Copyright
Lennox Robinson.

The whiteheaded boy online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryLennox RobinsonThe whiteheaded boy → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

RIVERSIDE



THE WHITEHEADED BOY



THE
WHITEHEADED BOY

A COMEDY IN TUREE ACTS



BY

LENNOX ROBINSON

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

ERNEST BOYD



G. r. I'l'TNAM'S SONS

NEW VOUK AND LONDON

Cbe Isuichcrbochcr press

ion






Copyright, 192 1

by
Lennox Robinson

Printed in the United States of America



/\^




To
AUNT ELLEN"



INTRODUCTION

A chapter in the history of the Irish Theatre
was closed in 1907, when The Playboy of the
Western World was produced, bringing in its
train notoriety, fame and a relative degree of
popular success. The recognition of the genius
of J. M. Synge was the culminating point in
the movement for the creation of a national
folk-drama which he had initiated in the
company of Lady Gregory, Padraic Colum and
William Boyle. These were the pioneers of
the peasant play and each contributed a definite
element to that type of drama, marking the lim-
itations within which it was to develop. As a
result of the enhanced prestige of the Theatre
and of the extension of its influence, a great
number of new playwrights came forward,
including several whose names were to attain
a prominence which has obscured the prior
claims of their predecessors, the dramatists,
who laid the foundations of the success enjoyed
by the Abbey Theatre after the death of Synge
in 1909. A convention had been created and
it was not long before a host of peasant mclo-
dramatists arose to fulfil the demand for such

vii



INTRODUCTION

plays. What was obvious in the verbal exuber-
ance of Synge, in the profound realism of
Padraic Colum, in the drollery of Lady
Gregory, could be imitated, and popular folk-
drama came to be manufactured according to
a formula.

One of the young men who at that time
was influenced by seeing the performances of
the Irish Players was the author of The White-
headed Boy. Mr. Lennox Robinson is the son
of a clergyman and was born in Cork in 1886.
He was one of a group of writers in that city
who have in recent years given to Irish litera-
ture some of its best work. His own plays
and the novels of Mr. Daniel Corkery have
already been acclaimed beyond the borders of
Ireland. But back in the days of the Synge
controversies the theatre was the chief preoc-
cupation of that circle to which the Abbey
Theatre now owes many of the most successful
and some of the best, plays in its repertory;
among others, BirthrigJit, by T. C. Murray,
and The Yellow Bittern, by Daniel Corkery.
They had founded a local organization for the
production of their work and one, at least, of
Mr. Robinson's 'prentice efforts was staged
there, but has never been published or otherwise
acknowledged by him. It is called The Lesson
of Life and the very title suggests reasons for
the author's discretion. Indeed, he himself has
been the sharpest critic of his early writings,

viii



INTRODUCTION

and is not disposed to take very seriously even
the first of his plays to be accepted by the
Abbey Theatre. In the order of their produc-
tion these were The Clancy Name (1908), The
Cross Roads (1909) and Ha rz'est (1910).

It is doubtless unkind to dwell upon the early
experiments of a writer who more or less dis-
owns them, but apart from the perfectly legiti-
mate interest which such things have for the
critic, the remarkable development of Lennox
Robinson's gift for the theatre is nowhere more
effectively shown than in the contrast between
those three plays and the maturer work which
has been crowned with the great and deserved
success of The IVhiteheadcd Boy. In the little
one-act play, The Clancy Name, merits are dis-
cernible which are not so apparent in either of
the more ambitious pieces which followed it.
The conflict arises between a mother, whose
pride of race is the passion of her life, and her
son, whose sense of duty compels him to con-
fess that he is guilty of a crime to the author-
ities who do not suspect him. She tries to
prevent him from bringing disgrace on the
family name, but the young man resists the
appeal and goes off to give himself up. By the
device of having him killed while trying to
rescue a child from being trami)led by a run-
away horse, the dramatist .solves too easily the
pn;bleni which he had presented with convinc-
ing force.

