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 (The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight, Demi-Gods) based loosely on Irish fairy tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.[3]

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

Stephens's influential book on the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being "like watching blood oozing from under a door".[4]

Stephens lived between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he had some acquaintance with James Joyce, who mistakenly believed that they shared a birthday. Joyce, who was concerned about his ability to finish what later became Finnegans Wake, proposed that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (for "Jameses Joyce & Stephens", but also a pun on the popular Irish whiskey made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan 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's life

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, a Mr Wallace.
1901 Member of a gymnastic team that won the Irish Shield. Employed by Reddington & Sainsbury, solicitors.
1906 Employed as a clerk-typist in the office of T. T. Mecredy & Son, solicitors.
1907Began making regular contributions to Sinn Féin. Birth of stepdaughter, Iris, on 14 June; soon afterwards he announced that he had a wife, "Cynthia" (Millicent Josephine Gardiner Kavanagh, 22 May 1882 – 18 December 1960). Discovered by George W. Russell (Æ).
1909 Published Insurrections. Acted in the Theatre of Ireland's two productions of Seumas O'Kelly's play The Shuiler's Child. Birth of son, James Naoise, on 26 October.
1910 Acted in the Theatre of Ireland's production of Gerald Macnamara's The Spurious Sovereign. Became associated with David Houston, Thomas MacDonagh and Padraic Colum in founding and editing the Irish Review (published from March 1911 to November 1914).
1911 Acted in Pádraic Ó Conaire's Bairbre Ruadh; his own play, The Marriage of Julia Elizabeth, produced by the Theatre of Ireland.
1912 Published The Charwoman's Daughter, The Hill of Vision and The Crock of Gold.
1913 Published Here Are Ladies and 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; The Crock of Gold awarded the Polignac Prize.
1914 Published The Demi-Gods.
1915 Published Songs from the Clay and The Adventures of Seumas Beg/The Rocky Road to Dublin; elected Unestablished Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland.
1916 Published Green Branches and The Insurrection in Dublin.
1918–24 Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland.
1918 Published Reincarnations.
1919 Married "Cynthia" (then a widow) in London on 14 May.
1920 Published Irish Fairy Tales; his play The Wooing of Julia Elizabeth (identical to The Marriage of Julia Elizabeth) produced at the Abbey Theatre by the Dublin Drama League; underwent one of a series of operations for gastric ulcers.
1922 Published Arthur Griffith: Journalist and Statesman.
1923 Published Deirdre.
1924 Published Little Things and In the Land of Youth; Deirdre received the medal for fiction at the Aonach Tailteann festival; resigned from the National Gallery.
1925 Published A Poetry Recital, Danny Murphy and Christmas in Freelands; went on two separate lecture tours in the United States; settled in Kingsbury, a suburb of London.
1926 Published Collected Poems.
1927 Became acquainted with James Joyce. .
1928 Published Etched in Moonlight and On Prose and Verse; made first BBC broadcaster; lectured at the Third International Book Fair in Florence.
1929 Published Julia Elizabeth: A Comedy, in One Act, The Optimist and The Outcast; Joyce suggested that Stephens complete Finnegans Wake if Joyce was unable to do so; visited Romania and met Queen Marie; made the first of several visits to W. T. H. Howe in the United States.
1930 Published Theme and Variations.
1931 Published How St Patrick Saves the Irish, Stars Do Not Make a Noise andStrict Joy.
1937 Began regular series of BBC broadcasts; accidental death of his son James Naoise on 24 December.
1938 Published Kings and the Moon.
1940 Moved to Woodside Chapel in Gloucestershire.
1942 Awarded a British Civil List Pension.
1945 Returned to London.
1947 Awarded honorary D. Litt. by Trinity College, Dublin.
1950 Made final BBC broadcast; died at Eversleigh on 26 December.[5]


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