to the cabin, he finds that Gerald needs some ice for a headache. Philip locks Gerald in his room and goes looking for a porter. He meets the imposter and agrees to a private meeting. Philip learns that Belmont (the imposter) intends to kidnap Gerald. He has informed the captain and the authorities that Gerald is ‘his’ boy, and he plans to leave the ship at Martha’s Vineyard in the morning. Philip is outraged by this audacious story. Belmont says he will also accuse Philip of kidnap if he tries to interfere. After a prolonged battle of wills, Belmont says he will call the Captain and Mr. Arrowsmith, the mate, so they can decide who is bluffing. Suddenly, there is a terrifying explosion and Philip and Belmont are thrust together. After much commotion, the captain announces that the explosion (in the hold) has broken a hole in the bow and the steamer is sinking! In the ensuing chaos the boys are safely stowed with the secondmate in a little raft and pushed out to sea. Belmont attempts to board the same boat, but is stopped due to lack of room. During the journey they hear a distinct bell and realise they must be close to land. A lady on board then loses her balance and her baby is tossed into the water. In a desperate frenzy she upsets the entire raft, and everybody including the cargo gets cast into the sea! The only remaining passenger is Gerald ‘stopped by the gunwale’, and Philip who is holding on for his life. Eventually, Philip climbs back on board, but the excitement has been too much for Gerald and he swoons in Philips arms. The next day the newspapers publish the sinking of the steamer and both Philip and Gerald are reported drowned. However, the boys are quite alive, and after several days at sea they finally wake to a bright blue sky and see land in the distance. They then dock in a small cove and make their way towards a farmhouse.

Philip leaves Gerald resting while he heads to the farm. The doors and windows are wide open, but nobody is at home when he arrives. He decides to collect Gerald and take the liberty of resting for a while. Philip prepares some food and notices Gerald is feverish and listless. He puts him to bed, and heads to the area where they left their boat. The vessel is gone and after hours of talking gently to Gerald, they fall asleep, until the return of Mr. and Mrs. Probasco. The boys tell their story to the astonished couple, while Mrs. Probasco nurses Gerald. Philip and Mr. Probasco then devise a plan to sail over to the town on the following morning to dispatch letters and telegrams. Unfortunately, the next morning they wake to an equinoctial tempest, and it’s impossible to attempt a crossing. Cooped up in the house for several days they observe the storm, and during the course of one evening, the Probascos reveal the history of the shady Mr. Jennison, their current landlord. Mrs. Probasco explains how he once came to the house with a bunch of dubious characters who were later embroiled in the Suburban Trust Company robbery. As Philip muses whether it is prudent to question her further about his description, Mrs. Probasco tells the boys she has a photograph of him somewhere upstairs. Philip has some reservations and discreetly prompts Mrs. Probasco not to continue the discussion until Gerald is safely asleep. Later in the evening he is shown the photo, and instantly recognises the imposter, aka Belmont, who had caused them so much trouble on the steamer. Philip tells the Probasco family the whole story and explains how Gerald and he must leave the island as soon as it is conveniently possible, as a further encounter with Jennison could be disastrous! The weather clears a little, but due to his Rheumatism, Mr. Probasco is unable to take the boys over the water. A local fisherman is then engaged to ferry them to Chantico, and from there they take a stagecoach to Knoxport.

When they arrive at the hotel they notice Gerald’s father and Mr. Marcy have already checked out. Philip tries to send a telegram, but the lines are frustratingly down due to another huge storm. Mr. Banger (the manager) suggests they inform the papers about their miraculous survival, but Philip is concerned it may alert Jennison prematurely. In the end Philip agrees to the publicity and Banger tells a journalist about their incredible story. The following day there is still no news from Marcy or Gerald’s father and the boys start to worry. Indeed, Mr. Banger also begins to doubt the boys’ story. Retiring to bed Philip hears Jennison’s voice in the lobby. He extracts some information from the proprietor before leaving on his horse.

Philip and Gerald decide that if there’s no news by the end of the day, they will make their own way back to Ossokosee. While Philip is out, the despondent Gerald encounters the persistent Mr. Hilliard-Belmont-Jennison. The imposter attempts to persuade Gerald to leave with him under the ruse of being sent by his father. At that moment Philip arrives and there is a heated altercation. A group of detectives then turn up at the hotel and arrest Jennison (actually known as Billy) for forgery in Boston. The party is further interrupted by the arrival of both Mr. Saxon and Mr. Marcy. Overcome with emotion they relay their story to the dumbfounded men. It transpires that Jennison had been seeking revenge for an earlier failed investment. As they are concluding their adventures, a policeman reappears and tells Philip that Jennison wants to see him at the courthouse. Jennison gives Philip the evidence to exonerate his father from the infamous bank robbery. It appears that Sixsmith the bank janitor had been bent on revenge and causing Mr. Touchstone grief. Philip reads Sixsmith’s deathbed confession and returns to the hotel. He sits with Mr. Marcy and they talk about his interview down at the Courthouse.

