John Banville: Quotations


Fiction writings
Nightspawn
(1971) ‘I am talking about the past, about remembrance. You find no answers, only questions. It is enough, almost enough. That day I thought about the island, and now I think about thinking about the island and tomorrow, tomorrow I shall think about thinking about thinking about the island, and all will be one, however I try, and there will be no separate thoughts, but only one thought, one memory, and I shall still know nothing.’ (q.p.; Alan O’Riordan, review of Christine Falls, in Books Ireland, Nov. 2006, p.250.)

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Birchwood (1973; Minerva Edn. 1992): ‘I am therefore I think. That seems inescapable. In this lawless house I spend the nights poring over my memories, fingering them, like an impotent casanova his old love letters, sniffing the dusty scent of violets. Some of these memories are in a language which I do not understand, the ones that could be headed, the beginning of the old life. They tell the story which I intend to copy here, all of it, if not its meaning, the story of the fall and rise of Birchwood, and of the part Sabatier and I played in the last battle.’ ( p.11).

Further ...

‘No, I knew this girl was someone else, a lost child, misplaced in time, and when I returned the picture had inexplicable altered, and would not fit into the new scheme of things and I destroyed it.’ (Picador Edn., p.13.)

‘Outside my memories, this silence and harmony, this brilliance I find again in that second silent world which exists, independent, ordered by unknown laws, in the depths of mirrors. This is how I remember such scenes. If I provide something otherwise, be assured I am inventing.’ (Panther Books, rep. Edn. 1984, p.21.)

‘How many have I lost along the way? I began to write as a means of finding them again, and thought that at last I had discovered a form which could contain and order all my losses. I was wrong. There is no form, no order, only echoes an coincidences, sleights of hand, dark laughter. I accept it.’ (p.175.)
‘I find the world always odd, but odder still, I suppose, is the fact that I find it so, for what are the eternal verities by which I measure these temporal aberrations? Intimations abound, but they are felt only, and words fail to transfix them. Anyway, some secrets are not to be disclosed under pain of who knows what retribution, and whereof I cannot speak, thereof I must be silent.’ (Ibid., p.174)

Birchwood [1973] (London: Panther Books; rep. edn. 1984), p.21; see further extracts organised by theme - as attached.

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Dr. Copernicus (1976), on naming: ‘At first it had no name. It was the thing itself, the vivid thing. It was his friend. On windy days it danced, demented, waving wild arms, or in the silence of evening, drowsed and dreamed, swaying in the blue, the goldeny air. Even at night it did not go away. It was a part of the world, and yet it was his friend […] Tree. That was its name.’ Further, ‘[T]he linden. They were nice words. He had know them a long time before he knew what they meant. They did not mean themselves, they were nothing in themselves, they meant the dancing singing thing outside. / Everything had a name, but although every name was nothing without the thing named, the thing cared nothing for its name, had no need of a name, and was itself only.’ (The Revolution Trilogy, Picador 2001, p.9.) Copernicus, to Adalbert Brudzewski: ‘I believe not in names, but in things. I believe that the physical world is amenable to physical investigation, and if astronomers will do no more than sit in their cells counting upon their fingers then they are shirking their responsibility! (Trilogy, p.46.) ‘He believed in action, in the absolute necessity for action. Yet action horrified him, tending as it did inevitably to become violence. Nothing was stable: politics became war, law became slavery, life itself became death, sooner or later. Always the ritual collapsed in the face of the hideousness. The real world would not be gainsaid, being the true realm of action, but he must gainsay it, or despair. That was his problem.’ (Trilogy, p.37.) Copernicus: ‘You wonder why I will not publish? The people will laugh at my book, or that that mangled version of it which filters down to them from the universities. The people will always mistake at first the frightening for the comic thing. But very soon they will come to see what it is I have done. I mean what they will imagine I have done, diminished Earth, made of it merely another planet among planets, they will begin despise the world, and something will die, and out of that death will come death. You do not know what I am talking about, do you, Rheticus? You are a fool, like the rest ... like myself.’ (Trilogy, p.140.)

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Dr. Copernicus (1976) [Andreas (from beyond the grave) to the dying Copernicus:] ‘Your soul? ... You did sell it to the highest bidder. What shall we call it? science? The quest for truth? Transcendent knowledge? Vanity, all vanity, and something more, a kind of cowardice, that comes from the refusal to accept the names are all there is that matter ... With great courage and great effort you might have succeeded, in the only way it is possible to succeed, by disposing the commonplace, the names, in a beautiful and orderly pattern that would show, by it is very beauty and order, the action in our poor world of the other worthy truths. But you tried to discard the commonplace truths for the transcendent ideals, and so failed ... we say only those things that we have the words to express: it is enough.’ (p.276). ‘[Andreas asks him to accept] that thing, passionate and yet ordinary, that thing which is all that matters, which is a great miracle. You glimpsed it briefly in our father, in sister Barbara, in Fracasto, in Anna Shillings, in all others, and even, yes, in me, glimpsed it, and turned away, appalled and ... embarrassed. Call it acceptance, call it love, if you wish, but these are poor words, and express nothing of the enormity. (Ibid., p.277.)

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Dr. Copernicus (1976) [Albrecht, to Copernicus:] ‘The common people. But they have suffered always, and always will. It is in a way what they are for. You flinch, Herr Doctor, I am disappointed in you. The common people? Pah. What are they to us? You and I. Mein Freund, we are lords of the earth, the great ones, the major men, the makers of supreme fiction ... only you and I know the true suffering is, the lofty suffering of the hero.’ (Trilogy, p.161.) ‘[…] and so you make a mirror, thinking that in it shall be reflected the reality of the world; then you understand that the mirror reflects only appearances, and that reality is somewhere else, off behind the mirror; and then you remember that behind the mirror there is only chaos.’ (Triology, p.209.) [Copernicus’s disciple Rheticus:] ‘It destroyed my faith, in God and Man - but not in the Devil. Lucifer sits at the centre of that book, smiling a familiar cold grey smile. You were evil, Koppernigk, and you filled the world with despair.’ (Ibid., p.235; all the foregoing quoted in Nataliya Stokes, ‘The Concept of Harmony in Selected Works of John Banville’, UG BA Hons. Dissertation, UUC 2005.)

