The Brian Friel Papers

Has language failed these people?

The idea that words are not enough was something that followed Friel through his writing career, and informed many of his most well-known plays. In Translations (1980), for example, Friel drew on George Steiner’s After Babel (1975) and In Bluebeard’s Castle (1971?) to explore the relationship between linguistic erosion and cultural collapse. Another major influence in this respect was Denis Donoghue, whose The Arts Without Mystery (1982?) introduced Friel to the idea of explanatory language as a way of trying to manage the inexplicable or mysterious, with dance as one of the ways in which people can attest to things they can’t explain. In this note towards Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), Friel is again teasing out the implications of the inadequacies, failures, and even betrayals of language.

From MS 37,104/1, National Library of Ireland; copyright Brian Friel Estate, reproduced by permission.


If dancing is the alternative to language, has language been inadequate for these people? Has language failed these people? Has language betrayed these people? [see May 21]

Take each character in turn and assess each life in that light.

Rose: Wellingtons – bag over head – bringing in turf.

(Earns 2 sweets – bulls-eyes?) Does she save these for Gerry?

Aggie: Knitting

[Christina: Knitting – stopping – MIRROR – ?]

Kate:   Coming in from school.


Fr. Jack – there  - arrived.

Maggie – ?

A narrator figure mustn’t be considered unless he is personally involved in the play – if only as a product-victim of what happens on stage.

If Gerry and Christina have a child and aren’t married, perhaps they agree to marry before he goes to Spain ??

Don't anticipate the ending Creative encounters with the Brian Friel Papers

This exhibition is an archive of an archive; and like all good archives, there is no right way to navigate it. Keep clicking on the things that interest you, and don’t worry if you get a little lost a long the way. If you do want to find your way back, check out the index in the menu.


Presented in partnership with the National Library of Ireland