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The Right Honourable
The Lord Dunsany
The 18th Lord Dunsany
|Born||24 July 1878|
|Died||25 October 1957 (aged 79)|
|Pen name||Lord Dunsany|
|Occupation||Writer (short story writer, playwright, novelist, poet)|
|Genre||Crime, High fantasy, Horror, Science fiction, Weird|
|Notable works||Early short story collections, The King of Elfland's Daughter|
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany (//; 24 July 1878 – 25 October 1957), was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist; his work, mostly in the fantasy genre, was published under the name Lord Dunsany. More than ninety books of his work were published in his lifetime,:29 (I.A.92) and both original work and compilations have continued to appear. Dunsany's œuvre includes many hundreds of published short stories, as well as plays, novels and essays. He achieved great fame and success with his early short stories and plays, and during the 1910s was considered one of the greatest living writers of the English-speaking world; he is today best known for his 1924 fantasy novel The King of Elfland's Daughter.
Born and raised in London, to the second-oldest title (created 1439) in the Irish peerage, Dunsany lived much of his life at what may be Ireland's longest-inhabited house, Dunsany Castle near Tara, worked with W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, received an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin, was chess and pistol-shooting champion of Ireland, and travelled and hunted extensively. He died in Dublin after an attack of appendicitis.
Edward Plunkett (Dunsany), known to his family as "Eddie," was the first son of John William Plunkett, 17th Baron of Dunsany (1853–1899), and his wife, Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Maria Grosvenor Ernle-Erle-Drax, née Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Maria Grosvenor Burton (1855–1916).
From a historically wealthy and famous family, Lord Dunsany was related to many well-known Irish figures. He was a kinsman of the Catholic Saint Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, whose ring and crozier head are still held by the Dunsany family. He was also related to the prominent Anglo-Irish unionist, and later nationalist / Home Rule politician Sir Horace Plunkett, and George Count Plunkett, Papal Count and Republican politician, father of Joseph Plunkett, executed for his part in the 1916 Rising.
His mother was a cousin of Sir Richard Burton, and he inherited from her considerable height, being 6' 4". The Countess of Fingall, wife of Dunsany's cousin, the Earl of Fingall, wrote a best-selling account of the life of the aristocracy in Ireland in the late 19th century and early 20th century, called Seventy Years Young.
Plunkett's only grown sibling, a younger brother, from whom he was estranged from around 1916, for reasons not fully clear but connected to his mother's will, was the noted British naval officer Sir Reginald Drax. Another, younger, brother died in infancy.
Edward Plunkett grew up at the family properties, most notably Dunstall Priory in Shoreham, Kent, and Dunsany Castle in County Meath, but also family homes such as in London. His schooling was at Cheam, Eton College and finally the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, which he entered in 1896.
The title passed to him at his father's death at a fairly young age, in 1899, and the young Lord Dunsany returned to Dunsany Castle after war duty, in 1901. In that year he was also confirmed as an elector for the Representative Peers for Ireland in the House of Lords.
In 1903, he met Lady Beatrice Child Villiers (1880–1970), youngest daughter of The 7th Earl of Jersey (head of the Jersey banking family), who was then living at Osterley Park, and they were married in 1904. Their only child, Randal, was born in 1906. Beatrice was supportive of Dunsany's interests, and assisted him in his writing, typing his manuscripts, helping to select work for his collections, including the 1954 retrospective short story collection, and overseeing his literary heritage after his death.
The Dunsanys were socially active in both Dublin and London, and travelled between their homes in Meath, London and Kent, other than during World Wars I and II, and the Irish War of Independence. Dunsany himself circulated with many other literary figures of the time. To many of these in Ireland he was first introduced by his uncle, the co-operative pioneer Sir Horace Plunkett, who also helped to manage his estate and investments for a time. He was friendly with, for example, George William Russell, Oliver St. John Gogarty and, for a time, W. B. Yeats. He also socialised at times with George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and was a friend of Rudyard Kipling.
In 1910 Dunsany commissioned a two-storey extension to Dunsany Castle, with a billiards room, bedrooms and other facilities. The billiards room includes the crests of all the Lords Dunsany up to the 18th.