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Kepler (1981): ‘The vision of the harmony of the world is always before me, calling me on. God will not abandon me. I shall survive. I keep with me a copy of that engraving by the great Dürer of Nuremberg, which is called Knight with Death & the Devil, an image of stoic grandeur & fortitude from which I derive much solace: for this is how one must live, facing into the future, indifferent to terrors and yet undeceived by foolish hopes. (p.128; cited in McMinn, op. cit., 1991, p.85). ‘[I]n the beginning is the shape! Hence I foresee a work divided into five parts, to correspond to the five planetary intervals, while the number of chapters in each part will be based on the signifying quantities of each of the five regular and Platonic solids which, according to my Mysterium, may be fitted to these intervals. Also, as a form of decoration and to pay my due respect, I intend that the inituals of the chapters should spell out acrostically the names of certain famous men.’ (1983 Edn., p.145; quoted in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Four Courts Press 2000, p.132.) ‘The proportions everywhere abound, in music and the movements of the planets, in human and vegetable forms, in men’s fortunes aeven, but they are all relation merely, and inexistent without the perceiving soul. How is such perception possible? Peasants and children, barbarians, animals even, feel the harmony of the tone. Therefore the perceiving must be instinct in the soul, based in a profound and essential geometry, that geometry which is derived from the simple divisioning of circles. All that he had for long held to be the case. Now he took the short step to the fusion of symbol and object. The circle is the bearer of pure harmonies, pure harmonies are innate in the soul, and so the soul and the circle are one. / Such simplicity, such beauty.’ (Ibid., p.174; McCarthy, op. cit., p.133.)

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Mefisto (1986): ‘Oh, I worked. Ashburn, Jack Kay, my mother, the black dog, the crash, all this, it was not like numbers, yet it too must have rules, order, some sort of pattern. Always I had thought of numbers falling on the chaos of things like frost falling on water, the seething particles tamed and sorted, the crystals locking, the frozen lattice spreading outwards in all directions. I could feel it in my mind, the crunch of things coming to a stop, the creaking stillness, the stunned, white air. But marshall the factors how I might, they would not equate now. Everything was sway and flow and sudden lurch ... Zero, minus quantities, irrational numbers, the infinite itself, suddenly these things revealed themselves for what they really had been, always. I grew dizzy.’ (p.109.) ‘- Listen, he [Felix] said, you like to know the truth, don’t you? [114] In the beginning was the fact, and all that? Well, come on, then, I’ll show you something.’ / We went into the house, up to the attic, to Mr Kasperl’s room. Felix quietly pushed the door open an inch. I put my eye to the crack. The room was full of calm white light. A fly buzzed against a window-pane. Mr Kasperl lay on his back on the bed, eyes closed, his mouth open, like a big, beached sea-creature. His legs were unexpectedly skinny, with knotted, purple veins. His big belly glimmered palely, rising and falling, lightly flossed with reddish fur. His sex lolled in its thick nest, livid, babyish and limp. Sophie stood at the foot of the bed, putting on her slip. She lifted her arms above her head, for a second before the silk sheath fell I saw her shadowed armpits and silvery breasts, the little patch of black hair between her legs. She turned then and caught sight of me. She smiled, and came towards us, with a stocking in her hand. I stepped back, and Felix deftly closed the door. Downstairs he fished in the sagging pocket of his mackintosh and brought out the carriage clock and peered at it. / - Dear me, he said, is that the time? A battered cardboard suitcase stood in the hall. He picked it up. / - Well, I’m off. After summer merrily, you know. Care to walk me to the train?’ (pp.114-15.)

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Mefisto (1986): ‘The suddenly I was outside in the cold black glossy night, under an amazement of stars. [...] Something surged within me, year[n]ing outwards into the darkness. And all at once I saw waiting clearly the secret I had lost sight of for so long, that chaos is nothing but an infinite number of ordered things. Wind, those stars, that water falling on stones, all the shifting, ramshackle world could be solved. I stumbled forward in the dark, my arms extended in a blind embrace. On the gravel by the petrol pump, a woman squatted, pissing. The fight was still going on somewhere, I could hear the cries and groans. Felix rose up on front of me with a dark laugh. [183] / - Creatures of the night! he said. What music they make!’ (pp.183-84; cited in part in Joseph McMinn, Critical Introduction, 1991, p.105; cf, ‘I had mistaken pluralities for unities’, &c., p.187.)

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Mefisto (1986): ‘Order, pattern, harmony. Press hard enough upon anything, upon everything, and the random would be resolved. I waited, impatient, in a state of grim elation. I had thrown out the accumulated impedimenta of years, I was after simplicity now, the pure, uncluttered thing. Everywhere were secret signs. The machine sang to me, for was not I too built on a binary code? One and zero, these were the poles. The rushing of spring shook my heart. I could not sleep. I wandered the brightening streets for hours, prey to a kind of joyless hilarity. I was in pain. When I lay down at last, exhausted, watching the sky, the fleeting clouds, a dull, grey ache would lodge in the pit of my stomach, like a grey rat, lodging there. At ashen twilight I would rise, my eyelids burning, and something thudding in my head, and set off for the hospital.’ (p.203.) ‘I lost the black notebook, misplaced it somewhere, or threw it away, I don’t know. Have I not made a black book of my own?’ (p.233.) ‘Have I tied up the ends? Even an invented world has its rules, tedious, absurd perhaps, but not to be gainsaid.’ (p.234; end.) Note that inter-textual motifs incl. ‘thou still unvanquished bride of quietness’ (p.81) and Lamia [as an analgesia], both after Keats; also ‘gibbous moon’ (p.221) after Synge[?]. Castor, Malvolio, Grendel, Melmoth, are among the literate nonce-words that Felix applies to the narrator, Gabriel Swan, while the plastic surgeon is called Cranitch.

