Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany (1878-1957), was one of the great English short story writers. He is also one of the most neglected. Ranked by his contemporaries with Shaw, Synge, and Yeats; admired by Hemingway and Joyce; he was famed in his own time as a playwright loosely associated with the Irish Literary Renaissance and is remembered today primarily for his novel The King of Elfland's Daughter. But it is as a short story writer that Dunsany made his greatest contribution to literature. He wrote over four hundred short stories and rightly considered them the most important part of his work, yet this is the first full-length study of them.
Dunsany's career as a writer of short stories can be sharply divided into two periods: 1904-1914, when he wrote virtually all of his best work, and 1925-1957, when he wrote only entertaining light fiction. One of the goals of this dissertation is to suggest an explanation for the sudden change in direction and quality of his stories, attributing it to Dunsany's harrowing experiences ir the Easter Uprising and on the Western Front in 1916, as well as a series of personal crises he passed through at the same time. He survived, but like Wordsworth and Coleridge never managed to repeat his earlier triumphs.
This dissertation traces Dunsany's career as a short story writer chronologically, from the early experiments of The Gods of Pegana through the perfection of his art in A Dreamer's Tales, The Book of Wonder, and The Last Book of Wonder, to late minor works like The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens and The Little Tales of Smethers and other stories. It shows not only how Dunsany developed as an author but places him in the context of his age and points out some of the ways he influenced later writers. Finally, it argues that he deserves more attention than he has yet received, both as one of the founding fathers of fantasy literature and in his own right. The time for a Dunsany revival is long overdue.