He volunteered in the First World War, and was appointed Captain in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was stationed for some time at Ebrington Barracks in Derry. Having heard of disturbances in Dublin in 1916, during the Easter Rising, while on leave, he drove in to offer assistance and was wounded, with a bullet lodged in his skull. After recovery at Jervis Street Hospital, and later what was then the King George V Hospital (now St. Bricin's Military Hospital), he returned to duty. His military belt was lost in this episode and was later used at the burial of Michael Collins. Having been refused forward positioning in 1916, being listed as valuable as a trainer, in the latter stages of the war he spent time in the trenches, and in the very last period wrote propaganda material for the War Office with MI7b(1). At Dunsany Castle there is a book of wartime photos with lost members of his command marked.
During the Second World War, Dunsany signed up for the Irish Army Reserve and the British Home Guard, the two countries' local defence forces, and was especially active in Shoreham, Kent, the most-bombed village in England during the Battle of Britain.
Dunsany's fame arose chiefly from his prolific writings, and he was involved with the Irish Literary Revival. Supporting the Revival, Dunsany was a major donor to the Abbey Theatre, and he moved in Irish literary circles. He was well-acquainted with W. B. Yeats (who rarely acted as editor, but gathered and published a Dunsany selection), Lady Gregory, Percy French, "AE" Russell, Oliver St John Gogarty, Padraic Colum (with whom he jointly wrote a play) and others. He befriended and supported Francis Ledwidge to whom he gave the use of his library and Mary Lavin.
Dunsany made his first literary tour to the United States in 1919, and made further such visits right up to the 1950s, in the early years mostly to the eastern seaboard, later notably to California.
Dunsany's own work, and contribution to the Irish literary heritage, was recognised through an honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin.
In 1940, Dunsany was appointed Byron Professor of English in Athens University, Greece. Having reached Athens by a circuitous route, he was so successful that he was offered a post as Professor of English in Istanbul. However, he had to be evacuated due to the German invasion of Greece in April 1941, returning home by an even more complex route than he had come on, his travels forming a basis for a long poem published in book form (A Journey, in 5 cantos: The Battle of Britain, The Battle of Greece, The Battle of the Mediterranean, Battles Long Ago, The Battle of the Atlantic; Special edition January 1944). Olivia Manning's character, "Lord Pinkrose", in her novel sequence, the Fortunes of War, was a mocking portrait of Dunsany during this period.
In 1947, Dunsany transferred his Meath estate to his son and heir under a trust, and settled in Kent, at his Shoreham house, Dunstall Priory and farm, not far from the home of Rudyard Kipling, a friend. He visited Ireland only occasionally thereafter, and engaged actively in life in Shoreham and London. He also began a new period of visits to the United States, notably California, as recounted in Hazel Littlefield-Smith's biographical "Dunsany, King of Dreams."
In 1957, Lord Dunsany became ill while eating with the Earl and Countess of Fingall at Dunsany, in what proved to be an attack of appendicitis, and died in hospital in Dublin at the age of 79. He had directed that he be buried in the churchyard of the ancient church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Shoreham, Kent, in memory of shared war times. His funeral was attended by a wide range of family (including the Pakenhams, Jerseys and Fingals) and Shoreham figures, and representatives of his old regiment and various bodies in which he had taken an interest. A memorial service was held at Kilmessan in Meath, with a reading of Crossing the Bar which was noted as coinciding with a passing flock of geese.
Lady Beatrice survived Lord Dunsany, living on primarily at Shoreham, overseeing his literary legacy until her death in 1970, while their son, Randal, succeeded him in the Barony, and was in turn succeeded by his grandson, the artist Edward Plunkett, to whom literary rights passed directly.
Aside from his literary work, Dunsany was a keen chess player, set chess puzzles for journals including The Times (of London), played José Raúl Capablanca to a draw (in a simultaneous exhibition), and also invented Dunsany's Chess, an asymmetric chess variant that is notable for not involving any fairy pieces, unlike many variants that require the player to learn unconventional piece movements. He was president of both the Irish Chess Union and the Kent County Chess Association for some years, and of Sevenoaks Chess Club for 54 years.
Dunsany was a keen horseman and hunter, for many years hosting the hounds of a local hunt, as well as hunting in parts of Africa, and sportsman, and was at one time the pistol-shooting champion of Ireland.
