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Ronan McDonald

Ronan McDonald holds the Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Melbourne. He has published widely in the field of modern Irish literature and also in the history of criticism and the value of the humanities. Books on the latter include The Death of the Critic (2008) and the edited collection The Values of Literary Studies (2015). He was Director of Beckett International Foundation from 2004-10 and the author of Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett (2007).

Ronan McDonald reviews ‘Making Empire: Ireland, imperialism, and the early modern world’ by Jane Ohlmeyer

March 2024, no. 462 22 February 2024
Here is a joke that used to do the rounds during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. A plane was about to land in Belfast. During its descent, the pilot’s voice came over the announcement system: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now approaching Belfast International Airport. Welcome to Ulster. Please set your watches back four hundred years.’ ... (read more)

Ronan McDonald reviews ‘James Joyce’ by Gabrielle Carey

January-February 2024, no. 461 18 December 2023
The death of Gabrielle Carey in May 2023 was a cruel loss for the Australian literary world, especially its Joyce community. I first met Gabrielle shortly after moving to Sydney from London in 2010. She invited me to her annual Bloomsday celebration, which took place in a Glebe pub. I was new in town and delighted to join the readings and revelry. I suspected, rightly, that my Dublin accent would ... (read more)

'Exiles: The Victorian première of James Joyce’s play' by Ronan McDonald

ABR Arts 20 June 2023
Is it time for Joyce’s Exiles to come in from the cold? Joyce’s only extant play has long been marginal within his oeuvre, scantly loved even by Joyce enthusiasts, and seldom produced for stage. Bloomsday in Melbourne, which has been making live theatrical adaptations of James Joyce’s prose work for some thirty years, has only got round to putting it on now, the first ever production in Vict ... (read more)

'Happy Days: Judith Lucy tackles Beckett’s Winnie' by Ronan McDonald

ABR Arts 08 May 2023
A middle-aged woman, Winnie, is buried to her waist in the middle of a mound, amidst a dry, monotonous expanse while the scorching sun beats down. It is one of Beckett’s indelible theatrical images. She finds solace in her handbag, where she uncovers a domestic detritus that affords her the rituals and distractions that help her endure: comb, toothbrush, mirror, hat, music box. She herself is a ... (read more)

Ronan McDonald reviews 'Fanatic Heart' by Tom Keneally

January-February 2023, no. 450 28 December 2022
Nobody excoriated England like John Mitchel. He holds his place in the pantheon of Irish nationalism not for his revolutionary heroism but for the power of his rhetoric and his thundering denunciation of British misrule in Ireland, especially in the wake of the catastrophic Famine of 1845–47. Mitchel was the most militant of the separatist Young Irelanders, many of whom ended up in Van Diemen’ ... (read more)

Ronan McDonald reviews 'The Cambridge Centenary Ulysses: The 1922 text with essays and notes' by James Joyce, edited by Catherine Flynn

November 2022, no. 448 25 October 2022
Earlier this year, I took a group of students to the State Library of Victoria (SLV) to see its impressive Joyce collection. We examined some special books, including lavish editions of Ulysses: the 1935 Limited Editions Club edition, with Matisse’s accompanying etchings; the 1988 Arion Press edition, with illustrations by Robert Motherwell – and various others. But the one that had lured us ... (read more)

Ronan McDonald reviews 'Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and me' by Deirdre Bair

June–July 2020, no. 422 26 May 2020
July 1970. A graduate student in English at Columbia University was feeling bogged down in her PhD topic. She was only a year or so in and reckoned that there was still time for her to make a switch from medieval sermons to a modern author. She wrote on index cards the names of numerous writers she liked, including James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. She the ... (read more)

Ronan McDonald reviews 'Academic Freedom' edited by Jennifer Lackey

Online Exclusives 03 September 2019
The left has an appalling habit of handing over its best ideas to the right. A non-exhaustive list might include: the ideal of common citizenship, anti-tribalism, belief in artistic quality, ribald humour, irony, working-class solidarity, the existence of disinterested truth. Free speech – the rallying cries of radical Berkeley students in the 1960s – is now typically a right-wing cause, deplo ... (read more)