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The Portraits of the English in the Work of Dion Boucicault, Bram Stoker, and Erskine Childers

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How real were the anti-English satirical intentions of the Irish Anglican writers who lived in England and wrote primarily for English audiences and readerships? While it is now clear—thanks to the work of various recent critics—that key figures from Jonathan Swift through to William Trevor were passing subversive, satirical comment on the English, there are other English-based Irish Anglican writers whose credentials as cultural critics of the English require more piercing scrutiny.

While Dion Boucicault always played the role of the Irish rebel in his life and work, deeper analysis of his Irish melodramas reveals that he ultimately flattered the English audience members who came to see his plays. The fiction of Bram Stoker and the classic 1903 novel by Erskine Childers—The Riddle of the Sands—seem similarly lacking in anti-English satirical intentions, despite Stoker’s support for Home Rule and Childers’s eventual conversion to uncompromising Irish Republicanism.


  • Dion Boucicault
  • Bram Stoker
  • Erskine Childers
  • Melodrama
  • Dracula

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  1. 1.

    Joyce, “Oscar Wilde,” 149.

  2. 2.

    Pearse, Letters, 9.

  3. 3.

    Corkery, Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, 3.

  4. 4.

    Ibid., 1–27, 233–243.

  5. 5.

    Obvious examples of this tendency among postcolonial critics include the reflections on major, English-based, Irish Anglican writers in Kearney, Irish Mind; Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger; McLoughlin, Contesting Ireland; Kiberd, Irish Classics; Davis , Music, Postcolonialism, and Gender.

  6. 6.

    Bowen, “The Idea of France,” 63.

  7. 7.

    For examples of studies demonstrating that each of these writers cast an Irish outsider’s eye on the English, see the chapter on Elizabeth Griffith in this book, plus: Mahony, Jonathan Swift; Roberts, George Farquhar; Griffin, Enlightenment in Ruins; O’Toole, Traitor’s Kiss; Killeen, Faiths of Oscar Wilde; Clare, Bernard Shaw’s Irish Outlook; Corcoran, Elizabeth Bowen; FitzGerald-Hoyt, William Trevor.

  8. 8.

    McFeely, Dion Boucicault, 49.

  9. 9.

    Cullingford, Ireland’s Others, 18. She is summarising, and agreeing with, the view put forward in Cave, “Staging the Irishman.”

  10. 10.

    Cullingford, Ireland’s Others, 14.

  11. 11.

    Arrah-na-Pogue was meant to premiere in Manchester but instead debuted in Dublin (at the time, still part of the “United Kingdom of Great BritainSeeSeeBritain and Ireland”) on 7 November 1864. This production, which starred Boucicault in the role of Shaun the Post, transferred to London in March of the following year. The script was significantly altered for the London run (for example, the rebel song “The Wearing of the Green” was added), and the London script is now considered the definitive version of the play. As Deirdre McFeely shows, Boucicault seems to have wanted to make the play more nationalistic when bringing it to London audiences, but—based on reviews—“there is no evidence that either the song [“The Wearing of the Green”] or the play was being openly used or received in a political manner.” (McFeely , Dion Boucicault, 49.) This was obviously due to the play’s ultimately flattering portraits of the English characters and its unthreatening Stage Irishness, as discussed in this chapter.

    Arrah-na-Pogue first opened in New York at Niblo’s Theatre on 12 July 1865 in a production overseen by Boucicault’s American agent, Edward Howard House. For the American reception of Boucicault’s major Irish melodramas, including Arrah-na-Pogue (a topic beyond the scope of my arguments here), see McFeely, Dion Boucicault, 13–21, 55, 77–106.

  12. 12.

    Boucicault, Dolmen Boucicault, 157.

  13. 13.

    Ibid., 140.

  14. 14.

    Ibid. Emphasis mine.

  15. 15.

    Ibid., 112; 147; 151; 152; 152.

  16. 16.

    For Shaw’s views in this regard, see Shaw, “Dear Harp of My Country!”

    For the Parker quote, see Parker, Plays:2, 155. Boucicault is a character in Parker’s Heavenly Bodies (1986), and this angry accusation is brought against Boucicault by Johnny Patterson, the Irish Singing Clown. It seems to encapsulate much of Parker’s frustration with Boucicault, as exemplified by the play’s plot and the overall implications of the dialogue.

  17. 17.

    McFeely, Dion Boucicault, 167.

  18. 18.

    Ibid., 163, 168–169.

  19. 19.

    As quoted in Ibid., 163.

  20. 20.

    As quoted in Ibid., 164.

  21. 21.

    Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, 215–216; R.F. Foster, Paddy & Mr Punch, 220, 226, 230; Kiberd, Irish Classics, 379–398; Castle, “Ambivalence and Ascendancy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

  22. 22.

    Earls, “Blood Relations.”

  23. 23.

    For more on “improvement” in The Snake’s Pass, see Stevens, Irish Scene in Somerville & Ross, 39–40, 195–196, 199.

  24. 24.

    Stoker, Snake’s Pass, 246.

  25. 25.

    Morrison, Playing in the Dark; Gooding-Williams, “‘Look, a Negro!’.”

  26. 26.

    Stoker, Snake’s Pass, 11.

  27. 27.

    Ibid., 12; 11.

  28. 28.

    For the Irish patriotism in Farquhar’s Love and a Bottle , see Clare, “Why Did George Farquhar’s Work Turn Sectarian After The Constant Couple?,” 159–160, 167.

  29. 29.

    As quoted in Ring, Erskine Childers, 29.

  30. 30.

    Béaslaí, Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland, 169; O’Connor, An Only Child / My Father’s Son, 148; Griffith, as quoted in Piper, Dangerous Waters, 219.

  31. 31.

    Trotter, Introduction to The Riddle of the Sands, xvii.

  32. 32.

    Childers, Riddle of the Sands, 78, 112; 200; 3; 143.

  33. 33.

    Boyle, Riddle of Erskine Childers, 55.

  34. 34.

    Ring, Erskine Childers, 19.

  35. 35.

    Nelson, “‘Murderous renegade’ or agent of the Crown?”

  36. 36.

    As quoted in Ring, Erskine Childers, xxv.

  37. 37.

    Ibid., 76.

  38. 38.

    For Boucicault’s generous financial support for Fenian prisoners and his campaigning of their behalf, see McFeely, Dion Boucicault, Chapter 6. For Stoker’s support for Irish Home Rule, see Hopkins, Bram Stoker, 89.


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Clare, D. (2021). The Portraits of the English in the Work of Dion Boucicault, Bram Stoker, and Erskine Childers. In: Irish Anglican Literature and Drama. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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