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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Mr. Dooley and the Chicago Irish: The Autobiography of a Nineteenth-Century Ethnic Group » User review

Fictionalized serialized history of the Irish in America

  • Aug 3, 2012
Rating:
+3
Editor Charles Fanning takes an interesting and innovative approach in compiling this collection of newspaper columns from Dunne, an Irish-American newspaper writer whose long career began in Chicago in the late 19th century.  Dunne wrote his column in the dialectic voice of Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American saloon owner in the Irish area of Chicago;  the Irish were still new immigrants, neighborhoods were grouped and neighbors known by their county in the home country, and ethnic prejudice limited Irish options in careers, education, politics, and real estate.  

Writing, on a weekly basis, Dunne's columns addressed these subjects and many more, branching into national and political issues beyond the reach of Chicago geography and Irish ethnicity when he was syndicated to a national audience.  His writings took on issues of meaning to readers of the day's newspapers, so beyond the character of Mr, Dooley and his regular patrons, he didn't write a common story thread.  

In this collection, Fanning supplies the thread, grouping the accounts into an "autobiography", essentially a fictionalized serial history of the Irish in Chicago.  The organization is an interesting one, dispensing with the chronological order forced by the newspaper source, to create what is a surprising consistent and coherent story, all based on the consistent character of Mr. Dooley.  Most of the columns are dialog in Dunne's printed transcript of Mr. Dooley's fractured dialect.  Reading it takes some time, until you get used to the conventions of the phonetic spelling and phrasing.  Writing dialogue is the hardest part of fiction, and writing dialect is a minefield of potential danger for even the best intended writers, and Dunne carries off both with humor and class, never denigrating his Irish speakers or putting them in positions of second-class citizens, even as it is clear that mainstream American culture forced them into that position.

This quality of writing, with memorable characters, in alternately humorous and difficult circumstances, speaking with distinctive accents, originally published in serial form, bears comparison with Dickens, and Dunne's writings, even though not serialized with a story thread like Dickens' meticulously planned and plotted serials, holds up very well.  The fact that Mr. Dooley is often commenting on news of the day, in a voice disrespected by many, and taking sometimes unpopular  positions with a sharp sense of justice and humor, make the writing even more remarkable.

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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #38
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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