Ralph Cusack

Life
1912-1965 (Ralph Desmond Athanasius Cusack); b. 28 Oct., Portmarnock, Co Dublin; son of Major “Roy” J. R. Cusack, banker and later Dublin stockbroker; a first cousin of first cousin of Mainie Jellett; ed. Charterhouse and Cambridge; grad. 1934 (econ.); member of the White Stag group, and also the Dublin Society of Painters, c. 1940-1950; worked as a designer and painter of stage-sets; with Anne Yeats at the Olympic Th., 1942 on productions of The Strings are False (1942), The House of Cards (1943), and Red Roses for Me (O’Casey) scenery for Saint Joan (Gaiety 1943);
 
participated in the first Living Art exhibition [EILA], 16 Sept., 1943, and treasurer for some time; operated a horticultural nursery at Uplands, a Georgian house in Annamoe, Co. Wicklow (nr. Roundwood); m. to Nancy Sinclair [cousins of Sam Beckett], with children Colin and Roy; hosted Louis and Jean le Brocquy shortly after their marriage at “Villa Irlanda”, 56 Ave. Aristide Briand, Garavan, nr. Menton [It. Mentona], and later Sam and Caroline Beckett, from June 1947 (‘difficult months’, acc. to Beckett);
 
Cusack appears as the character Sir George Dermot in Anthony Cronin’s novel The Life of Riley, and also in Dead as Doornails as a jejune and occasionally violent personality; settled permanently to South of France to grow flowers for perfume, 1958; issued Cadenza (1958), a surrealist romp in Ireland based on semi-autobiographical character and featuring the grotesque uncle Melchi and others; Book Society Recommendation, 1958.

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Works
Cadenza, An Excursion by Ralph Cusack
(London: Hamish Hamilton 1958), 223pp. [on this edn., see Notes, infra]; Do., with an afterword by Gilbert Sorrentino [rep. edn.] (Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archives Press [1984]), 227pp., 21cm.

Cadenza (1958), hb. 18s. net; a copy signed [ending] ‘January 1955-January 1957 Spéracèdes, France; this copy includes two letters to Sybil le Brocquy (dated 20 Feb. 1947 & 17 July 1948), the former on embassed letterhead and the latter bearing the same address printed by rubber stamp as “Ralph Cusack [in block caps], Uplands Annamoe, Co. Wicklow, Eire”.

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Commentary
Stephen Rynne, [Irish Exhibition of Living Art review], in The Leader ( 25 Sept. 1943): ‘Scenery painting seems to be getting Ralph Cusack down: he is not half the pleasant man he used to be; his “Quartert and Audience” is, however, forcible and, as an interpretation of its theme, “on the spot”.’ (See further, under Rynne, infra.)

Routledge (publisher’s notice on wrapper of Cadenza, 1958): ‘In this wonderfully exciting and intoxicating book, Ralph Cusack, writing no conventional autobiography, selects and works on the major themes of his life - proclaiming them, commenting, decorating, mocking, sometimes even turning them upside down. / The themes in themselves are full of fascination and interest: principal among them are love of music; birds and plants; Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, the South of France; wines and beers; the sensaton of travel and movement, whether on paddle-steamers or rowing boats, trains or mere buses; human foibles and failings; the memories and mysteries of childhood and youth; above all, enjoyment of the life of the senses. But what immediately strikes and holds our delighted attention is the brilliance of the playing, the glorious way Ralph Cusack uses language like a musical instrument, with colour in his phrasing, poetry in his prose. / If Cadenza often seems to be written from the borderline of consciousness - is the author emerging from a dentist’s anaesthetic? Or touched by madness? or by Apollo? - yet for much of the time memory plays him straight. Here are stories, any of them uproariously funny, o his fiddle-playing Uncle Melchizedek, of the drunken Provençal priest, of an interrupted love-making, of an agonised lying in wait to shoot at the horses in an Irish race meting: others in which tragedy is mixed with comedy, as in the Irish Civil War episode and the beloved Melchi’s funeral. Whichever side of the borderline it runs, in its continual movement - whetehr into fact or fantasy, insanity or sense, Ireland South or North,or overseas- the author’s original and evocative styule makes this a mad, marvellous book, which its admirers will keep memorably in mind, and lovingly on their shelves.’ [End].

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Rudiger Imhof, Post-Joycean Experiment in Recent Irish Fiction, in Ireland and France - A Bountiful Friendship: Essays in Honour of Patrick Rafroidi, ed. Barbara Hayley & Christopher Murray (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992), pp.124-36: remarks on Ralf [sic] Cusack’s Cadenza (1958), reissued by Dalkey Archive Press, US firm. Imhof considers that the notion of time in the novel is indebted to Eliot’s Burnt Norton.Desmond, the main character, locks himself up in a compartment of a train and lets himself be shunted back and forth on a certain track, his mind recollecting scenes from a receding past; recalls appointment with dentist; reminiscent of Proust. There is no characterisation of the plot here, and the frame story seems misapprehended. (pp.132-33.)