In the final chapter the author ties up the loose ends. Saxon, Gerald, Philip and Marcy now live together in the Osokosee Hotel, and Mr. Saxon considers Philip his second son. Later, the two boys (financed by Saxon) go off to college together. The novel concludes with the following observation: ‘But- if one yields to the temptation to be among the prophets, and closes his eyes, there come, chiefly, pleasant thoughts of how good are friendship and love and loyal service between man and man in this rugged world of ours; and how probable it is that such things here have not their ending, since they have not their perfecting here, perfect as friendship and the service sometimes seems. Therewith the inditer of this chronicle sees Philip and Gerald walking forward, calmly and joyfully, and in an unlessened affection and clearer mutual understanding – into their endless lives’.

Language in Friel’s Play ‘Translations’

The Significance of Language in Brian Friel’s play ‘Translations’

Friel describes ‘Translations’ as a play about ‘language and only language’ (Friel in Klein, 2007, p.90). Of course, as a play it is literally a work dealing with language, but Friel also uses language as a ‘theatrical form adequate to the Irish condition, a form uniquely suited to represent the themes that concern him’ (Roche, 2006, p.3).

There is an interesting opinion expressed in Pine (1990, p. 149) that ‘a people without a language of its own is only half a nation’. Thomas Davis the founder of ‘Young Ireland’ continues by declaring ‘a nation should guard a language more than its territories. It is surer a barrier and a more important frontier than fortress or river.’

Although language is certainly one of the leading concerns, the play is ostensibly a ‘history play’ set in the early nineteenth century. It is estimated that during this period one and a half million people spoke Irish, about a quarter of the total population. In County Donegal where the play is set, there were approximately 73,000 Irish speakers, about thirty per cent of the population’ (Pine, 1990, p.148), so it was an appropriate setting to explore language.

Perhaps the first important point to consider about Translations is that the text is written completely in English. Friel intended that ‘English onstage represents two separate languages – the Irish we are asked to imagine and the English which is now the ‘natural vehicle’ for a play on an Irish stage’ (Pelletier in Roche, 2006, p.68). Because of its role in shaping and expressing personal and collective identity this is immensely ironic and hugely significant.

Cartography is also a key theme in Translations. The Royal Engineers are dispatched to anglicise the place names for the Ordnance Survey in Ireland. The ordinance survey mapping acts as ‘a powerful metaphor of the transformation of this linguistic and cultural environment. Irish loses the ability to describe what is, and becomes, like Latin and Greek, a language that is only capable of saying what it used to be’ (Pelletier in Roche, 2006, p.68).

Although maps are a static survey they affect people as well as the landscape. They undermine the history and culture of a place, and can be viewed as a form of authority, a ‘conviction,’ a type of ownership. Maps cause marginalisation; they can be used for controlling, or for dividing up the land for tax purposes.

Friel uses mapping and place names as a powerful symbol of nationalism versus colonialism. In the play we have the character of Owen who works for the Royal Engineers as a translator and go-between for the British and the Irish. Owen is practical about his employment and perhaps sees place names as artificial like language. In one scene they are discussing where the priest lives, his father Hugh responds ‘Lis na Muc’ to which Owen answers contradicting his father with the new anglicised names without any apparent sense of affection for Irish Gaelic ‘No, he doesn’t. Lis na Muc, the Fort of Pigs, has become Swinefort. And to get to Swinefort you pass through Greencastle…Fair Head…Whiteplains’ (Friel, 1981, p.51). He recalls a whole string of anglicised place names before ending with ‘and the new school isn’t at Poll na gCaorach – it’s at Sheepsrock.’ Further on in a conversation with Yolland we see Owen pragmatically arguing ‘we’re taking place-names that are riddled with confusion and we’re standardising those names’ (Friel, 1981, p52), with Yolland who is more romantic by nature responding ‘something is being eroded’.

There is textual evidence exploring both sides of this argument at the start of Act Three where Owen is explaining to his brother Manus the etymology of a place named ‘The Murren’. He recounts how the name is a corruption of St Muranus who had a monastery there in the seventh century. Owen is demonstrating that etymology applies to place names like any other word; they have histories and futures which are fluid. He concludes by arguing how ‘The Murren’ sounded unattractive and should revert to its ‘original’ name. Friel may also have intended to draw our attention to the name St Muranus, a very Latin sounding name (with an ‘us’ ending), possibly from the Roman Catholic Church, who were well-known for their colonial accomplishments throughout the world.