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The Book of Evidence (1989): ‘My Lord, when you ask me to tell the court in my own words, this is what I shall say. I am kept locked up here like some exotic animal, last survivor of a species they had thought extinct. They should let in people to view me, the girl-eater, svelte and dangerous, padding to and fro, in my cage, my terrible green glance flickering past the bars, give them something to dream about, tucked up cosy in their beds of a night. After my capture they clawed at each other to get a look at me. They would have paid money for the privilege, I believe. They shouted abuse, and shook their fists at me, showing their teeth. It was unreal, somehow, frightening yet comic, the sight of them, there, milling on the pavements like film extras, young men in cheap raincoats, and women with shopping bags, and one or two silent, grizzled characters who just stood, fixed on me hungrily, haggard with envy. Then a guard threw a blanket over my head and bundled me into a squad car. I laughed. There was something irresistibly funny in the way reality, banal as ever, was fulfilling my worst fantasies’ (1990 Minerva Edn. p.3). [Freddy’s on his life:] '[not] a thing of signposts and decisive marching, but drift only, a kind of slow subsidence, my shoulders bowing down under the gradual accumulation of all the things I had done.’ (pp.33-34.) 'There is no form, no order, only echoes and coincidences, sleight of hand, dark laughter. I accept it.’ (p.174.)

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The Book of Evidence (1989): ‘I could not think directly about what I had done. It would have been like trying to stare steadily into a blinding light. It was too big, too bright, to contemplate. It was incomprehensible. Even still, when I say I did it, I am not sure I know what I mean. Oh, do not mistake me. I have no wish to vacillate, to hum and haw and kick dead leaves over the evidence. I killed her, and I admit it freely. And I know that if I were back there today I would do it again, not because I would want to, but because I would have no choice. ... Nor can I say I did not mean to kill her - only, I am not clear as to when I began to mean it. I was flustered, impatient, [150] angry, she attacked me,, I swiped her, the swipe became a blow, which became the prelude to a second blow - its apogee, so to speak, or perhaps I mean its perigree - and so on. Tere is no moment in this process of which I can confidently say, there, that is when I decided she should died. Decided? - I do not think it was a matter of deciding. I do not think it was a matter of thinking, even. That fat monster inside me just saw his chance and leaped out, frothing and flailing. He had scores to settle with the world, and she, at that moment, was world enough for him. I could not stop him. Or could I? He is me, after all, and I am him. But no, things were too far gone for stopping. Perhaps this is the essence of my crime, of my culpability, that I let things get to that stage, that I had not been vigilant enough, had not been enough of a dissembler, that I left Bunter to his own devices, and thus allowed him, fatally, to understand that he was free, that the cage door was open, that nothing was forbidden, that everything was possible.’ (p.151).

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Ghosts (1994): ‘Still the dream persists, suppressed but always there, that somehow by some miraculous effort of the heart what was done could be undone. What form would such atonement take that would turn back time and bring the dead to life? None. None possible, not in the real world. And yet in my imaginings I can clearly- see this cleansed new creature streaming up out of myself like a proselyte rising drenched from the baptismal river amid glad cries.’ (p.68.) Further, ‘Banquo was a dampener on the king’s carousings, and Hamlet’s father made what I cannot but think were excessive calls on filial piety. Yet, for myself, I know I would be grateful for any intercourse with the dead, no matter how baleful their stares or unavoidable their pale, pointing fingers. I feel I might be able, not to exonerate, but to explain myself, perhaps, to account for my neglectfulness, my failures, the things left unsaid, all those sins against the dead.’ (Frames Trilogy: Athena, The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, London: Picador, 2001), p.264; quoted in Joanne Watkiss, ‘Ghosts in the Head: Mourning, Memory and Derridean “Trace” in John Banville’s The Sea’, in The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, 2 (March 2007) [online].

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Eclipse (2000): ‘At first it was a form. Or not even that. A weight, an extra weight, a ballast. I felt it that first day out in the fields. It was as if someone had fallen silently into step beside me, or inside me, rather, some[one] who was else, another and yet familiar. [ [...] /] I turned and looked back at the house and saw what I took to be my wife standing at the window of what was once my mother’s room’ (p.3.) On the ghost: ‘The woman’s manner, if it is possible to speak of such an evanescent being as having a manner, is one of surmise and vague expectation; she is tentative, bemused, uncertain. Oh, I am not so deluded as not to know that these images are the product of my imagination - but they are a product; they are not in my head, they are outside; I see them, clear as anything I can touch, the sky, the clouds, those far blue hills. At night they press into my dreams, wan shades mutely clamouring for my attention. In the daytime there are passages when they will flicker about me like widefire. As I step through this or that picture of their doings I seem to feel a crackle of fainting, falling energy, as if I had broken the tenuous connections of a force field. Something is expected of me there, something is being asked of me. They are not even proper spectres, bent on being terrifying or delivering awful warnings. Shrieks in the darkness, groans and clanking chains, such effects, however exhausted or banal, might at least succeed in frightening me, but what am I to make of this little ghost trio to whose mundane doings I am the puzzled and less than willing witness? / Trio? Did I say trio? There is only the woman and the even more indistinct child - who is the third? Who, if not I? Perhaps Lydia is right, perhaps I have at last become my own ghost.’ (p.55.) [...] ‘Here I am, a grown man in a haunted house, obsessing on the past.’ (Ibid., p.57.) Notice intertextual allusions to Marie Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent and Joyce’s “The Dead” in the names of Quirke and his dg. Lily, as well as recurrent Shakespearean echoes.

The Sea (2005): ‘Work is not a word I would apply to what I do. Work is too large a term, too serious. Workers work. The great ones work. As for us middling men, there is no word sufficiently modest that yet will be adequate to describe what we do and how we do it. Dabble I do not accept. It is amateurs who dabble, while we, the class or genus of which I speak, are nothing if not professional.’ (q.p.; quoted in Alan O’Riordan, review of Christine Falls, in Books Ireland, Nov. 2006, p.250.)

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The Infinities (2010): ‘Of the things we fashioned for them that they might be comforted, dawn is the one that works. When darkness sifts from the air like fine soft soot and light spreads slowly out of the east then all but the most wretched of humankind rally. It is a spectacle we immortals enjoy, this minor daily resurrection, often we will gather at the ramparts of the clouds and gaze down upon them, our little ones, as they bestir themselves to welcome the new day. What a silence falls upon us then, the sad silence of our envy. Many of them sleep on, of course, careless of our cousin Aurora’s charming matutinal trick, but there are always the insomniacs, the restless ill, the lovelorn tossing on their solitary beds, or just the early-risers, the busy ones, with their knee-bends and their cold showers and their fussy little cups of black ambrosia. Yes, all who witness it greet the dawn with joy, more or less, except of course the condemned man, for whom first light will be the last, on earth. / Here is one, standing at a window in his father’s house, watching the day’s early glow suffuse the sky above the massed trees beyond the railway line. He is condemned not to death, not yet, but to a life into which he feels he does not properly fit. [...]’ (Extract printed in The New York Times, [ Friday] 5 March 2010; for longer version, see attached.)