ix



INTRODUCTION

The Cross Roads, however, was such a
denial of all coherence and probability that the
question of the element of inevitability,
essential to tragedy, simply did not arise.
Having postulated a loveless marriage between
an ambitious, educated country girl and an
impossibly brutal farmer, the author asks us
to believe that this puts a curse upon the farm.
The poultry refuse to lay eggs, the cattle die,
even the fertilizer goes on strike, and we are
shown a ghastly picture of the physical and
moral deterioration of the household, termin-
ating with the exit of the husband, who
announces that he is "going down the road for
a sup of drink" and "God help you when I
come back." Not even the fine acting of Miss
Sara AUgood could save this from being the
reductio ad ahsiirdum of the peasant melo-
drama. Almost the same can be said of
Harvest, except that the theme itself is in-
herently sound, and need not have degenerated
into the banalities of Brieux's Blanchette, with
its commonplace variant of the girl who took
the wrong turning. Mr. Robinson's subject
is that of the problems raised by the extension
of educational facilities to people whose
peculiar needs and opportunities are not con-
sidered by those who draw up the syllabus.
The application of this theme to Irish condi-
tions would have provided excellent material
for a dramatist knowing rural Ireland, but

X



INTRODUCTION

here the subject is frittered away into a lurid
tale of seduction, in which the heroine dis-
courses in the traditional manner of melodrama.
Miss Maire O'Neill's art could not conceal the
essential unreality of the words she spoke so
beautifully. But these three plays of his nonage
were merely the experiments of a dramatist
who was learning his craft, and who differs,
in this respect, from some of his contempor-
aries who have had only one play to give to the
Irish Theatre, and whose reputations rest on
that first play, apparently free from all critical
scrutiny. Lennox Robinson's work is a record
of progress, whose turning point was in 191 2,
when his Patriots was produced.

The subject of that drama is one which, in
the retrospect of recent tragic years in Ireland,
takes on a peculiar interest, for it was nothing
less than a dramatisation of the crisis in Irish
political thought whose ultimate expression is
the Sinn Fein movement of to-day. The
central figure of Patriots is an old rebel who
comes back after years of imprisonment to find
that other men and other methods are in favor
with those who control the nationalist fight.
In James Nugent's day physical force was the
weapon, but the new generation seems wholly
absorbed in parlirunentary methods, and re-
gards his insurrectifjnary faith as merely an
obsolete rehc of the romantic ])crio(l. Mr.
Robinson draws an exceedingly faithful and

xi



INTRODUCTION

vivid picture of the state of Irish poHtics at
that time, when the ardor of revolution ap-
peared to have died, and the constitutional
Home Rule Party's authority and prestige were
supreme. There is a real tragedy in the defeat
and dismay of the revolutionary man of action
when he is compelled to make way for leaders
who are ignorant of all that was the glory of
his youth, and who can prove by logic that his
methods are useless. In a poem of poignant
eloquence, W. B. Yeats brooded over that same
mood in which Patriots was conceived, when
he wrote :

Yet they were of a different kind
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time they had to pray
For whom the hangman's rope was spun.
And what, God help us, could they save :
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone.
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

The revolt, at that time barely perceptible,
against the prevailing apathy of the national
spirit, flared up a few years later in the Sinn
Fein insurrection of 191 6 and the complete
overthrow of the existing political order, whose
success was postulated by the dramatist. But
political prophecy is not an essential part of a
good play.

xii



INTRODUCTION

Just one year before that Easter Rising in
Dublin, Mr. Robinson returned to the same
theme, in another of its aspects. The Dreamers
is an historical play which treats of the last
chapter in the life of Robert Emmet, the ill-
fated leader of the abortive insurrection which
was the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion of
1798. The author's purpose is to show this
tragic figure as the victim of the shiftlessness
and dishonest futility of his followers. He has
always been more fortunate than Synge when
he has drawn pictures of the Irish character
which did not coincide with the illusions of
sentimental patriotism. Just as Harvest es-
caped even the censure of the hypersensitive
who hooted TJie Playboy of tJie Western
World, when both were presented by the Irish
Players during their visit to America in 191 1,
so The Dreamers was well received by aud-
iences in which there must have been many
who were actually preparing to face the same
death as Robert Emmet in 191 6.

It was at the close of that year that TJie
Whiteheaded Boy had its premiere at the Abbey
Theatre, where it at once enjoyed the success
and appreciation which were confirmed when
it was sul)se(|uently produced in London. Miss
Maire O'Neill, who, like so many of the orig-
inal group of the Irish Players, had left the
theatre, returned for this occasion and createfl
the delightful part of Aunt Ellen, one of the

xiii



INTRODUCTION

finest comedy characters on the modern stage.
Subsequently, when she repeated the part in
London she was supported by Miss Sara All-
good, Mr. Arthur Sinclair and others belong-
ing to the group of Players who first made the
Irish Theatre famous. The strength of this
play undoubtedly lies in the perfect combina-
tion of form and content, and the natural,
unstrained drollery of speech combined with a
subject which develops realistically and logi-
cally, yet whose humor is that of cumulative
effect. There is not a deliberately manufac-
tured phrase in it, not one situation that is
forced and stagey, for the whole comedy arises
out of the relations which inevitably establish
themselves between the characters. An attrac-
tive innovation, too, is the narrative form of
the stage directions, which in the printed text
enable tlie reader to have the illusion of listen-
ing to a living commentary. After the
telegraphic jargon of the conventional stage
direction, and the garrulous dissertations of
Bernard Shaw, Mr. Robinson's method is
pleasing and original. "Kate's off to the
kitchen now. Aren't I after telling you she's
a great help to her mother!" Even between
brackets this is preferable to "Exit Kate, L.
U. E.," or words to that effect.

