Tonight I got to spent an hour listening to Jonathan Swift: a heady experience for someone who has written a book that is at least peripherally about Swift. It’s one thing to read a writer’s words on paper, quite another to have an actor bring him to life before your very eyes.
The actor in question was Irish actor and playwright Michael Harding, who performed his play Jonathan Swift: Talking Through His Hat here as part of Irish Newfoundland Week. I wouldn’t have known about the play at all if Helen Porter, bless her, hadn’t called me the night before to tell me about it. (My mother also called today, when she heard about it, by which time I’d already made plans to go).
If I’d heard about this after the fact, I would have kicked myself black and blue, because it was an amazing performance. I can’t say I actually like Swift, as a person or as a writer, but I do feel like I know him after spending so many years researching his relationship with Esther Johnson. He was an irascible, unpleasant, intense and melancholy man — but also a brilliant and fascinating one. This play, based entirely on Swift’s own words and set in his later years, as dementia began to take over that brilliant mind, is funny in places, disturbing throughout, and heartbreaking to anyone who has any feeling for Swift at all.
Thanks to Helen paving the way for me, I was brave enough to “make meself known” to Michael Harding and give him a signed copy of my book — a bit of shameless self-promotion I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve for otherwise. It was a wonderful evening and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.
In other news, two new book reviews up at Compulsive Overreader — go check ’em out. I need comments, both here and there! Please feed the ego!!!