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Articles & reviews
Memory and Forgetting: The Ireland of De Valera and O’Faolain’, in Ireland: The Lost Decade in the 1950s, ed. Dermot Keogh, F. O’Shea & C. Quinlan (Cork & Dublin: Mercier 2004): ‘When I was growing up in Wexford in the 1950s - I was five in 1950 - the town, or at least that lower-middle-class stratum of the town in which I lived, was dominated by Pierce’s foundry’ (p.21.) Though his father voted Labour, Banville writes that ‘[his] parents were quintessential Fianna Fáilers ... the lives of the citizens were to be controlled not by a system of coercive force and secret policing, but by a kind of applied spiritual paralysis maintained by an unofficial federation between the Catholic clergy, the judiciary and the civil service. (p.22.) On his mother: ‘the world of politics and public affairs she found faintly risible, and she was content to leave all that to the men.’ (p.23); she ‘deplored the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council’ (p.24.) ‘My grandfather was a princely personage, with pretension to grandeur whicfh were inherited by his children, and, indeed, by some of his grandchildren.’ (Ibid., p.21.) His grandfather lost the plans for a revolutionary plough, ‘a legend in the family. Thus a family fortune was lost.’ (p.21.) ‘What continued to surprise me, when I look back at this [the 1950s], is now docile we were, how grimly we accepting of the status quo.’ (p.25.) ‘I knew I could change my personal circumstances, but fetting out of Wexford certainly and, if possible, out of Ireland as well, and I intended to do both at the first opportunity, and did […] But the society in which I grew up. seemed to me to be monolithic, imregnable, eternal.’ (p.25.) [All quoted in Nataliya Stokes, “The Concept of Harmony in Selected Works of John Banville”, UG Diss, UUC 2005.]

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Dream fiction: ‘A novel seems to be as if you had sat down and taken three or four years to explain a dream to someone in such a way that they could experience the weight and power of the dream that you did (Interview with Ciaran Carty, in The Sunday Tribune, 14 Sept. 1986; quoted in McMinn, op. cit., 1991, p.127 [notes]).

More dreaming: ‘I’ve always likened writing a novel to a very powerful dream that you know is going to haunt you for days. If you sit down at the breakfast table and start to try to explain the dream to someone, they yawn and look at you and they can’t understand what you’re on about. [...] Maybe that’s why I’ve never been particularly well understood in England: they asume I’m trying to write a traditional English novel and failing, whereas I’m not trying to write that at all, Now, maybe they’re right, maybe the novel shouldn’t be turned into something that could have the same density and concentration that poetry strives for. But I’m not interested in writing anything else.’ (See further [and variant] quotation given under Patricia Craig in Commentary, supra - and cf. longer version of this theme in Irish Studies in Brazil [1005], infra.)

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Fiction and the Dream’, in Irish Studies in Brazil [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1], ed. Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra (Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.21-28 - being An Address delivered at the Creative Writing Program of the University of Philadelphia, Sept. 2005): ‘It was one of those dreams that seem to take the entire night to be dreamt. All of him was involved in it, his unconscious, his subconscious, his memory, his imagination; even his physical self seemed thrown into the effort. The details of the dream flood back, uncanny, absurd, terrifying, and all freighted with a mysterious weight - such a weight as is carried by only the most profound experiences of life, of waking life, that is. And indeed, all of his life, all of the essentials of his life, were somehow there, in the dream, folded tight, like the petals of a [21] rosebud. Some great truth has been revealed to him, in a code he knows he will not be able to crack. But cracking the code is not important, is not necessary; in fact, as in a work of art, the code itself is in the meaning.’ (pp.21-22.)

What if ...: But what if, instead of accepting the simple fact that our most chaotic, our most exciting, our most significant dreams are nothing but boring to others, even our significant others - what if he said to his wife, All right, I’ll show you, I’ll do more than show you, I’ll sit down and write out the dream in such an intense and ravishing formulation that when you read it you, too, will have the dream; you, too, will find yourself wandering in the wild wood at nightfall; you, too, will hear the dream voices telling you your own most secret secrets. / I can think of no better analogy than this for the process of writing a novel. The writer’s aim is to make the reader have the dream - not just to reading about it, but actually to experience it; to have the dream, to write the novel.’ (p.23.)

Fiction and the Dream’, in Irish Studies in Brazil (2005) - cont.: ‘I should emphasise here that I have no grand psychological theory of the creative process to offer you. I am not a Freudian, although I admire Freud as a great literary fabulator. […]’ And I am [24] certainly not a Jungian. Indeed, when I hear the word psychology applied in the area of fiction I tend to reach for my revolver. (Fiction is the presentation of hard evidence - but that’s another day’s lecture.) I do not pretend to know how the mind, consciously or otherwise, processes the base metal of quotidian life into the gold of art. Even if I could find out, I would not want to. Certain things should not be investigated. / When I began to write I was a convinced rationalist, if a decidedly ecstatic one. I believed, and fiercely and indignantly defended my belief, that I, the writer was in control of what I wrote. [...]’ (p.25 - cont.)