He enjoyed cricket, provided the local cricket ground situated near Dunsany Crossroads, and later played for and presided at Shoreham Cricket Club in Kent.
Dunsany was a prolific writer, penning short stories, novels, plays, poetry, essays and autobiography, and publishing over 90 books in his lifetime, not including individual plays. Books have continued to appear, with more than 120 having issued as of 2017. Dunsany's works have been published in many languages.
The then Edward Plunkett began his authorial career in the late 1890s, with a few published verses, such as "Rhymes from a Suburb" and "The Spirit of the Bog", but he made a lasting impression in 1905 when he burst onto the publishing scene, writing as Lord Dunsany, with the well-received collection The Gods of Pegāna.
Dunsany's most notable fantasy short stories were published in collections from 1905 to 1919, though fantasy as a genre did not yet exist, so they were just a curious form of literature. He paid for the publication of the first collection, The Gods of Pegāna, earning a commission on sales. This he never again had to do, the vast majority of his extensive writings selling.
The stories in his first two books, and perhaps the beginning of his third, were set within an invented world, Pegāna, with its own gods, history and geography. Starting with this book, Dunsany's name is linked to that of Sidney Sime, his chosen artist, who illustrated much of his work, notably until 1922.
Dunsany's style varied significantly throughout his writing career. Prominent Dunsany scholar S. T. Joshi has described these shifts as Dunsany moving on after he felt he had exhausted the potential of a style or medium. From the naïve fantasy of his earliest writings, through his early short story work in 1904–1908, he turned to the self-conscious fantasy of The Book of Wonder in 1912, in which he almost seems to be parodying his lofty early style.
Each of his collections varies in mood; A Dreamer's Tales varies from the wistfulness of "Blagdaross" to the horrors of "Poor Old Bill" and "Where the Tides Ebb and Flow" to the social satire of "The Day of the Poll."
After The Book of Wonder, Dunsany began to write plays – many of which were even more successful, at the time, than his early story collections – while also continuing to write short stories. He continued to write plays for the theatre into the 1930s, including the famous If, and a number for radio production.
Although many of Dunsany's stage plays were successfully produced within his lifetime, he also wrote a number of "chamber plays" (or closet dramas), which were intended only to be read privately (as if they were stories) or performed on the radio, rather than staged. Some of Dunsany's chamber or radio plays contain supernatural events – such as a character spontaneously appearing out of thin air, or vanishing in full view of the audience, without any explanation of how the effect is to be staged, a matter of no importance, since Dunsany did not intend these works actually to be performed live and visible.
Following a successful lecture touring in the US in 1919–1920 and with his reputation now principally related to his plays, Dunsany temporarily reduced his output of short stories, concentrating on plays, novels and poetry for a time.
His poetry, now little seen, was for a time so popular that it is recited by the lead character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and one of his poems, the sonnet A Dirge of Victory - the only poem included in the Armistice Day edition of the Times of London.
Launching another phase of his work, Dunsany's first novel, Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley, was published in 1922. It is set in "a Romantic Spain that never was," and follows the adventures of a young nobleman, Don Rodriguez, and his servant in their search for a castle for Rodriguez. It has been argued that Dunsany's inexperience with the novel form shows in the episodic nature of Don Rodriguez. In 1924, Dunsany published his second novel, The King of Elfland's Daughter, a return to his early style of writing, which is considered by many to be Dunsany's finest novel and a classic in the realm of the fantasy writing. In his next novel, The Charwoman's Shadow, Dunsany returned to the Spanish milieu and to the light style of Don Rodriguez, to which it is related.
Though his style and medium shifted frequently, Dunsany's thematic concerns remained essentially the same. Many of Dunsany's later novels had an explicitly Irish theme, from the semi-autobiographical The Curse of the Wise Woman to His Fellow Men.
One of Dunsany's best-known characters was Joseph Jorkens, an obese middle-aged raconteur who frequented the fictional Billiards Club in London, and who would tell fantastic stories if someone would buy him a large whiskey and soda. From his tales, it was obvious that Mr Jorkens had travelled to all seven continents, was extremely resourceful, and well-versed in world cultures, but always came up short on becoming rich and famous. The Jorkens books, which sold well, were among the first of a type which was to become popular in fantasy and science fiction writing: extremely improbable "club tales" told at a gentleman's club or bar.
