Christy Brown (1932-81)


Life
b. 5 June 1932, Crumlin, son of bricklayer; one of 21 children of whom 13 were surviving; handicapped from birth and diagnosed with brain paralysis of the athetoid kind [DIB cerebral palsy], being considered mentally disabled until he snatched a piece of chalk from a sister with his left foot;
 
his mother taught him to read and write in spite or resistance of her husband; Dr Robert Collis played central part in his rehabilitation, teaching speech co-ordination; wrote on typewriter; My Left Foot (1954) expanded into novel Down all the Days (1970), the work of ten years; translated into 14 languages;
 
issued Come Softly to My Wake (1971), best-selling poetry collection, followed by Of Snails And Skylarks (1978), in which “Sunset Star” [‘playing my poetic permutations’]; issued Wild Grow the Lilies (1976), a romance set in Parnell’s city (Dublin), with characters such as Martin, Joy, Sue and Laurie (‘her mature beauty in strict contrast to Abbie’s coltish charms’); m. Mary Carr, nurse from Tralee;
 
he bought bungalow at Ballyheigue, Co. Kerry, and a house in Parbrook, Somerset; gregarious and companionable, with pungent turn of phrase; d. Parbrook, 1981; My Left Foot (scriptplay by Shane Connaughton), was filmed by Jim Sheridan in 1987 [var. 1989], with Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker; his papers are held in the National Library of Ireland. DIB DIW MAC OCIL

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Works
Prose
  • My Left Foot, with a foreword by Dr. Bob [Robert] Collis (London: Secker & Warburg 1954; NY: Simon & Schuster 1955; Cork: Mercier Press 1964); Do., rep. in America as Story of Christy Brown (NY: Pocket Books 1971); Do. as The Childhood Story of Christy Brown (London: Pan Books 1972); Do., trans. in French as Miracle en Irelande (Paris: Laffont 1955), and rep. as Du pied gauche (Paris: Laffond 1971);
  • Down All The Days (London: Secker & Warburg; NY: Stein & Day 1970); Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Pan Books 1971); Do. [in French as] Celui qui regardait passer les jours (Paris: Editions du Seuil 1971);
  • A Shadow on Summer (London: Secker & Warburg 1973) [London Book Club Associates];
  • Wild Grow the Lilies (London: Secker & Warburg; Stein & Day 1976);
  • A Promising Career ([q. pub.] 1982).
Poetry
  • Come Softly to My Wake (London: Secker & Warburg 1971), and Do. in USA as Poems of Christy Brown (NY: Stein & Day 1971);
  • Background Music: Poems (London: Secker & Warburg/Stein & Day 1973), 66pp.;
  • Of Snails and Skylarks (London: Secker & Warburg 1978), 79pp.;
  • Inmates (1981);
  • To Be a Pilgrim, introduced by Robert Collis (1975) [autobiography].
 
Reprint Edns. (Rep.), Down All the Days (1991) ; A Promising Career (1991) , A Shadow on Summer (1991) and Wild Grow the Lilies. (rep. 1991), 312pp.

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Criticism
  • William Trevor, ‘The snarling, yelling world of real Dublin’ [review of Down All the Days], in The Irish Times [ Saturday Review] (16 May 1970);
  • Bernard Cassen, ‘celui qui regardait passer les jours’ de Christy Brown, in Le Monde (18 June 1971), p.17.;
  • Françoise Borel, ‘“I Am Without a Name”: The Fiction of Christy Brown’, in The Irish Novel in Our Time, ed. Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon [Cahiers Irlandaises 4-5] (l’Université de Lille 1976), pp.287-95;
  • Anthony J. Jordan, Christy Brown’s Women: a biography drawing on his letters (Westport Books 1998), 180pp. [letters aged 14 onwards; incls. "The Founding of Cerebral Palsy Ireland", by Robert Collis.