Rationalist v. Dreamer: ‘When I began to write I was a convinced rationalist, if a decidedly ecsstatis one. I believed, and fiercely and indignantly defended my belief, that I, the writer, was in control of what I wrote. When I began a book, I knew where I was going. Before I wrote down the first line I had the last line planned. I would, for instance, divide the parts of a book according to the rule of golden section. [...] My novel on the life of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus employs musical figures [...] When I took Johannes Kepler as the protagonist of the subsequent novel, I devised a fiendishly complicated and, for me, exhausting system based on Kepler’s theory of the five perfect solids; [...] so I divided my book into five, ellipse-shaped sections […] Let me say [26] that if you find this scheme hard to follow, imagine what it felt like to write a book based on it. / The the point is, I saw myself as the scientist-like manipulator of my material, The point is, I saw myself as the scientist-like manipulator of my material, the “devised deviser devising it all”, as Beckett beautifully writes of one of his fictional alter egos. But then, around the middle of the 1980s, something happened, I am not sure what it was, or what caused it, whatever it may have been. Both my parents had died within a few years of each other, and perhaps I was in a state of sublimated grief. Certainly there was a great deal of pain and sorrow in the novel I wrote in that time. The book, Mefisto, is a sort of demented dream. It was dreamlike not only in its content and the mode of its narration, but in the manner in which it was written. For the first time, out of whatever extreme of distress it was that I was in, I began to let things happen on the page which my conscious, my waking, mind could not account for. And this was, 1 realised, a new way of working. I do not say it was a freer way, or even that it was a more productive way, but certainly it was different.’ (p.26.)

Fiction and the Dream’, in Irish Studies in Brazil (2005) - cont.: Banville here gives an account and record of a dream which he incorporated in The Sea, viz.: ‘A dream it was that drew me here. not knowing rightly where I was except that I was going home’. &c.; p.27-28.] ‘What encoded meaning or message did it carry out of my subconscious into the hospitable medium of cold print? [Speaks particularly of something ‘plangent, grief-stricken, almost, in that word home ‘ in the dream-passage quoted and cites Wallace Stevens’s phrase “pierces me with relation”.] Further: ‘The writing of fiction is far more than the telling of stories. It is an ancient, an elemental, urge which springs, like the dream, from a desperate imperative to encode and preserve things that are buried in us deep beyond words. This is its significance and its glory.’ (p.28; end.)

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The Writing Life’, in Washington Post, ‘Book World’, 19 Sept 1999, p.8. Banville begins by referring to Anthony Burgess’s experimental translation of the opening paragraph of Joyce’s Ulysses into standard English, and continues: ‘[t]he assimilation - or imposition - of the English language in Ireland, effectively completed after the Great Famine of the 1840s, was a painful but productive process that wrought great changes both in the Irish national sensibility and in the language itself. Hiberno-English is a wonderfully versatile yet often treacherous literary tool. The subtlety, richness and volatility of English as written in Ireland is the result of an alchemical fusion, as it were, between two wholly dissimilar methods of linguistic interpretation of the world and our being in it. Standard English as we received it in Ireland was, like Latin, an implement of bureaucracy, a mode of command; the building and maintaining of an empire requires a language capable of reducing itself to essentials without losing any of its coherence and concrete force. […] I believe it is this intermeshing of two languages, with all its political consequences, that goes a long way towards explaining the continuing extraordinary richness of Irish writing. […] [F]or the Irish novelist […] language is not a sheet of glass but a lens, and a lens, as we know, not only magnifies by inevitably distorts. it is precisely this distortion, the product of willed linguistic ambiguity, that the Irish novelist aims for and revels in.’ (…, &c.)

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A World Without People’, interview-article by Arminta Wallace, in The Irish Times (21 Sept. 2000), incls. quotations: ‘Any writer who’s honest with himself wants to go silent. The only utterance that can be perfect is silence; it can be perfect, but it can’t be eloquent, at least not for very long. But yes, there’s certainly a move toward emptying of content. It has become a kind of mantra with me that the problem with writing at the end of the 20th century or the beginning of the 21st, is that we have these two enormous figures behind us, Joyce and Beckett. Joyce put everything in; Beckett took everything out; my solution is put everything in and then deny it all. / But what I’ve always been trying to do is make prose have the weight of, and be as demanding as, poetry. Of course people’s heats sink when they hear this, but I’m not talking about moons and Junes and dance and lance.. I’m trying to get more purity, I’m trying to get more intensity, and I’m trying to get simpler. And these are very difficulty things to do, because a novel doesn’t offer simplicity; it offers complexity and prolixity, the ebb and flow of life itself.’ Further, ‘Surroundings are very, very important. I think of myself as a posthumanist writer - for me, human beings are not the centre of the universe. This is why the books are constantly sliding away from people to talk about what surrounds them; the light, the colours, the atmosphere. Under the guise of being nature poets, the English Romantic poets actually wrote about their own sensibilities as reflected in nature. What I’m trying to do is the opposite; to have nature, the world itself, reflected in the characters, so that you can almost see through them. They almost become transparent. This is why reviewers are constantly complaining about my lack of human interest, my lack of interest in characters and so on. I’m trying to do something new, and when you’re trying to do something new, you only know what it is when you’ve done it. I’m encouraged, somehow, by Eclipse: I think that’s it’s as near as I’ve got to writing a book that has no real centre.’ Further, ‘In the past Irish fiction was essentially pastoral. Not just that it was set in the country, but pastoral in the classical sense of allegorical stories with a generally benighted view of nature I grew up outside a small town and spent most of my childhood wandering around the fields with my dog and so on; and nature, as I observed it, was, not necessarily threatening, bot necessarily malign, but indifferent. And this always fascinated me. That there were trees and fields and skies and cows; and then there was us. Completely different to anything else that was around. And I conceived very early on that we were nature’s greatest mistake, as well as nature’s greatest glory, these creatures walking around with these strange ideas in our heads. / The only piece of prose fiction that I’ve ever written that is my voice is a paragraph in The Book of Evidence where Freddie says he thinks our presence here is a cosmic blunder, that we were really meant to be on some other planet. And then he wonders about the earthlings who were meant to be here - how are they getting on out there? And he concludes that they couldn’t have survived in a world that was meant to contain us.’ Further: ‘In our post-religious age people are inclined to take novelists and poets as priests, almost; as people who will tell you how to fix your life and save your soul. Andy maybe the work of art does do that; but the artist doesn’t. He’s just trying to get this bloody thing out of the way and an get on to the next.’ [...].

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Ludwig Wittgenstein: review of David Edmonds & John Eidinow, Wittgenstein’s Poker (Faber 2001), in The Irish Times ( 26 May 2001), Weekend, p.13, includes the following parenthesis: ‘A brief explicatory note may be helpful here. The logical positivists eschewed metaphysics in favour of scientific rigour, and insisted that the true and only task of philosophy is the clarification of propositions’; further quotes the authors: ‘What many in the [Vienna] Circle misunderstood was that Wittgenstein did not believe that the unsayable should be condemned as nonsense. On the contrary, the things we could not talk about were those that really mattered.’ (p.13.) Note that the final sentence of Birchwood is based on Wittengenstein’s most famous philosophical predication (‘[W]hereof I cannot speak, thereof I must be silent’) see further supra.)