Another key example of mapping and place names is found in the text where Maire is discussing Yolland’s home in England. Maire is on her hands and knees and is tracing the outline of a map on the floor. Here she is describing the location of Yolland’s village, and the nearby villages and towns. Expanding her map she incorporates the county and its overall location in England. She explains ‘there’s Winfarthing…and there’s Little Walsingham – that’s his mother’s hometown…and Norwich is in a county called Norfolk…and Norfolk is in the east of England’ (Friel, 1981, p.78).This is an interesting contrast to the rigorous and aggressive remapping of Ireland being carried out by the soldiers. She comments further on the English places and how they sound to her: ‘strange sounds aren’t they? But nice sounds; like Jimmy reciting his Homer’ (Friel, 1981, p.78). Maire recalls how Yolland had drawn a map of these places on the wet sand for her. Perhaps Friel was intending to highlight here how maps are provisional, they are not permanent, and can easily be erased. Certainly the map drawn by Yolland in the sand will be washed away.

It is also relevant and useful to note how Irish Gaelic as a language is perceived in Translations. In chapter one, we find Hugh making many revealing comments at the hedge school about the language. In a discussion with Yolland (Friel, 1981, p.51) he describes Irish Gaelic as ‘a rich language … full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception – a syntax opulent with tomorrows.’ Hugh seems to be aware of the importance of language as national identity and sees the British involvement in Ireland as oppressive and detrimental to their own language and culture. He perhaps feels Irish is a language that could carry Ireland successfully forward into the future without the interference of English.

Further on in the passage Hugh refers to a new book he is working on which again highlights a view on the Irish language. It is entitled ‘The Pentaglot Preceptor or Elementary Institute of English, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Irish Languages’ (Friel, 1981, p.51). This is a significant combination of languages. Friel deliberately links Irish Gaelic with Latin and Greek here as in many other points in the play to demonstrate perhaps how Irish is perceived to be among the ‘academic and intellectual dead languages,’ all of which are no longer languages of power, economics or politics.’ Hugh is clearly an educated and clever man and he seems particularly well versed in literature. However, when questioned by Yolland about William Wordsworth (who Yolland at one point lived fairly close to), Hugh replies ‘did he speak of me to you?’ When Yolland explains that he hadn’t spoken to him, only seen him out walking – in the distance, Hugh retorts ‘Wordsworth?… no. I’m afraid we’re not familiar with your literature, Lieutenant… we tend to overlook your Island (Friel, 1981, p.49-50). This shows Hugh being fiercely nationalistic. Hugh was probably aware of many English writers, some he possibly admired, but he wasn’t going to raise the issue of English literature, and betray his language with an intruding and interfering Englishman.

If we now take a look at ‘translation’ as a form of communication in the play, it is interesting to note the two distinctively different scenes where Owen ‘translates’ the message of the British officers to his father and the hedge school. In the first scene we have Owen comfortable with the British and their intentions. He is also acutely aware of his father’s staunch nationalism and that of some of the students. As a result he translates the message carefully, being mindful to maintain harmony and peace between the two sides. It is worth looking at examples from the text to demonstrate this. In chapter one he introduces the soldiers by saying ‘two friends of mine are waiting outside the door’. Lancey begins his speech in a very patronising way, possibly inferring how he views the Irish people as inferior and uneducated. Owen comments how it would be best if he assumed they knew what he was talking about and that he would translate accordingly. Lancey begins pompously ‘His Majesty’s government has ordered the first ever comprehensive survey of the entire country’ to which Owen translates as ‘a new map is being made of the whole country’ (Friel, 1981, p.33). Lancey continues contentiously ‘so that the military authorities will be equipped with up-to-date and accurate information on every corner of this part of the Empire.’ Owen translates this as ‘the job is being done by soldiers because they are skilled at this work’. This is adequate if not accurate translating and Owen was able to conclude their meeting without causing further strain or obvious tension between the sides.

Later in the play Owen is no longer able to hide the brutalities that are coming ‘commencing twenty-four hours from now we will shoot all livestock in Ballybeg’ (Friel, 1981, p.80). Here the tension escalates to serious proportions with Lancey threatening eviction and the mass destruction of property. Owen can only conclude by truthfully translating ‘if Yolland hasn’t been got by then, they will ravish the whole parish’ (Friel, 1981, p.80). At this point in the play the previous metaphorical eviction becomes literal.