Dunsany's writing habits were considered peculiar by some. Lady Beatrice said that "He always sat on a crumpled old hat while composing his tales." (The hat was eventually stolen by a visitor to Dunsany Castle.) Dunsany almost never rewrote anything; everything he ever published was a first draft. Much of his work was penned with quill pens, which he made himself; Lady Beatrice was usually the first to see the writings, and would help type them. It has been said that Lord Dunsany would sometimes conceive stories while hunting, and would return to the Castle and draw in his family and servants to re-enact his visions before he set them on paper.
Dunsany's work was translated from an early stage, to languages including Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Czech and Turkish. His uncle, Horace Plunkett, mentioned that he had been translated into 14 languages already by the 1920s.
Lord Dunsany was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a member, and at once point the President, of the Authors' Society, and likewise President of the Shakespeare Reading Society from 1938 until his death in 1957, succeeded by Sir John Gielgud.
Dunsany was also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and an honorary member of the Institut Historique et Heraldique de France.
He was initially an Associate Member of the Irish Academy of Letters, founded by Yeats and others, and later a full member. At one of their meetings, after 1922, he asked Seán Ó Faoláin, who was presiding, "Do we not toast the King?" Ó Faoláin replied that there was only one toast: to the Nation; but after it was given and O'Faolain had called for coffee, he saw Dunsany, standing quietly among the bustle, raise his glass discreetly, and whisper "God bless him". 
The Curse of the Wise Woman received the Harmsworth Literary Award in Ireland.
Dunsany received an honorary doctorate, D.Litt., from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1940.
S. T. Joshi and Darrell Schweitzer have been working on the Dunsany œuvre for over twenty years, gathering stories and essays and reference material, and producing both an initial bibliography (together) and scholarly studies of Dunsany's work (separate works). They issued an updated version of the bibliography in 2013. Joshi edited The Collected Jorkens, The Ginger Cat and other lost plays and co-edited The Ghost in the Corner and other stories. Both are well-known figures in the fields of speculative fiction.
In the late 1990s a curator, J.W. (Joe) Doyle, was appointed by the Dunsany estate, working at Dunsany Castle, among other things locating and organising the author's manuscripts, typescripts and other materials. Doyle discovered both works known to exist but "lost", such as the plays "The Ginger Cat" and "The Murderers," some Jorkens stories, and the novel The Pleasures of a Futuroscope (subsequently published by Hippocampus Press) and unknown, unpublished works, notably including The Last Book of Jorkens, to the first edition of which he wrote an introduction, and an unnamed 1956 short story collection, published as part of The Ghost in the Corner and other stories in 2017.
In the 2000s a PhD researcher, Tania Scott, from the University of Glasgow, worked on Dunsany for some time, and has spoken at literary and other conventions. A Swedish fan, Martin Andersson, has also been active in research and publication in the mid-2010s.
Dunsany's literary rights passed from the author to a Trust, which still owns them. These rights were first managed by Beatrice, Lady Dunsany, and are currently administered by Curtis Brown of London and partner companies worldwide (some past US deals, for example, have been listed by Locus Magazine as by SCG).
All of Dunsany's work is in copyright in parts of the world as of 2018[update], including the UK and European Union, with the early work (published before 1 January 1923) being in the public domain in the United States, and all of his work out of copyright in parts of the world with copyright durations of life + 60 or less.
Dunsany's primary home, over 820 years old, can be visited at certain times of year, and tours usually include the Library, but not the tower room he often liked to work in. His other home, Dunstall Priory, was sold to a fan, Grey Gowrie, later head of the Arts Council of the UK, and thence passed on to other owners; the family still own farm- and down-land in the area, and a Tudor cottage in Shoreham village. The grave of Lord Dunsany and his wife can be seen in the Church of England graveyard in the village (most of the previous barons are buried in the grounds of Dunsany Castle).
Dunsany's original manuscripts are collected in the family archive, including some specially bound volumes of some of his works. As noted, there has been a curator since the late 1990s and scholarly access is possible by application.
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