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Bloomsday, Bloody Bloomsday’, in New York Books Review (16 June 2004) [“Essay”], p.31: ‘Very many years ago, when I was growing up in the town of Wexford, on the southeast coast of Ireland, I dearly wished to get hold of a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I had read Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and had even written, on a big black Remington borrowed from my Aunt Sadie, a number of lugubrious short stories in what I thought was the Joycean manner, mainly devoted to the subject of death and all centered on a neurastenic young hero whom no one truly understood, whose soul was much given to swooning and who went under different names but was always me / I had no doubts that my nascent literary endeavors showed me already to be one of Joyce’s direct heirs - if not the heir - but I was in a hurry to put these childish efforts behind me and get on to the real thing ... Leopold Bloom was the man I was after, as (perhaps more important) Molly was the woman.’ [Purchased copy of Ulysses in Liverpool and 17, and suffered his mother’s threat to up it on the fire.] ‘When I read itself, I had the same pleasant seeries of jolts of recognition that the first readers of “The Waste Land” must have experienced when they encoutnered echo uponfamiliar echo in Eliot’s thickly allusive text.’ Further remarks on Anthony Cronin’s ‘downbeat version of the “structured and, in a way, humorless” event’ of the first Bloomsday in 1954, and a later event of 1982 instigated by Cronin ‘when writers from around the world were invited to Dublin to celebrate Joyce’s own centenary. Among the many notable artists who came was - yes - [Juan Luis] Borges, who by then was in his 80s and totally blind. He was collected from the airport by a couple of volunteer meeters-and-greeters, who deposited him in his suite at the Shelbourne Hotel and went off to do more meeting and greeting. When they returned, late in the day, Borges was still in his room, and in fact had not left during the intervening hours. What was he to have done, Borges asked, since he did not know the city or anyone in it? Ever since, when I hear talk of Bloomsday celebrations, that, I am afraid, is the image that springs immediately to mind: an old, blind writer, one of the greatest of his age, sitting alone in a hotel room overlooking an unseen St. Stephen’s Green.’ [End.] (Includes further reference to Borges [“The Precessionof Simulcra”] and to Jean Baudrillard; see also under Hugh Kenner, infra.)

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James Joyce Bloomsday Magazine (2004), [short contribution], pp.26-27: ‘I first encountered Joyce’s work when my brother, Vincent, who was working as a teacher in Nigeria, sent me a copy of Dubliners. At the time I was twelve or thirteen. Although the book itself is long gone, I can still see it, a dog-eared orange Penguin. The stories astonished me, speaking as they did directly to my own experience; I had not realised until then that Literature could be about Life, that is, ordinary, day-to-day life as I knew it. True, Joyce was writing about a city and I was trapped in a small provincial town - in those days I considered it the height of sophistication that Dublin schoolboys went to school by bus - but the greyed-over tone caught exactly the ennui and paralysis of the lower-middle class milieu in which I was struggling to grow up. / My second epiphanic Joyce moment was the t snowy December day in Liverpool when I bought my first copy of Ulysses. It was the early 1960, I was seventeen, and a pop group which I knew the Beetles was playing in the Cavern Club. Iwas staying for Christmas with the family of girl with whom I had been conducting a love-affair since we were children. Over the years we saw each other only during successive summer holidays, in Ireland, and this was our first time together on her home ground. On Christmas Eve, for a reason which neither of us understood, then or later, she chose to break with me. I was devastated - does one ever recover fully from the end of one’s first affair? - but luckily I had comforters in Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and the rest of the cast. The result is that I cannot 1 can ei. read the opening sections of the book without experiencing the vestigial taste of salt tears. / Joyce of A Portrait and Stephen Hero would perhaps have sympathised with my adolescent sobs and swoons, but suspect the author of Ulysses would only have laughed at me.’ [End.]

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Sundry Remarks
First Flush
: ‘When I came to write my first novel, Nightspawn, the attitude which I adopted was one of extreme distrust of the novel form itself I set out to subject the traditional, nineteenth-century concept to as much pressure as I could bring to bear on it, while yet remaining within the rules. I made a wildly implausible plot. I chose stock characters. I brought in a political theme - the Colonels’ coup in Greece - precisely in order to make nothing of it. There were many reasons for proceeding in this way, but one of the principal ones was that I was interested to test, to bend close to breaking, the very curious relationship which exists between a reader and his author. I wished to challenge the reader to go on suspending his disbelief in my fiction in the face of an emphatic admission on my part that what 1 was presenting was fiction and nothing more - and everything more.’ (In Rudiger Imhof, ‘An Interview with John Banville’, Irish University Review, Spring 1981, pp.38-39.) Further, ‘Nightspawn is a kind of betrayal, of the reader’s faith in the writer’s good faith, and also it is a betrayal of, if you like, the novelist’s guild and its secret signs and strategems. It is an inside-out novel, it wears its skeleton and its nerves on the outside.’ (Idem. [q.p.]; both quoted in Laura P.Zuntini di Izarra, Mirrors and Holographic Labyrinths: The Process of a New Synthesis in the Novels of John Banville, SF: Internat. Scholars Publ. 1999, p.22.)

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Literary Modernism: ‘Modernism has run its course. So also, for that matter, has post-modernism. I believe, at least I hope, that we are on the threshold of a new ism, a new synthesis. What will it be? I do not know. But I hope it will be an art which is honest enough to despair and yet go on; rigorous and controlled, cool and yet passionate, without delusions, aware of its own possibilities and its own limits; an art which knows that truth is arbitrary, that reality is multifarious, that language is not a clear lens. Did I say new? What I have defined is as old as Homer.’ (John Banville, ‘A Talk’, Irish University Review, 1981, pp.13-17, p.17; quoted in McMinn, op. cit., 1991, p.10.)

