Today is Bloomsday, so it is appropriate that we should have a report of the Italian launch last week in Rome of Joycean scholar John McCourt’s book on Anthony Trollope.
Upwards of 100 people attended the Rome launch of John McCourt’s Writing the Frontier Anthony Trollope between Britain and Ireland which took place on Tuesday 9 June at the Villa Spada, home now to the Irish Embassy in Italy but well-known for being headquarters for Garibaldi and his troops during the 1849 siege of Rome.
The book was presented by His Excellency, Mr Bobby McDonagh, Irish ambassador to Italy who talked of Trollope and his pillar-boxes and Trollope as a pillar of the English community in Ireland in the nineteenth century. He then described John McCourt as a pillar of the Irish community in Italy today and praised the power of literature to help promote understanding between different cultures.
Dr Luca Caddia, assistant director of the Keats-Shelley house in Rome, and a noted Trollopian translator, introduced McCourt’s volume. He focused on the book’s treatment of Trollope’s seven “Irish” novels, which emerge as a coherent series of works which might profitably be published as a group alongside the Pallisers or the Barchesters. Caddia spoke of Trollope’s being the only British novelist of his age to take Ireland seriously in his fiction and to keep writing about Irish issues even when they were very unpopular with the reading public of his country. In Caddia’s words:
“One of the most fascinating aspects of this original book is to be found in the way the author singles out one or more key Irish issues per novel and so manages to turn Trollope’s otherwise domestic plots into studies in Irish politics. By thus doing he somehow reaches the same goal Trollope may have had in mind when he was trying to give shape to the chaotic space of Ireland through the orderly division in chapters of his novels.”
John McCourt then spoke in detail about Trollope’s work, talking about the centrality of the Irish strain in all his fiction, underlining his genuine affection for the country and its people. He underlined how Trollope became the successful figure we know today – both in the Post Office and in his writing career – because in Ireland he finally found space to ignite his various talents. Thus Trollope – whose move to remote Banagher was against the human tide of Irish people travelling to London – himself embodied the opportunities he believed were offered to the people of both countries through their union. Having been offered warm hospitality in Ireland for many years, Trollope repaid that in kind by always making space in his fiction for Irish themes, characters, names, places, voices. Noting that James Joyce had created two characters in Finnegans Wake – Sean the postman and Shem the penman – McCourt concluded by pointing out that Trollope himself was both of these, and very successfully so and he concluded his speech by exhorting his audience, if not to read this book of criticism, to at least go out and buy a Trollope novel as a way to celebrate the writer’s bicentenary.
At the end of the launch, Rome-based Irish artist, Andy Devane presented John McCourt with pencil portrait of Anthony Trollope.