John Broderick

References


Life
1927-1989; b. 30 July, Athlone; son of J. Broderick Snr., owner of of the chief bakery in Athlone, who died in c.1927; mother afterwards married the manager and herself acting as a capable business-woman, 1936; Broderick by his own account ‘self-educated despite the effort of six schools’, but actually ed. at National Dean Kelly Memorial National School and the Marist Brothers Secondary School in Athlone, as well as Summerhill College, Sligo, and St. Joseph's College, Garbally (inter. cert.), to whose school magazine he contributed in later life; he lived in Athlone and in a country house; sent to Dublin after schooling to train for bakery management; spent time in Paris and met Julian Green there, as recorded in the latter’s diary for 1951, corresponding with him thereafter; passed several years in Athlone living with his mother until her death; notably well-dressed couple; too ‘distressed’ to attend her funeral and contemplated late vocation [priesthood];
 
sent The Pilgrimage (1961) to Green prior to publication (Green finding it ‘bien plus agée qui lui’); broadcast on Mary Lavin, [et al.], Radio Éireann (3 July 1961); Pilgrimage banned in Ireland on grounds of homosexuality as dealing with the pilgrimage to a wealthy builder who is gay but has a youner wife, to Lourdes and involving a manservant and anonymous letters; issued The Fugitives (1962), a novel involving IRA material; addressed UCD L&H, 1962; contrib. to Kilkenny Magazine ; issued The Waking of Willie Ryan (1965), in which the title character is committed to an asylum by his brother, a successful businessman, for purportedly assaulting a woman, though actually homosexual, and afterwards sheltered by a cousin, with consequences for the family; issued An Apology for Roses (1973), containing caricatures of smalltown Ireland in Miss Prince and Miss Fall; issued The Trial of Father Dillingham (in French 1975; in English 1982); settled in Bath, assisted by his house-keeper Mary Scanlon, 1981;
 
came to dislike England and the English intensely; wrote numerous fiction reviews for The Irish Times, including enthusiastic notices on Edna O’Brien; last novels, A Prayer for Fair Weather (1984), spy story set in London; The Rose Tree (1985), set in the West Country; and The Flood (1987), set in Clare; d. Bath; bur. Athlone, with small attendance; later commemorated by street-name; remembered in the Irish literary world as flamboyant figure and in Athlone as belligerent and an alcoholic who sought drinking companions in the town; an obituary appeared in the Telegraph (31 July 1989); a John Broderick Weekend was inaugurated in Athlone in 1999, growing to become the Athlone Literary Festival; the Lilliput reprints of 2007 are assisted by John Broderick Committee, Athlone. DIL DIW OCIL
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Works
Novels
  • The Pilgrimage (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1961; Pan Books 1975), rep. as The Chamelions (London: Panther Books 1965), and reiss. as The Pilgrimage (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2004), 200pp.;
  • The Fugitives (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1962; Pan Books 1976);
  • Don Juaneen (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1963; Panther Books 1965, 1969);
  • The Waking of Willie Ryan (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1965; Panther 1969); and Do . [re. edn.] , with a foreword by David Norris (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2004), 240pp.
  • An Apology for Roses (London: Calder & Boyars 1973), 230pp.; Do . [another edn.] (London: Pan Books 1974);
  • The Pride of Summer (London: Harrap 1976), 252pp.;
  • London Irish (London: Barrie & Jenkins 1979), 218pp.; Do . [another edn.] (London: Pan Books 1981);
  • The Trial of Father Dillingham (London: Calder & Boyars 1982);
  • A Prayer for Fair Weather (London: London: Calder & Boyars 1984),
  • The Rose Tree (London: Calder & Boyars; NY: Boyars 1985), 191pp.;
  • The Flood (London: Calder & Boyars 1987; Dublin: Wolfhound 1990);
  • The Irish Magdalen [e ] (London: Marion Boyars 1991) [posthum.].
  • Madeleine Kingston, ed., Stimulus of Sin: Selected Writings of John Broderick (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2007), 288pp.
240pp. Query, Cité Pleine de Rêves (1974).
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Journalism:
Broderick’s contributions to The Irish Times ‘Weekend’ section during Summer 1980 included reviews of Patrick Rafroidi & Terence Brown, eds., The Irish Short Story (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe [1980]), John Cronin, The Anglo-Irish Novel (Belfast: Appletree 1980); Hilary Robinson, Somerville and Ross: A Critical Appreciation (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan); also Liam O’Flaherty’s Famine [1937] (Dublin: Wolfhound 1980), on 19 Jan. 1980 [see under Liam O’Flaherty, infra.]