Before writing The Whiteheadcd Boy, Len-
nox Robinson had been at work upon a novel
which was in the publishers' hands in Dublin

xiv



INTRODUCTION

when the Easter Rising took place, but the
manuscript was destroyed in the bombardment
of the city. When A Young Man from the
SoiitJi eventually appeared, its singular appro-
priateness to the occasion was apparent, for
it is a study of the evolution of a young Irish-
man from loyal Unionism to passionate nation-
alism. The protagonist is drawn from the
life of a Southern Irish city like that in which
the author's own youth was passed. He comes
to Dublin and is gradually converted to a belief
in the national identity of his country, so that
Mr. Robinson has many opportunities of des-
cribing the various social and intellectual
groups which go to the making of that fascin-
ating city. The publication of this book coin-
cided with that of several novels purporting
to describe the condition of Ireland during
the years of Sinn Fein, but few have the dis-
passionate reality of Mr. Robinson's. Although
a careful and sympathetic observer, he was not
a partisan, and neither indulged a malevolent
spleen against the nationalist enthusiasts nor
romanticised the facts. His humor plays
equally with the naivetes of what is known as
"Irish Ireland" and the pretentions of its
counterpart "West Britain." Although after
the insurrection, he had actually to re-write the
story, he scrupulously refrained from making
copy out of the living and the dead who ])ar-
ticipatcd in that adventure. The temptation

XV



INTRODUCTION

to do so was strong-, because it had been done by
one of his contemporaries in a novel which
was pubHshed at the same time, and it would
have provided a natural denouement to his
story. But in a foreword he explained his
scruples. "The combining of real events with
imaginary persons seemed likely to lead readers
to combine real persons with imaginary events
in the book, a result which would ofifend the
living and be unjust to the dead." Thus this
work, which is an imaginative reconstruction
of what others reported photographically, was
deprived by the author's delicacy of a powerful
extraneous aid to popular success.

Since The Whiteheaded Boy Mr. Robinson
has given The Lost Leader to the Irish Theatre
and has published another volume of fiction,
Eight Short Stories. In the former he makes
the daring experiment of writing a play based
upon the popular Irish superstition that Parnell
is not dead, but living in obscurity, and he
actually sets him upon the stage to face the
situation of an Ireland whose policy is Sinn
Fein. In the latter work he has collected a
sheaf of sketches of contemporary life, with
some successful ventures into the realm of the
supernatural, which indicate that his crafts-
manship in fiction is advancing as surely as in
the theatre. For the rest, his life is crowded
with activities without being eventful, a rare
circumstance in Ireland ! He is immersed in

xvi



IXTRODUCTION

the work of building up Irish rural libraries,
which is being carried out under the auspices
of the Carnegie Trust. Nevertheless, he has
never lost his active interest in the Irish
Theatre.

In the autumn of 191 8 he made an effort to
supplement the scope of the Abbey Theatre
by launching, with the cooperation of W. B.
Yeats, James Stephens and myself, the Dublin
Drama League, which was thus the first institu-
tion of the kind in the British Islands. Our
desire was to enable plays to be produced of
the kind which did not come within the inten-
tions of the Abbey Theatre. During the first
year, Mr. Robinson was secretary of the
League and gave his services as producer, with
the result that a successful series of Continental
and other plays were given in Dublin for the
first time. Then he became, for the second
time in his career, manager of the Abbey
Theatre and pulled it out of the rut into which
it had subsided after the Players began to
disperse and their substitutes had not yet found
their feet. This excellent process of rehabilita-
tion was unfortunately checked during the last
year by the restrictions of the military curfew
law, which put even the most prosperous
commercial theatres to great losses. But since
the armistice hcjpe is revived and Mr. Robinson
is courageously announcing bis determination
to begin all over again, for now it will be

xvii



INTRODUCTION

necessary to form a new company of players
and to train them in the traditions of the
Theatre. Of the best that has been created in
those traditions The Whitehcaded Boy is an
example, and Lennox Robinson deserves well
of all who have a care for the Irish Theatre.
At the outset of that brave undertaking W-
B. Yeats's aim was to secure an audience for
"the half dozen minds who are likely to be the
dramatic imagination of Ireland for this gener-
ation." The author of this play has obviously
established his claim to be counted amongst that
number.

