Places: Purple Dust

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1940

First produced: 1944

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: 1940’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedOrmond manor

Ormond Purple Dustmanor. Aging Tudor mansion in Ireland that the English expatriates Basil Stoke and Cyril Poges are renovating. The house is represented by its “great room” which, massive and venerable, becomes progressively more battered as the play progresses. It has a hole in the ceiling, through which a yellow-bearded workman sticks his head at a comic moment. At another moment, a cow causes havoc when it tries to enter through the front door. However, the workmen have difficulty getting an antique bureau through the same door, damaging both it and the bureau in the process. Meanwhile, Poges knocks a hole in the wall with a large garden roller. The deterioration of the great hall is an obvious metaphor for the collapse of the foolish dreams of the house’s English owners.

Clune na Geera

Clune na Geera (cloon naw GEAR-ah). Irish parish in which Ormand Manor is located. Clune na Geera is a provincial region with a strong personality of its own, which is expressed in its residents’ skeptical attitude toward outsiders. Though offering a backdrop of natural beauty where the work party’s foreman, Jack O’Killigain, and Avril can go on romantic horseback rides, its workmen are individualists who cannot be rushed and often seem perversely determined to ignore instructions. Its parish priest is harshly antimodern but pragmatically willing to accept generous donations from men like Stoke, whose lavish way of living flouts his puritanical standards.


*Ireland. The play’s Irish setting is the scene of a clash of cultural myths. Exploited by Great Britain in the days of the British Empire, Ireland was long dominated by a Protestant “ascendancy” class of gentlemen landlords, who gradually lost their power after the coming of Ireland’s independence. Nevertheless, to nostalgic English imperialists and Anglo-Irish writers, Ireland has been a land of pastoral enchantment, except for her stubborn people, who obstinately refuse to cooperate with English attitudes and myths about the past. Nevertheless, O’Casey’s two pitiable English businessmen, Stoke and Poges, imagine they can recapture this romance in a fantasy life in a mansion of the “ascendancy” or “great house” days, which they will restore with their wealth. For the Irish workmen hired to do the restoration, however, their country’s landscape has different associations. For some, Ireland is a stubborn land that grudgingly yields a meager living. However, for O’Killigain, the foreman who has returned from the Spanish Civil War, it is a homeland to be reformed and redeemed from poverty and priestcraft. For Philip O’Dempsey, the visionary second workman, Ireland is a land haunted by ancient Celtic myths and by the legends of the great Irish patriots Wolfe Tone and Charles Stewart Parnell.

BibliographyBenstock, Bernard. Paycocks and Others: Sean O’Casey’s World. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1976. A comprehensive thematic survey of all of O’Casey’s works. Establishes the place of Purple Dust in O’Casey’s development and connects it to the rest of the playwright’s output. Discusses the play’s contributions to O’Casey’s concept of the hero.Kosok, Heinz. O’Casey the Dramatist. Translated by Heinz Kosok and Joseph T. Swann. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1985. The chapter on Purple Dust opens with a succinct treatment of the play’s different texts. There are also notes on various productions. Concentrates on the interplay of satire, farce, and other comic elements in Purple Dust.Krause, David. Sean O’Casey: The Man and His Work. New York: Macmillan, 1960. A comprehensive treatment of O’Casey from a biographical and critical point of view. Purple Dust is said to inaugurate the tone of O’Casey’s later plays.O’Casey, Sean. “Purple Dust in Their Eyes.” In Under a Colored Cap. New York: Macmillan, 1963. A critical response to reviews of the 1962 London production of Purple Dust. The essay considers the play’s political aspects and argues for their relevance to the playwright’s vision.O’Riordan, John. A Guide to O’Casey’s Plays. New York: Macmillan, 1984. An exhaustive treatment of O’Casey’s plays, covering all twenty-three of the playwright’s major and minor works, with notes on production histories. Literary sources for Purple Dust are assessed, and its intellectual underpinnings considered.
Categories: Places