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Criticism
  • Douglas Sealy, review Irish Times (18 Jan. 1966), [q.p.];
  • [q.a.], ‘The Future of the Irish Novel’ [interview] Irish Times (8 Jan. 1970), [q.p.];
  • Seán McMahon, ‘Town and Country’, in Éire-Ireland, 6, 1 (Spring 1971), pp.120-31 [infra];
  • Eavan Boland, ‘The Lost World: John Broderick’, Irish Times (23 May 1973), [q.p.; with interview];
  • Patrick Rafroidi, ‘A Question of Inheritance: The Anglo-Irish Tradition’, in Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time (Publ. de Université de Lille 1975-76), p.28 [infra];
  • Michael Paul Gallagher, S.J., ‘The Novels of John Broderick’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time (l’Université de Lille 1975-76), pp.235-43 [infra];
  • James Cahalan, The Irish Novel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1988), p.296-98;
  • Julia Carlson, ‘John Broderick’ [interview], Banned in Ireland (Georgia UP; London: Routledge 1990), pp.39-51 [infra];
  • Klaus Lubbers, ‘John Broderick’ in Rüdiger Imhof, ed., Contemporary Irish Novelists (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag 1990), pp.79-91;
  • D. J. Taylor, review of The Irish Magdalen (1991), in The Independent, [London] (23 March 1991), [infra];
  • Patrick Murray, ‘Athlone’s John Broderick’, in Éire-Ireland, 27, 4 (Winter 1992), pp.20-39;
  • Rory Brennan, review of Madeline Kingston, Something in the Head, in Books Ireland (Dec. 2004), p.295;
  • Sam Thompson, ‘Perversely cured: The baking, banning and bisexuality of John Broderick’, in Times Literary Supplement (17 Dec. 2004), p.26-27 [infra];
  • Eamon Maher, Cross-Currents and Confluences: Echoes of Religion in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Dublin: Veritas 2000) [chap. on Broderick].
  • Madeleine Kingston, Something in the Head: The Life and Work of John Broderick (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2004), 176pp.
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See also Peter Guy, ‘As Mirrors are Lonely’: A Lacanian Reading of Three Irish Novelists [PhD Thesis] (Nat. Centre for Franco-Irish Studies / ITT Dublin 2009) [Broderick, McGahern, Moore - available online at Wiziq online - accessed 25.04.2011].

Commentary
Seán McMahon, ‘Town and Country’, in Éire-Ireland, 6, 1 (Spring 1971), pp.120-31, remarks that Broderick’s ‘four novels written between 1961 and 1965 are in remarkable contrast to these autobiographical novels that seem to appear as regularly as rain and are rarely followed (p.120) by more mature work. This contrast is most evident in his treatment of that most characteristic element in Irish life, the Town.’ (p.121). Further ‘The Town, then is the backdrop of Broderick’s stage. His attitude is one of acceptance, deeper felt than anything so straightforward as love or hate, and acceptance has produced in him a deep awareness of the nature of life as it is lived - not as it may have seemed to the conscious outsider. Yet he is not simply the laureate of Main Street, Ireland. his vision of the town may be more reliable than that of those who rejected it but he is concerned more with characters than with their environment. It is only because they are so involved in each other that he becomes associated in the minds of his readers with the Town. It is the milieu [122] that he knows best and his delineation of characters would be incomplete without the statement of the Town’s effect. One is certain he could write equally well about the environment; in a sense, the Town is an accident.’ (p.123).

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Patrick Rafroidi, ‘A Question of Inheritance: The Anglo-Irish Tradition’, in Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time (Publ. de Université de Lille 1975-76): Rafroidi quotes a review-article on Broderick by Douglas Sealy (Irish Times, 18 Jan. 1966), in which the critic writes that Broderick’s fault is that he is ‘not content with being a novelist, he wants to be a sage as well, and he fills up the interstices of the action with aphorisms which seem to have been imported from some calendar of Thoughts’, supplying an example: ‘Every woman who has been scorched by the fires of sensuality will always choose death rather than the lack of love.’ (Rafroidi, op. cit., p.28).

Michael Paul Gallagher, ‘The Novels of John Broderick’, in Rafroidi & Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time (l’Université de Lille 1975-76), p.241 notes review in Kilkenny Magazine (Spring 1963), p.37, in which the reviewer complained: ‘All through the narrative, the author intersperses pensées or maxims which slide into place like so many glass panels separating the reader from the portrayed world. These apothegms range from the profound to the silly.’ [Note that Broderick was a contributor to Kilkenny Magazine ].