Ernest Boyd.



New York, September, 1921.



xvui



THE WHITEHEADED BOY



CHARACTERS



her Children.



Mrs. Geoghegan.

George

Peter

Kate

Jane

Baby

Denis

DoNOUGH Brosnan, engaged to Jane,

John Duffy, Postmaster and Chairman, R.D.C.

Delia, his Daughter, engaged to Denis.

Hannah, a Servant.

Aunt Ellen.



THE WHITEHEADED BOY

Act I

[Mrs. Geoghegan's house is at the
head of the street, facing the priest's
house; the shop is at the other end of the
village, between Michael Brosnan's
public-house and Duffy's yard. Wil-
liam Geoghegan {God rest his soul) was
a very genteel man, and ivhen the wife
brought him the house and the bit of land
instead of getting a tenant for it like a
sensible man {and the whole village knew
Clancy, the vet., was viad to take it)
nothing woidd do him but live in it him-
self and walk down to his business every
day like a iuillionaire. 'Tis too high
notions poor William akvays had — and
his sister, Ellen, worse again than him-
self, craning after anything new she'd be
like a cow through a fence — but, indeed,
William's notions didn't stand too well
to him, and Ziehen he died he left his fam-

3



■ THE WHITEHEADED BOY

ily — six of them, no less — in a poor
enough way. But the eldest boy — George
— was always terrible industrious, and he
made two of himself after the father
died, and they managed to pidl along.
You can see from the appearance of the
room we're looking at they're not wanting
for comfort. Mrs. Geoghegan — poor
William's zvidow {that's her behind the
table setting out the cups) — is a hearty
woman yet, and, after all, I suppose she's
not more than sixty- five years of age. A
great manager she is, and, indeed, she'd
need to be with three unmarried daugh-
ters under her feet all day and two big
men of sons. You'd not like to deny
Mrs. Geoghegan anything she's such a
pleasant way zvith her, yet you know she's
not what I'd call a clever woman, I mean
to say she hasn't got tJie book-knowledge,
the "notions" her husband had or her
sister Ellen. But maybe she's better
without them, sure what good is book-
knowledge to the mother of a family?
She's a sirnplc, decent woman, and what
more do you want? That plain girl be-
hind, pidling out the drawer, is the eldest
daughter Kate. She zvas disappointed a
few years back on the head of a match
was made up for her and broken after-
wards with a farmer from the east of the

4



THE WHITEHEADED BOY

county. Some dispute it was oboiit the
fortune, and he married a publican's
daughter in tJie latter end. 'Tisn't likely
Kate will ever marry, she's up to thirty-
six by this time, with a grey streak in her
hair and two pusJiing sisters behind her,
but she's a quiet poor thing, no harm in
her at all, very useful in the house, I'm
told. I'm sure the mother' d be hard set
to manage without her.

You're admiring the furniture? 'Twas
got five years ago at the Major's auction.
A big price they had to pay for it too,
George didn't want to buy it but the
mother's heart was set on it. They got
new horse-hair put on the arm chair, the
Major had it zcore to the wood sitting all
day over the fire, cursing the Government
and drinking whiskey; the six plain chairs
are as good as new.

Aren't the pictures lovely? They're all
enlarged photographs of William's fam-
ily. That's William himself over the
chimney-piece, and that's his brother that
died in Boston hanging between the win-
dow and the door. The priest in the plush
frame is Vatukr Maguire, no relation
but a loi'cly man. There's one fancy pic-
ture, there on our right, "The Siesta" it's
called — two young 7vo}nen asleep in sonic
sort of a fancy dress.

5



THE WHITEHEADED BOY

William bought the piano when he
got married, I'm told it was old Doctor
Purcell's. Anyway it's a real old piano;
the youngest girl, Baby, is a great one for
music. The table's mahogany, the same
as the cJiairs, only yon can't see it by rea-
son of the cloth. They're after setting the
tea; they got that lamp new this after-
noon, isn't it giving great light? Begob,
there's a chicken and a shape and apples
and a cake — it must be the way they're
expecting company.

Oh, the old one? That's Hannah.
There's not a house in the village she
hasn't been servant m. She ivas at a hotel
in Cork once. Two days they kept her.]