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Mass media: Banville professes belief that the mass media have doomed the novel to extinction and that it will only survive in universities: ‘We are as in the 1890s, a period of Dark Ages. It is the end of the novel, but something new will take place.’ (Interview with Laura P. Zuntini di Izarra, [so transcribed] in Izarra, Mirrors and Holographic Labyrinths: The Process of a New Synthesis in the Novels of John Banville, SF: Internat. Scholars Publ. 1999, p.10.)

Shape for Art’s Sake: In art the only absolute criterion is shape, form, ratio, harmony, call it what you will, call it order‘ ( Physics and Fiction: Order from Chaos’, in The New York Book Review, 21 April 1985, p.41; quoted in Izarra, op. cit. 1999, p.11.)

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Truth & fiction: ‘A lie is only a lie when the one who is lied to thinks he is hearing the truth. When the lier and the listener and both know it is a lie, then the lie becomes transformed into a ritual. Henry James recognised this, which makes him for me the first modern novelist. Society, he tells us, lives by, can only live by, necessary falsehoods. Art is one of them - the Supreme Fiction, as Wallace Stevens calls it.’ (‘A Talk’, in Irish University Review, Spring 1981, p.16.)

Character in fiction: ‘I never had any interest in character (that is, in fiction). Freddie Montgomery [in the Book of Evidence] is a mere voice, no character. These figures carry the pattern of the books. This is why I should like Cézanne more, because I don’t like to have a centre. When Graham Greene was judging some prize The Book of Evidence won, he complained that there is nothing in the book that he would remember. And I thought, absolutely right, this is what I wanted. When I did Birchwood, my first real novel, I deliberately chose stock characters, caricatures, the beautiful, suffering mother, the hard-drinking, cruel father, the sensitive son, the ghastly grandparents, the comic servants and I put them all in a big house, the most clichéd thing in Irish fiction. And then I tried to subvert the type, to make something else out of it. The only direct statement I’ve ever made in any book that I have written is at the end of Birchwood where the protagonists says: “I’ll stay in this house and I’ll live a life different from any the house has ever known.” [Birchwood, p.174]. And that is my statement. I stay in this country but I’m not going to be an Irish writer. I’m not going to do the Irish thing.’ (In Hedwig Schall, ‘An Interview with John Banville’, in The European English Messenger, Vol. VI, 1, Spring 1997, p.19; end.)

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National literature? (1): ‘I don’t really think that specifically “national” literatures are of terribly great significance ... We go on and on about our great writers but we have very few great writers, perhaps two. Two great writers or even ten great writers don’t really make a literature ... The fact that Joyce and Beckett were born in Ireland or even wrote about Ireland is not really important ... There is an Irish writing, but there isn’t an Irish literature We can’t continue to write in the old way ... Most of Irish writing is within a nineteenth-century tradition where the world is regarded as given ... But the modern writer cannot take the world for granted any longer ... I’ve never felt a part of any (national) tradition, any culture even ... I feel a part of a purely personal culture gleaned from bits and pieces of European culture of four thousand years. It’s purely something I have manufactured.’ (‘Novelists on the Novel: Ronan Sheehan talk to John Banville and Francis Stuart’, in The Crane Bag [3, 1, 1979], Vol. 1, Dublin: Blackwater 1981, pp.76-80; quoted in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Four Courts Press 2000, p.80.)

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National literature? (2): ‘There is no such thing as Irish national literature, only Irish writers engaged in the practice of writing’. (op. cit., 1979, p.409; quoted in Tjebbe Westendorp, ‘The Great War in Irish Memory: The Case of Poetry’, in Geert Lernout, ed., The Crows Behind the Plough: History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Poetry and Drama, Amsterdam: Rodopi 1991, p.139; also in Edna Longley, ‘From Cathleen to Anorexia’, rep. in The Living Stream, 1994, p.179.) Cf., ‘We are part of a tradition, a European tradition; why not acknowledge it?’ (Quoted in Imhof, ‘Q & A with John Banville’ [interview], Irish Literary Supplement, 1987, p.13; cited in Conor McCarthy, op. cit., 2000, p.80.)

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Literary movement?: ‘I must say I’ve never felt apart of any movement or tradition, any culture even [...] I feel a part of my culture. But it’s purely a personal culture gleaned from bits and pieces of European culture of four thousand years. It’s purely something I have manufactured. I dont think any writer ever felt part of a culture.’ (Ibid., pp.408, 411; cited in Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in New Irish Fiction, London: Pluto 1997, cp.16.)

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Irish tradition?: ‘We’re part of a tradition, a European tradition; why not acknowledged it? And then, books are to a large extent made out of other books; why not acknowledge that too? Also, I find that the incorporation of references to other works, and even quotations from those works, gives the text a peculiar and interesting resonance, which is registered even when the reader does not realise that something is quoted.’ (‘Q&A with John Banville’, Rüdiger Imhof, Irish Literary Review, Spring 1987, p.13; cited in Joseph McMinn, John Banville: A Critical Study, Gill & Macmillan, 1991; p.4.)

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Irish & Language: ‘For the Irish, language is not primarily a tool for expressing what we mean. Sometimes I think it is quite the opposite. We have profound misgivings about words. We love them - all too passionately, some of us - but we do not trust them. Therefore we play with them. I am well aware of the danger there is in saying these things. Shamrocks. Leprechauns. The gift of the gab. Little old men with pipes in their gobs sitting on ditches and maundering on about how things were in their fathers’ time. In a word, pronounced chaarrm. If I have conjured these images, please banish them at once from your minds. What I am talking about is something subversive, destructive even, and in a way profoundly despairing. Listen to any group of Irish people conversing, from whatever class, in whatever circumstances, and behind the humour and the rhetoric and the slyness you will detect a dark note of hopelessness before the phenomenon of a world that is always out there.’ (Rüdiger Imhof, ‘“My Readers, That Small Band, Deserve a Rest”: An Interview with John Banville’, in Irish University Review, ‘John Banville Special Issue’, ed. Rüdiger Imhof, Spring 1981, pp.5-12, p.14; quoted in McMinn, op. cit, 1991, p.8; also, briefly, in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation, Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Four Courts Press 2000, p.114, p.114.)

