Dublin Writers’ Museum
For a city that has given the world so much fine literature the Dublin Writers’ Museum tells a story through its collection of letters, books and personal possessions of many great writers. It was setup in 1991 and with an interesting, chronological layout it is easy to follow the development of Irish writing from the late 17th to Samuel Beckett who died in 1989.
The building, at 18 Parnell Square, dates back to 1780 when Lord Farnham was its first occupant. It changed hands a few times until George Jameson (of the Jameson distilling family) bought the house in 1891. Over the years he made major refurbishments, including the creation of the wonderful Gallery of Writers on the first floor.
Dracula – First Edition
In the first room you can find out about the beginnings of Irish poetry and storytelling with the emergence of Swift, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan whose play The Rivals gave the world the word malapropism. There is a unique document with Jonathan Swift’s signature and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And you can find out about Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu and the songs of Thomas Moore.
The second room concentrates of the works from the Irish Literary Revival at the end of the 19th century. The opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 was a pivotal moment with its productions of plays by playwrights WB Yeats, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey and there are many original programmes from the time. The signed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is worth the visit for any Joycean fan. There is plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy on Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain, writers whose short stories elevated the art form. An original Cruiskeen Lawn column (from the Irish Times) by Brian O’Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen) was a delight.
Upstairs in the Gallery there are some fine portraits and glass cabinets with letters, papers and other personal items. The telephone that Samuel Beckett had in his Paris apartment that allowed him chose whether to speak to a caller or not is quirky. There is the piano that Joyce played regularly and the chair that GF Handel sat on when conducting Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in 1642!
James Joyce’s piano
The museum is a popular visitor attraction and it’s easy to see why. It’s a wordy place.
Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker was born in 15 Marino Crescent, Fairview, on the 8th November 1847, the third of seven children and baptised in the Church of Ireland, Clontarf on 30th December. He was a sickly child and did not attend school until he was seven. As such, he spent much time reading and he noted years later ‘I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.
He made a full recovery from his early illness and studied Mathematics in Trinity College where he graduated with honours. He was a keen sportsman and was awarded Athlete of the Year, as well as being Auditor of the Historical Society and President of the Philosophical Society. Oscar Wilde was a contemporary who Stoker proposed for membership of the Philosophical Society. Years later, after Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol, Stoker visited him in Paris. Coincidently, Wilde had once courted Florence Balcombe who Stoker married in 1878. She was almost the ‘girl next door’ as she lived at 1 Marino Crescent, a few doors from the Stoker household.
Stoker was always interested in theatre and became the Dublin Evening Mail’s (co-owned by the great Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu) theatre critic and respected for his incisive reviews. After seeing Henry Irving, the greatest actor his generation play Hamlet in the Theatre Royal, and writing a review which the actor liked, the two met for dinner in the Shelbourne Hotel. Irving invited him to London to run the Lyceum Theatre and be his business manager, and he and Florence moved there in 1878. He acted for Irving until the actor’s death in 1905.
He travelled extensively with Irving, met many famous people, and all the time kept writing. He produced a dozen books, countless articles and short stories, but it is Dracula (1897) for which he is best remembered. The book has been a favourite since its release and is considered to be one of the most widely read books ever. It has never been out of print. More than 200 films have been made about Count Dracula and he has also featured in numerous stage and television adaptions. Stoker, himself, produced the first stage performance in the Lyceum Theatre on 18th May 1897 (8 days before the book’s publication) which Irving thought was ‘dreadful’. Maybe the fact that it took fifteen actors four hours to perform had a lot to do with that! However, it is a magnificent achievement, and the sickly boy’s ‘fruitful thoughts’ have certainly been realised.
First edition 26 May 1897
Filed under Art, Dublin, London