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James Cahalan, The Irish Novel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1988), calls the ‘enclosed societal worlds or rural and small-town places’ of his fiction ‘even more obscure that Macken’s Galway’ (p.296). Further remarks: seedy sex; eleven novels; ongoing attack on mores of midland Irish life; talent lapsing into caricature; his fictional father was Brinsley MacNamara; concerned with ‘states of unfreedom in a society of squinting windows’; would-be Balzac, admitting his early novels were too negative, voicing ‘[his] own hope of being able to move from negativity’ to a novel ‘written with love’ (Gallagher, op. cit., 1976, pp.235-36); no-hold barred attempt to plunge beneath the behavioral surface [... etc.] (297-98); Pilgrimage, 298; Dillingham, 298; Willie Ryan, 209 [notes slightly less affluent Catholic world than Kate O’Brien’s]; 298.

J. W. Foster, Colonial Consequences (Syracuse UP 1991), writes that ‘with Kavanagh, MacManus, Mervyn Wall and John Broderick [between the 1930s and 1970s], the literary image of the provinces has been a caustic reply to the extravagant Revival love of Ireland.’ [q.p.]

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D. J. Taylor, review of The Irish Magdalen (1991), in The Independent, UK, 23 March 1991), [q.p.], [with photo-portrait of Broderick], notes that the novel was intended as the second in an ‘Athlone Trilogy’, set in the early 1930s in the thinly disguised town of ‘Bridgeford’ ‘The Flood turns on the attempt of a consortium of locals to sell land to a visiting Englishman without telling him that it lies under water for three months of the years. The Irish Magdalen is an account of the successful rearguard action fought by the local priest who, in employing the half-sister of the local tart as his housekeeper, jeopardises the future of the church building fund sweepstake. ‘The literary echoes that resonate through [the novel] are derived less from modern Irish masters than from Lever and Thackeray.’ Taylor characterises Broderick as a wealthy bachelor whose money came from a family bakery, and who professed himself an unrepentant sensualist (“I did everything I wanted in every conceivable way”). Further, ‘His novels, narrowly focused on the twin shibboleths of money and sex, with religion lurking ... in the background, provoked storms of protest, as did his unorthodox literary opinions consisting in widely publicised animosity towards the literary canon - even Yeats being a “poetic Churchill, full of bluster”.’ Taylor calls him a writer whose primary impulses are elegiac, ‘obsessed with his childhood in the Athlone of the 1930s, he say himself increasingly as the celebrant of a bye-gone way of life.’

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D. J. Taylor, ‘Heading for the Troubles’, [review of Irish fiction], in Sunday Times (1 May 1994), [q.p.], quotes from Broderick, The Rose Tree : ‘I thought it was all over, like a fool. Things never are in Ireland’, says a character being hunted by the IRA. [D. J. Taylor is author of After the War, The Novel and England since 1945. ]

Sam Thompson, ‘Perversely cured: The baking, banning and bisexuality of John Broderick’, in Times Literary Supplement, review of The Pilgrimage and The Waking of Willie Reilly [reps.] (17 Dec. 2004), p.26-27: ‘[...] The last chapter of The Pilgrimage is a single sentence, a shocker: “In this way they set out on their pilgrimage, from which a week later Michael returned completely cured”. This is a form of what Martin Amis once called “the kind of challenge that the literary Catholic enjoys throwing out to the world, as if to testify to the macho perversity of his faith”. Amis’s macho Catholics were Graham, Greene and Evelyn Waugh. The final flashy irony of The Pilgrimage is less tremendous, less theodicean, than the irony of A Handful of Dust or The End of the Affair, but it is just as cruel. The “perversity” comes not from the inhumanity with which providence operates, but - more simply from the fact that the characters are weak hypocrites. They have manoeuvred themselves into a position in which the miraculous healing of a sick man - which they have all been publicly praying for - is for them a disastrous evil. This is characteristic of Broderick. Catholicism is bitterly satirised for the misery it imposes, but the fault lies not with religion, and certainIy not with God. It lies in the fact that most people - especially those who call themselves devout - are irreligious creatures who perform rituals and mouth pieties, but believe in nothing. Consequently the Church is a sink of vice; but in Broderick’s work, as in his life, it is central and inescapable, whether defied or embraced. In 1979 he said, “I haven’t got faith at the moment I do hope the religious experience will come again”; and in 1984, “I am now a practising, albeit critical, Catholic. Mind you, I always had an affection for the faith, warts and all”.’ Thompson notes that the word “watchful” recurs in the novels the novels. (See full text.)