Hannah.
Will I bring in the ham, ma'am ?

Mrs. Geog.
Do. Reach me down the silver teapot, Kate.

['Tisn't real silver, of course, only one
of them white metal ones, but catch Mrs.
Geog H EGA N calling it anything but the
purest silver. She's smelling it.]

There's a sort of musty smell from it.



THE IVHITEHEADED BOY

Kate

Sure we haven't used it since Denis was here
in the summer?

Mrs. Geog.

I'll make Hannah scald it. . . . God help
us, is that the kitchen clock striking six?

Kate

Ah, that clock is always apt to be a bit fast.
Anyway the train isn't due till the quarter, and
it being market-day, 'twill be a queer thing if
it's not ten minutes late, or more.

[Hannah's in again with the hayn.'\

Mrs. Geog.

Put it there. Now run across to Mrs.
O'Connell's, like a good girl, and ask her to
oblige me with a couple of fresh eggs. Tell
her it's for Denis they arc, and she'll not re-
fuse you.

Hannah.

There was a duck Qg^ left over from the
dinner.

Mrs. Geog.

A duck egg! Isnt it well you know Denis

7



THE IVHITEHEADED BOY

has no stomach at all for coarse food? Be off
across the street this minute.



Hannah.
I will, ma'am.

Mrs. Geog.

Here, carry the teapot before you, and give
it a good scalding; 'tis half musty.

Hannah.
I will ma'am. (And off with her)

Mrs. Geog.
Where's Baby?

Kate.
She's above in the room, writing.

Mrs. Geog.
Musha! writing and writing. Isn't it a
wonder she wouldn't come down and be ready-
ing the place before her brother?

Kate.

Ah, what harm ? 'Twon't take us two min-
utes to finish this.

8



THE WHITEHEADED BOY

[This tall girl coming in is Jane. She
has a year or tiuo less than Kate. A
nice, quiet girl. She and Donough
Brosnan have been promised to each
other these years past. Is it chrysanthe-
mums she has in her handf]

Jane.

These are all Peg Turpin had. She stripped
two plants to get them.

Mrs. Geog.

They're not much indeed, but Denis always
had a liking for flowers. Put them there in
the middle of the table.

Jane.

That's what Peg was saying. She remem-
bered the way when he was a little child he'd
come begging to her for a flower for his coat,
and never could she refuse him.

Mrs. Geog.

Refuse him! And why would she refuse
him? . . . Bring me the toasting-fork, Kate.
I'll make the bit of toast here; 'twill be hotter.

\Kate's off to the kitchen now. .hnn't
I after telling you she's a great help to her
mother.^ \

9



THE IVHITEHEADED BOY

Jane.
I met Aunt Ellen up the street.

Mrs. Geog.

For goodness' sake! Did she say she was
coming here?

Jane.
She did.

Mrs. Geog.

Oh, then, bad luck to her, what a night she'd
choose to come here! Where are we to put
her to sleep?

Jane.

If we put Denis to sleep in the room with
George and Peter

Mrs. Geog.

You'll do no such thing. I'll not have Denis
turned out of his room. The three of you girls
must sleep together in the big bed; that's the
only way we can manage. . . . What crazy
old scheme has Ellen in her head this time, I
wonder ?

Jane.

She didn't tell me, but by her manner I
know she's up to something.

10



THE WHITEHEADED BOY

Mrs. Geog.

God help us ! And Denis will be making
game of her, and maybe she won't leave him
the bit of money after all . . . There's a
man's voice — 'tis Denis.

[What a hurry she's in to open the
door.]
Ah, it's only Donough.

[He's not much to look at, is he? A
simple poor fellow, it's a wonder he had
the spunk to think of getting married at
all. Jane could have done better for her-
self, but she thinks the world of the little
man. God knows what she sees in him.
Aren't women queer, the fancies they
take?]

Donough.

Good-night, to you.

[Here's Kate back icith the toasting-
fork.]

Jane.

Good-night, Donough.

Do.N'OL'GII.

Good-night, Jane. Have you your tea
taken ?

Jane.

I haven't.

11



THE IVHITEHEADED BOY

DONOUGH.

I wanted you to come across to the Tem-
perance Hall to the concert. I didn't think I
could get off in time, but I can. Swallow
your tea and come on.

Jane.

Oh, Donough, I'd like to, but, you see,
Denis is coming on the six o'clock.

Donough.

Yerra, Denis will keep. Get your hat and


1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryLennox RobinsonThe whiteheaded boy → online text (page 1 of 6)