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Commentary
Françoise Borel, ‘“I Am Without a Name”: The Fiction of Christy Brown’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, The Irish Novel in Our Time [Cahiers Irlandaises 4-5] (l’Université de Lille 1976), pp.287-95, writes of Down All the Days: ‘He’s is nothing but a keen glance, ‘watching avidly’ the fantastic world around him; rhetorical exaggeration and lyrical distortion; wet dreams, ‘dark red-skinned woman crawled towards him on her knees, spreading her thighs for him ... huge and hairy and legless &c’; verbs of vision recurring, incredibly diversified and accurate, light and shadow, colour, lava and ash; high strung sensuousness; ‘Picture Gallery’; genuine ear for brand of Irish talk; filtered rumours of wild life abroad; model of family, Father, Mother, Child, Children, repeated with obstinate simplicity; Lil, the helpless elder sister who marries in defiance of her father and soon gets pregnant; child dies in unsanitary slum conditions; affectionate husband partial to a pint; Red Magso, widow, ‘in me prime ... you won’t get the likes of them at Woolworth’s!’; death of her consumptive daughter; most scenes not individual but basic models interminably duplicated, frequentative mood, obsessive reiteration, with ‘He’ in remote past, distancing; no name, although father is Mr Brown; not quite autobiography; tumultuous metaphor of the daily fever and weariness of life he encountered in the slums; My Left Foot is autobiography; lacks direct crudeness of facts; narrator and character are ‘I’ and Christy Brown; lacks the cogency of the novel; adjectival itch reaches alarming proportions in A Shadow on Summer; inflated modifiers, often pedantic and outmoded; gardens ‘redolent of memories’; long winded similes make us regret the stream of consciousness technique was ever discovered; ‘He looked back, seeing the intricate maze of imprints the car tyres had made in the sand, and thought wryly how these markings resembled the twists and turns of his own life leading now to this strange moment carved out of some dear improbable nowhere, awaking in him all the old inklings and tinklings of the immense wonder and inconquerable mystery of even the most mundane mortal existence. (Shadow, p.14.); deals with hazardous theme of a writer’s delivery of his work in a land of exile, through the care of a mothering mother of a midwife, Laurie, a literary bore, tediously faithful to a husband, who is the only one to win our sympathy; Abbie should have had much more of the enticing siren to be worth the contest; pathetic quadrangular plot without mock heroic register; disappointing soap; escapism in all directions; situation of crippled writer watered down in Shadow.

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Quotations
My Left Foot
(1954; 1964 Edn.), ‘It would not be true to say that I am no longer lonely, now that I have reached out to thousands of people and communicated to them all my fears, frustrations and hopes which for so long lay bottled up inside me. I have made myself articulate and understood to people in many parts of the world, and this is something we all wish to do whether we are crippled or not. It is a common need to make ourselves understood by others, for none of us can live entirely alone or by our own devices. Yet like everyone else I am acutely conscious sometimes of my own isolation even in the midst of people, and I often give up hope of ever being able to communicate with them. It is not [deny] the sort of isolation that every writer or artist must experience in the creative mood if he is to create anything at all. It is like a black could sweeping down on me unexpectedly, cutting me off from others, a sort of deaf-muteness.’ (123).

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Down All The Days (1970) [begins]: ‘He sat in the boxcar ... on the edge of the excited group of boys ... over the door of the big canvas tent hung a huge banner which read ‘Picture Gallery’. He had never been to a carnival before ... “You can’t show them dirty pictures to a cripple!” further, glimpses his sister undressing; hears of bombs on London [67]; Father in fights; works for Sisk; Magso’s tits; Red Magso; his dream of the legless woman [59; 202]; young woman ... white breast; wet dream [220f]; shit & fuck; chiseler drowned in quarry [135] Magso’s daughter dies of TB [141].

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Notes
University of Ulster Library
catalogues My Left Foot (1954 &c.) under Nursing and apart from Brown’s other works [BC].

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