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Liam Harte, A man apart’, review of Madeline Kingston, Something in the Head, with rep. edns. of The Pilgrimage and The Waking of Willie Ryan, in The Irish Times (15 jan. 2005), Weekend, p.13: ‘[...] In the early 1980s, Broderick moved to Bath for reasons which, Kingston admits, “are as elusive as so much else about him”. A fugitive from biography, Broderick both covered his tracks and cultivated an air of mystery, bequeathing little in the way of self-revelatory material. Kingston is often left chasing shadows, therefore, and ultimately fails to bring her subject fully to book. The best she can offer is a series of vignettes of a complex personality torn between conformity and dissent: a Mass-going Catholic who fulminated against the post-Vatican II changes in religious practice; a self-proclaimed hedonist (“I did everything I wanted in every conceivable way”) who was appalled by England’s “moral dissipation”; a writer who liked to represent himself as “an Athlone businessman”, yet once appeared in the town clad in black leather, clutching a handbag. / Broderick’s desire to hide his homosexuality appears to have been at the heart of his evasive, obfuscatory ways. As early as 1946 close friends noticed that he had lost his “natural sunshine and spontaneity” and “seemed to be hiding something”. But whereas Kingston is reluctant to pronounce definitively on his sexual proclivities, having found “no evidence of any sustained relationship at any time of his life”, David Norris shows no such reserve. “He was a heavy drinker and a homosexual”, he bluntly states in his foreword to The Waking of Willie Ryan, the novel Broderick rightly considered to be his best. / Reading it and The Pilgrimage 40 years after their first (banned) publication, one is struck by both the derivativeness and the originality of the writing. Broderick’s dissection of religious hypocrisy, spiteful intolerance and emotional entrapment in small-town Ireland, a place that stifles individuality and breeds destructive neuroses, owes much to Balzac, Hardy, Lawrence and Brinsley MacNamara. Yet there is an edgy, daringly innovative quality to his portrayal of subterranean gay culture in 1950s Ireland and his searing indictment of the homophobia of the Catholic bourgeoisie.’ (See full text.)

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Quotations
The Pilgrimage
(1961) concerns Julia Glynn, 35, married to Michael, a bald and crippled homosexual, who has been sexually educated by an American diplomat and has just concluded an affair with Jim, a town doctor now getting married; she then takes up with Stephen, Michael’s servant, who has been sending her anonymous, sexually explicit letters out of jealousy; Jim becomes involved with homosexual blackmailers; the novel ends abruptly when Michael sets off with the parish priest to Lourdes. Broderick describes the setting thus: ‘[a] little town like all little towns, compounded of petty vices: envy, spite, suspicion, greed. In that atmosphere of careful virtues and furtive pleasures watchfulness flourished like a huge obscene creeper on an ancient house. Julia could feel it thickening the air when she walked through those narrow streets. They knew.’ (p.119). The novel ends on this note: ‘In this way they set off on their pilgrimage from which a week later Michael returned completely cured.’ (p.140.) [Quoted in Klaus Lubbers, ‘John Broderick’ in Rüdiger Imhof, ed., Contemporary Irish Novelists (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag 1990), pp.79-91; p.80.)

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O’Flaherty’s Famine (1937)‘[is a book] without which we can have but an imperfect understanding of the country in which [it] is set.’ Broderick praises the character of Mary Kilmartin, who has been ‘singled out by two generations of critics as one of the great creations of modern literature’. He adds, ‘O’Flaherty himself is clearly in love with her’. He summarises, ‘Mary survives with her baby, to join her husband on a ship for America. [...] The old people die; the district is laid waste; and the gombeen men survive to form the backbone of Catholic Ireland down to the present day.’ (‘Roots’, review of Famine, in The Irish Times, 19 Jan. 1980.) Note that Broderick here treats Joyce as a cosmopolitan rather than a national writer, and one whose books will revert to the university audience.

References

The Dictionary of Irish Biography (RIA 2009) contains an entry by Patrick Maume which cites - inter alia - www.pgil-eirdata.org. Also cites Irish Independent (31 May 1989), Sunday Independent (4 Ju8ne `989); interview in Julia Carlson, ed., Banned in Ireland (1990), pp.39-51, and Madeleine Kingston, Something in the Head: The Life and Work of John Broderick (2004).

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Notes
The Pride of Summer (1976) contains numerous instances among the cast of gangsters, pimps, gigolos, &c., who bear the names of well-known contemporary figures.

Stimulus to Sin (2007): ‘Between 1956 and 1988 Broderick produced over three hundred review columns on a wide range of books and topics. A carefully chosen selection of these include his thoughts on Francis Stuart, Lee Dunne, Padraic Fallon, Oscar Wilde, Kate O’Brien and Liam O’Flaherty, among others. His journalism also gave him space to reflect on other preoccupations, such as Athlone, Irish society, the Church, books, writers and human nature. It allowed him freedom to write humorously, seriously, sometimes pessimistically, even savagely. His writings are of increasing relevance and interest in today’s Ireland.’

 

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