Having briefly touched upon Maire and Yolland earlier, it might perhaps be useful to explore how language within their relationship influences the play. What is interesting is that although both characters represent Britain and Ireland, they are in fact both sensitive to each other and far from appearing overly nationalist. They express their love for each other without understanding the words. Yolland speaks only English and Maire only Irish. A recurring symbol in their relationship is the maypole. This can be viewed as a traditional and potent symbol of England. Throughout the play both Maire and Yolland are often engaged in affectionate banter about their words being mispronounced or incorrect. In one scene we hear Yolland saying in Irish Gaelic ‘see you yesterday’ rather than ‘see you tomorrow.’ For this error he is mocked and laughed at by Maire. Yolland playfully gets his revenge by responding ‘maypoll, maypoll!’ (Friel, 1981, p.77) to further the banter. Their light-hearted misunderstandings are a stark contrast to the weightier issues of language in the play. They represent a utopian Ireland and Britain unaffected by politics, a simple pairing of people with mutual interests, but their brief scenes of friendship are played out on a larger and more complex stage of language, culture and society being oppressed, remapped and systematically eroded.

If we now look at personal names and the role they play in Translations we can see how Friel uses them to great effect. In chapter one, we are told that a christening is taking place. The hedge school are awaiting the return of their teacher Hugh when Manus his son comments ‘I know he’s at the christening; but it doesn’t take them all day to put a name on a baby, does it?’ (Friel, 1981, p.6). It is interesting how Manus remarks ‘to put a name on a baby’. To give somebody a name is to define them. We learn that Nellie Ruadh, the mother is going to name the child after its father who we learn later is Eamon Donal from Tor. It is possible that Friel included the christening of this child to represent Irish Gaelic. He was born and will be raised in Ireland, and he has been given an Irish name. And like place names personal names are social constructs that have special and even historical meaning attached to them.

We could also look more closely at Owen and his relationship with the officers Yolland and Lancey. Owen is a hybrid character who is educated, pragmatic and sees nothing wrong in working with the British, and many times throughout the play he is referred to by his English counterparts as ‘Roland’ rather than his actual name ‘Owen’. Although this isn’t an issue with Owen it causes consternation to his brother Manus, who sees it as ‘an abdication of his Irish identity and strikes him as ominous, almost a betrayal’ (Roche, 2006, p.67). A further example of Friel using personal names to show tension through language occurs with the character Sarah who has a serious speech defect. Throughout the play Manus has been coaxing Sarah to speak her full name to help build her confidence. Upon being questioned by the Lancey later in the play she reverts to silence, a scene that ‘suggests a possible symbolic reading of this character as Ireland, struck dumb through fear and the imposition of English’ (Roche, 2006, p.68).

If we are to summarise language and its significance in Translations, perhaps the first point to consider is that language is only one strand in Irish Nationalism. Be that as it may ‘Friel acknowledges the power of language in shaping our perception and understanding of the past, and the potency of such images and myths, once they have achieved cultural acceptance’ (Roche, 2006, p. 70). Language throughout the play has acted as a tool to control, to marginalise, to confuse or obscure. There have been deliberate mistranslations as in Owen’s first message from Lancey to the hedge school, and love scenes with more light hearted misunderstandings.

It is important to consider that even an ‘honest’ translation by its very nature can never be perfect, something is always lost, and there are often cultural, historical and political implications associated with languages which cannot be ignored. A further point worth bearing in mind is how ‘contemporary Irish audiences must also confront their own lack of proficiency in Irish, their historical responsibility in having accepted English as the everyday language of the Republic as well as the extent which they have succeeded in making Irish-English their own distinctive tongue’ (Roche, 2006, p. 69).


FRIEL, B. 1981. Translations. London: Faber and Faber

KLEIN, B. 2007. On the Uses of History in Recent Irish Writing. Manchester: Manchester University Press

PINE, R. 1990. Brian Friel and Ireland’s Drama. London: Routledge

ROCHE, A. 2006. The Cambridge Companion to Brian Friel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

SCHMITT-KILB, C. 2009. Scenario. Vol. III. Issue 2. The End(s) of Language in Brian Friel’s Translations and Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs and Misterman[WWW] (17 Dec, 2012).


GRANT, D. 2004. Student Guide to the Stagecraft of Brian Friel. London: Greenwich Exchange

O’DRISCOLL, R. 1971. Theatre and Nationalism in Twentieth-century Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Dear readers, I haven’t reviewed a Victorian Novel for a while, so I wanted to explain my reasons. I have just relocated to Ukraine and I’m now teaching at an international school in Kiev. As a result there are lots of challenges taking up my creative energy: a new language and alphabet to fathom, school policies and procedures to digest, and of course a super little class to get to know!

I’m living on the 15th floor of a tower block in the city. It’s certainly taking some getting used to, as I have a big problem with heights. Nevertheless, I have an excellent view to compensate. Here is my room with a view:


The school is located in a beautiful setting and I feel very blessed indeed. Here is a photo of me relaxing at lunch time:


And lastly, here are my gorgeous little monsters on their first day back at school, and indeed on my first day teaching them last week. They are wonderful, creative kids, and I’m really looking forward to spending the year getting to know them all!