Gerard Keenan [Jude the Obscure], ‘Anthony Cronin’, The Professional, the Amateur, and the Other Thing: Essays from ‘The Honest Ulsterman’ (Honest Ulsterman Publ. 1995), pp.1-12: ‘Riley gets taken up by a steamer, Sir George Dermot, and goes to live in his small castle in the Wicklow hills. this character is based on Ralph Cusack, a well-known ‘host’ and ‘character’ of the time, author of Cadenza, an autobiography ... Suffice to say that the episode is the least satisfactory of the book. Cronin was content to take Cusack at Cusack’s estimate of himself. It must have seemed to Cronin that he had come upon a piece of pure Evelyn Waugh in real life and he couldn’t resist the temptation to Evelyn Waugh him for all he was worth. (pp. 2-3); ‘Cusack ... was a nobody. He wrote a nothing autobiography called Cadenza (1958) which, astonishingly, was a Book Society Choice. Come to think of it, why “astonishingly?” Cadenza is that pathetic thing, an attempt by an oaf to perform the delicate, an attempt by the plain and stupid to perform like the fragile and brilliant, an attempt by a hippopotamus, who should be content to wallow in his own piss, to trip the light fantastic. Cusack was a coarse, ignorant bully of a man who bought good poets with copious liquor and pretended to like music. A famous host, his only real claim to fame is that he bashed this one, he thumped that one, and he marked this other poor sod for life. The evidence is strong that this monied thick should have been jailed many times for assault. It is not surprising that the only superficial line in Cronin’s book [Dead as Doornails] is about this superficial creep: “It was about this time that a friend who had been out to see him in the South of France told me of the death of Ralph Cusack. His brain had actually exploded.” [...] Someday, let us have a corrigendum: let’s have a sad little description of the true death of this very boring man.’ (p.7).

Anne Madden, Louis le Brocquy, A Painter: Seeing his Way (Dublin; Gill & Macmillan 1994): Le Brocquy friendly with Cusack, a fndr. with him of the Living Art; occupied Cusack’s small house at Cap Martin from May 1939; later fortified as gun-emplacement at outbreak of World War II; narratives of his violent personality under influence of drink, though otherwise the ‘most delightful, gentle and civilised of men’ (p.62.) ‘Both Ralph and Louis knew well and admired the Irish composer Frederick May, of whom Louis wrote in Sept. 1974 (p.63.)

Note: There is an essay on Cusack in Aidan Higgins’s Windy Arbours: Collected Criticism (London: Dalkey Archive Press 2005) [q.pp.]

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Quotations

Cadenza: An Excursion (London: Hamish Hamilton 1958)
[...]

LYING back in the chair with my head on its headrest I opened my eyes.
 Over the fresh net curtain, through the large upper panes of the high window. I could see the sun catching the top storeys of the tall mellow-brick Georgian houses on the other side of the street; behind them fluffy clouds in a blue sky; in the sky a wheeling white gull, blown sideways by the breeze from the sea.
 Once more I was returning; consciousness returning.
 Once more I was returning to the world of my vision: of our vision; of your sight: of our sound. Dream and reality, once merged, were re-emerging separate once more.
 Yes. I had returned from my many-wheeled journeys; from farplaced plodding feet; from young leapings; from old wheezings.
 In space and in time, at will and unwillingly, long ago or far ahead, my mind had thus run, and I had run too.
 I had followed myself. You, too, had been with me.
 I had followed myself but was never alone, in this our excursion.
 For my dentist was kind.
 So he thought.

End of introductory section [I]

References
S. B. Kennedy, Irish Art & Modernism (1990), p.352: [renowned for quick outbursts of temper as recorded in brief memoir of himby Anthony Cronin in Dead as Doornails, 1980; did not rate his painting highly, a view corroborated by Charles Acton who knew the artist well]; 369 [Society of Dublin Painters, c.1940-1950]; 371-75 [White Stag group shows, 1940-45; organising committee, Exhibition of Living Art, 1943-50]; 376 [bibl. Ralph Cusack, private papers]; 34 [influenced by Cubism]; 62 [1912-65; cousin of Mainie Jellett; joined Dublin Painters in 1940; self-taught; living in the S. of France for health in 1930s; infl. by Cubism in late 1930s; from 1943 turned increasingly to landscape; lacked a sense of purpose; semi-autobiographical Cadenza, An Excursion (1958) did not mention his painting. With a little restraint and a sense of purpose Cusack could have been one of the most interesting and influential painters of his generation in Ireland]; 80 [In Theatre St. exhibition]; 90 [outbreak of war compelled him to return home]; 102 [opened Nick Nicholls (1914-91) one man show at White Stag Gallery, May 1943]; 104 [Exhibition of Subjective Art, 6 Lr. Baggot St., Jan 1944] 106 [his Scantlings known only from catalogue]; 123 [Ralph Cusack showed 5 works in the first Living Art exhibition. Amongst them, Christmas in My Studio, The Road, which illustrates change of style.] See also Theo Snoddy, A Dictionary of Irish Artists [2nd rev. edn].

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Notes
Difficult months’: in Damned to Fame (1996, 1997), James Knowlson makes passing reference to Ralph Cusack and the host of Samuel Beckett during summer months of 1947 at his delapidated home Villa Irlanda, 56 Avenue Aristide Briand, Garavan, nr. Menton, where they slept on blown up mattresses and cooked their food outside, and swam on the nearby. It was there that Beckett wrote most of Molloy, commenced 2 May ‘in his mother’s room’ (as told in that novel) at New Place, Foxrock. (Knowlson, pp.366-67.)

Namesake: Not to be confused with Ralph Cusack (1916-1969; q.v.) - KC and judge in the May Bell case; born in Ireland and son of a KC.

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