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The Big House: ‘[I]n a way it’s a huge museum of the past for us. It raises hackles, it raises expectations. No Irish person could be absolutley unmoved for [sic] it.’ (‘Out of Chaos Order Comes’, Interview with Ciaran Carty, in The Sunday Tribune, 14 Sept. 1986; quoted in Joseph McMinn, John Banville: A Critical Introduction, Gill & Macmillan, 1991, p.7.)

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Northern Troubles?: ‘I was surprised by how much of the Northern Troubles had crept into it [Birchwood], without my knowing. So, that book is representative of its time, but I didn’t do it to be that way. And this is the absolutely crucial difference, between what you mean to do and what is done.’ (Interview, Hot Press, 5 Oct. 1994; quoted in Laura P. Zuntini di Izarra, Mirrors and Holographic Labyrinths: The Process of a New Synthesis in the Novels of John Banville, SF: Internat. Scholars Publ. 1999, p.31.)

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Lost Decades: Banville writes about his memories of emigrants departing from Rosslare: ‘There they were, the crowds of awkward, lost yong men with their cardboard suitcases, heading for the building sites of places with cruel names: Hackney, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, the Bronxh’, and recalls seeing them again years later in London: ‘these same men, grown older and harder but still awkward, still lost, playing mournful two-man games of hurling in Hyde Park on summer Sunday mornings.’ (Essay in Dermot Keogh, ed., Ireland in the 1950s: The Lost Decade, Mercier 2004, quoted in Joe Horgan, review, Books Ireland, Nov. 2004, p.261.)

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Brief crits (In Guardian Weekly, 25 Dec. 2006): ‘Georges Simenon is a late discovery of mine not the Maigret policiers but his romans durs, his serious ones, Tropic Moon, translated by Mar[c] Romano (New York Review Books), is a dark masterpiece, darker even than Heart of Darkness, set in Gabon in the 1930s: violent, sexy, and frightening. Another essay in noir, Hilary Mantel’s beautifully written novel Beyond Black (Harper Perennial), should have been on the Man Booker shortlist. The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 by John Bayley (Duckworth) is old-fashioned, anti-theoretical criticism at its best. And for the studied effrontery of it, John Carey’s What Good Are the Arts? (Faber): wrong-headed, self-contradictory and brilliant.’ [Presum. from Guardian Books of the Year Choice.]

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Larkin’s women: remarks in review of Anthony Thwaite, ed., Collected Poems of Philip Larkin and First Boredom, Then Fear: Life of Larkin, by Richard Bradford, in in New York Review of Books, 23 Feb. 2006, 20-23: ‘If Larkin ever “found” himself, then it was in Belfast, of all places, that the happy discovery was made. He was free of his family, and among the college staff, he made friends who opened for him new vistas of freedom and fulfillment. In particular he was taken with Patsy Strang, née Avis - later she would marry the poet Richard Murphy - the wife of a lecturer in the philosophy department. Larkin was fascinatined [Andrew] Motion writes, by the “food-providing, drink-pouring, dog-loving, occasionally pipe-smoking ‘tall, rather gawky brunette’ Pasy Strang” [Life of Larkin], and they embarked upon an affair which, one surmises, offered Larkin his first real glimpse of what could be had beyond the spiritual and sensual limits which his background, and his own cramped personality, had imposed on him. / Patsy was one of the many women whom Larkin depended upon, or exploited, including Monica Jones, his most enduring love, who at various times had to share him with Maeve Brennan, Larkin’s colleague at Hull, and his secretary Betty Mackereth. Larkin vacillated between his women, lying to all of them, as he ineptly sought to conceal from each of them his true feelings for the others. It is hard not to judge him harshly for his behaviour in these afairs of the heart, but the evidence remains that all of his women, no matter how badly he treated them, remained lyal andloving to the very end - when he wa dying, oc cancer of the esophagus, they would sometimes encounter each other at his beside - which is surely a testament to his worth as a man, for thes were strong, self-respecting women who say him for what he was, and accepted it. / All of this is incidental to what matters, which is the poetry.’

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Bishop [Eamon] Casey: Asked in 2000 to nominate an iconic national figure for Nelson’s Pillar (destroyed by an IRA bomb) if it were to be re-erected in Dublin, Banville suggested Bishop Eamon Casey because ‘He caused the whole collapse.’ (Quoted in Mary Kenny, Goodbye to Catholic Ireland [rev. edn. 2000], p.329; cited in R. F. Foster, Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000, London: Allen Lane: 2007, p.61.)

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Becoming Benjamin Black: ‘[...] I was driving into Dublin along the sea road from Howth. There had been rain but it had stopped, and the light from a luminously clouded sky was pewter-bright, and puddles on the road were shivering in the wind, and the rooks above the trees in St Anne’s Park were being tossed about the air like scraps of charred paper. I had reached a place along the road called Black Banks when Victor’s prompting popped up again in my mind, and on the spot I knew what I would do: I would turn the television project into a novel. Not a John Banville novel, that was clear from the outset, but something altogether new to me: new, and venturesome, and risky. / The force of the idea was such that I drew the car to the side of the road and stopped and, for some reason, laughed. It was a loud laugh, unsteady, and sounded, even to my own ears, slightly maniacal. Thinking back now, I realise it was less a laugh than the birth-cry of my dark and twin brother Benjamin Black. / At once I wrote to my friend Beatrice von Rezzori, who runs a writers’ foundation at Santa Maddalena [...] Thus it was that I found myself in the pink-tinged light of a cold March morning in Tuscany setting out, or, more prosaically, sitting down, to become someone else. / In another one of those suspiciously clear and definite memories I see myself there that Monday morning, in those medieval surroundings, at that scarred old olive-wood table, opening a blank, black-jacketed manuscript book and writing on the first page the title Christine Falls, while within me my heart quailed before the task I had set myself. [...] ’ (For full-text version, see attached.)

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Character in lit. & life: ‘Character, to me, is one more lie of history and the dramatic arts. In my view, we have only what we did yesterday, what we do today, and what we might still do. Plus, whatever we think about all of that. But nothing else - nothing hard or kernel-like. I’ve never seen evidence of anything resembling it. In fact I’ve seen the opposite: life as teeming and befuddling, followed by the end.’ (‘John Banville celebrates Richard Ford’s Bascombe books: the story of an American Everyman’, in The Guardian (8 Nov. 2014) [available online].)

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