James Stephens (author)

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James Stephens, Irish author and poet

James Stephens (9 February 1880[1] – 26 December 1950) was an Irish novelist and poet.

James' mother worked in the home of the Collins family of Dublin and was adopted by them. James was brought up in a Protestant orphanage, the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys.[2] He attended school with his adopted brothers Thomas and Richard (Tom and Dick) before graduating as a solicitor's clerk. They competed and won several athletic competitions despite James' slight stature (he stood 4'10" in his socks). He was known affectionately as 'Tiny Tim'. He was much enthralled by tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have been a soldier except for his height. By the early 1900s James was increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language (he could speak and write Irish) and by 1912 was a dedicated Irish Republican. He was a close friend of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, who was then editor of "The Irish Review", manager of the Irish Theatre and deputy headmaster in St Enda's, the radical bilingual school run by P.H. Pearse, and spent most with MacDonagh in 1911. His growing nationalism brought a schism with his adopted family, but probably won him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he worked between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with Mecredy solicitors' firm.

James Stephens produced many retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism (Deirdre, and Irish Fairy Tales are often especially praised). He also wrote several original novels (Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight, Demi-Gods) based loosely on Irish fairy tales. "Crock of Gold," in particular, achieved enduring popularity and was reprinted frequently throughout the author's lifetime.[3]

Stephens began his career as a poet with the tutelage of "Æ" (George William Russell). His first book of poems, "Insurrections," was published in 1909. His last book, "Kings and the Moon" (1938), was also a volume of verse.[3]

His influential book on the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the death by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and other friends as being "like watching blood oozing from under a door". [4]

Stephens lived between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s, Stephens had some acquaintance with James Joyce, who mistakenly believed that they shared a birthday. Joyce, who was concerned with his ability to finish what later became Finnegans Wake, proposed that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (James Joyce & Stephens, also a pun for the popular Irish whiskey made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan, however, was never implemented, as Joyce was able to complete the work on his own.[3]

During the last decade of his life, Stephens found a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC.[3]

Timeline of Stephens' life[edit]

1880 (9 February). Possible date of birth of James Stephens in Dublin.
1882 (2 February). Date of birth used by Stephens.
1886–96 Attended Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys.
1896 Employed as a clerk by a Dublin solicitor, Mr Wallace.
1901 Part of a gymnastic team which won the Irish Shield. Employed by Reddington & Sainsbury, solicitors.
1906 Employed as a clerk-typist in the office of T. T. Mecredy & Son, solicitors.
1907 Began regular contributions to Sinn Féin. Birth of stepdaughter, Iris, on 14 June; soon thereafter announced that he had a wife, "Cynthia" (Millicent Josephine Gardiner Kavanagh, 22 May 1882 – 18 December 1960). Discovered by George W. Russell (Æ).
1909 Insurrections. Acted in the Theatre of Ireland's two productions of Seumas O'Kelly's The Shuiler's Child. Birth of son, James Naoise, on 26 October.
1910 Acted in the Theatre of Ireland production of Gerald h Macnamara's The Spurious Sovereign. He was associated with David Houston, Thomas MacDonagh, and Padraic Colum in founding and editing the Irish Review (published March 1911 – November 1914).
1911 Acted in Pádraic Ó Conaire's Bairbre Ruadh. The Marriage of Julia Elizabeth produced by the Theatre of Ireland.
1912 The Charwoman's Daughter, The Hill of Vision, Crock of Gold.
1912 Poems In the Poppy Field, In the Cool of the Evening, The Lonely God all from The Hill of Vision are included by Edward Marsh in his collection Georgian Poetry.
1913 Here Are Ladies, Five New Poems. Received a commission from The Nation (London) to write a series of short stories. Moved to Paris. Another production of The Marriage of Julia Elizabeth at the Hardwicke Street Theatre. Crock of Gold awarded the Polignac Prize.
1914 The Demi-Gods.
1915 Songs from the Clay, The Adventures of Seumas Beg/The Rocky Road to Dublin. Elected Unestablished Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland.
1915 Poems The Rivals, The Goatpaths, The Snare, In Woods and Meadows, Deirdre all from Songs from the Clay are included by Edward Marsh in his collection Georgian Poetry.
1916 Green Branches, The Insurrection in Dublin.
1917 Poems The Fifteen Acres, Check, Westland Row, The Turn of the Road, A Visit from Abroad all from The Adventures of Seumas Beg are included by Edward Marsh in his collection Georgian Poetry.
1918–24 Appointed Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland
1918 Reincarnations.
1919 Married "Cynthia" (then a widow) in London on 14 May.
1920 Irish Fairy Tales. The Wooing of Julia Elizabeth (identical to The Marriage of Julia Elizabeth) produced at the Abbey Theatre by the Dublin Drama League. One of a series of operations for gastric ulcers.
1922 Arthur Griffith: journalist and Statesman.
1923 Deirdre.
1924 Little Things, In the Land of Youth. Deirdre presented the medal for fiction at the Aonach Tailteann festival. Resigned from the National Gallery.
1925 A Poetry Recital, Danny Murphy, Christmas in Freelands. On lecture tour in America. Returned to London; soon thereafter settled in the Kingsbury suburb of London. To America for another lecture tour.
1926 Collected Poems.
1927 Friendship with James Joyce commenced. Joyce suggested that Stephens complete Finnegans Wake if Joyce was unable to do so; this proposal made more formally during 1929.
Samuel Barber used texts from 'The Daisies' and 'Bessie Bobtail'for his Opus 2 collection of Three Songs[5]
1928 Etched in Moonlight, On Prose and Verse. First BBC broadcast. Lecturer at the Third International Book Fair in Florence.
1929 Julia Elizabeth: A Comedy, in one act, The Optimist, The Outcast. In Romania; met Queen Marie. Visit to America; stay with W. T. H. Howe.
1930 Theme and Variations. Visit to America; stay with Howe.
1931 How St. Patrick Saves the Irish, Stars Do Not Make a Noise,Strict Joy. Visit to America; stay with Howe.
1932 Visit to America; stay with Howe. A founder member of the Irish Academy of Letters.
1933–35 Yearly lecture tours to America; visits with Howe.
1937 Began regular series of BBC broadcasts. Accidental death of his son, James Naoise, on 24 December.
1938 Kings and the Moon.
1940 Moved to Woodside Chapel in Gloucestershire.
1942 Awarded British Civil List Pension.
1945 Returned to London.
1947 Awarded honorary D. Litt. degree from Dublin University (Trinity College).
1950 Final BBC broadcast. Death at Eversleigh on 26 December.[6]


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