Selected Plays of St. John Ervine
Chosen and Introduced by John Cronin
The fifth volume of the Irish Drama Selections series (ISSN 0260-7962), General Editors: Joseph Ronsley and Ann Saddlemyer.
ISBN: 0-86140-101-8 / 978-0-86140-101-7 Hbk £35.00
ISBN 978-0-86104-102-6 /978-0-86140-102-4 Pbk £9.95
21.6 x 13.8 cm.
Contains: Mixed Marriage, Jane Clegg, John Ferguson, Boyd's Shop, Friends and Relations, prose extracts, bibliographical checklist.
John Greer Ervine was born in Ballymacarrett, a working-class district of East Belfast, in 1883 (he added the prefix ‘St.’ to his name when he began to write). He was to achieve a considerable reputation as playwright, drama critic, novelist and biographer, working at various times in London and New York. As a young man, he got to know Bernard Shaw and was associated with the Fabian Society. In 1915 he was appointed manager of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, but his brusque manner and his declared intention of turning the Abbey into a typical British repertory theatre alienated the players, many of whom left to set up a separate company of their own.
Ervine’s real contribution to the Abbey consisted of a number of his vigorous early plays, including Mixed Marriage and John Ferguson. After leaving the Abbey, he joined the British Army and was severely wounded in 1918, necessitating the amputation of a leg. After the War, he wrote drawing-room comedies for the London stage, and his most substantial work of biography was a book on his idol, Shaw. He returned to Irish themes in the 1930s, with plays like Boyd’s Shop, which was to prove one of his most popular and frequently revived works for the stage. A determined realist, Ervine had little sympathy with the work of some his notable contemporaries, and wrote severely about, for example, Synge. Ervine is at his best in those plays in which he depicts characters like John Ferguson, whose rigid moral attitudes are grimly tested by cruel circumstances. He is also impressive in his creation of strong women characters, such as Mrs Rainey in Mixed Marriage and Jane Clegg in the play of that name. In plays like those, he often anticipates his more famous successor, Sean O’Casey, and even looks forward to later Northern Irish writers like Sam Thompson.
This volume was published with assistance from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
John Cronin is Emeritus Professor of English at the Queen’s University, Belfast. His publications include Somerville and Ross, Gerald Griffin 1803-1840: A Critical Biography, and The Anglo-Irish Novel, Volume 1: The Nineteenth Century, and Volume 2, 1900-1940. He is general editor of a series of eight Classic Irish Novels of the Nineteenth Century. In addition to his academic activities, Professor Cronin has worked extensively on arts programmes for BBC Northern Ireland and BBC World Service and was for many years a member of the Anglo-Irish Literature Committee of the Royal Irish Academy.