The Hidden History of Herr Hoven, Part 9

And what of Francis Stuart?. Stuart died on 2nd February 2000, but he still has admirers of his undoubted literary genius among the Irish Academic Establishment. Francis Stuart: face to face , by Anne Mc Cartney was the first complete “critical” study of his work, published in 2000 by the Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University, Belfast, which portrayed him as “one of Ireland’s foremost twentieth-century writers who has tended to be analysed more in relation to his controversial life than for his work. The book depicts him as a writer, sensitive to the way in which the creative spirit moves, and committed to his craft. By focusing on Stuart’s writing, its underlying philosophy and its provocative approach, much is revealed about the man and his beliefs which provide answers to his critics.” They go on to say that, “This study responds to Stuart’s own contention that his work requires a different form of criticism, one that mirrors his method of delving below the surface and coming face-to-face with himself in the most profound way possible.”

Anne McCartney tells us that the book was the outcome of prolonged and sustained research into Stuart’s works and as a result many among the Irish Academic Establishment provided help, support and encouragement. She says that the acquisition of the Francis Stuart Collection for the University of Ulster “not only made her task much easier, it created a unique resource in Ireland for Stuart’s work.” McCartney was a British Academy Joint Institutional Fellow in the History of the Irish Book at the Centre for Irish Literature and Bibliography, University of Ulster and Queen’s University, Belfast and was editor of the fourth volume which covered the nineteenth century. She obtained her D.Phil on Francis Stuart from the University of Ulster where some of his manuscripts and notebooks are located in the Francis Stuart Collection.

Publication of the book was made possible, in part, by grants from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the research committee of the University of Ulster. McCartney also thanked the Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University, Belfast for support and the book was completed while she enjoyed the facilities if a Visiting Scholarship to St John’s College, Oxford. She maintained that up to his death Stuart continued to make himself ‘unforgiveable’ in the eyes of ‘conventional’ society. But the decision of the Arts Council of Ireland to elect Stuart to the position of Saoi of Aosdána, the highest literary honour available in Ireland, was the subject of much controversy in the press. Most particularly, in the Irish Times Kevin Myers expressed, what was for many, the main objection to the honour, namely Stuart’s wartime broadcasts in Berlin.

“To have volunteered to serve that enemy of civilisation and art is not just a mistake on a par with life’s other little blunders. It is a cosmic error from which no full escape is possible. That is the inevitable consequence of aligning oneself with the greatest enemies ever known, though the resulting experiences provided wonderful material for a writer as indisputably fine as Francis Stuart is. He has told us that he went to Germany because he sought life on the fringe, on the very margins, in a land inhabited by martyrs and mystics. Fine. And untrue. He went to Germany not in the hour of Germany’s defeat, but at the moment of victory, as Poland lay in ruins. More conquest, more subjugation followed, all of it commanded from Berlin, where he had made his home and from where he broadcast. He was at the centre of things.”

Yet writers such as Fintan O’Toole, Dermot Bolger and Eileen Battersby came to Stuart’s defence, Battersby noting that “Francis Stuart has often fulfilled the public role of icon of hatred: he makes his critics feel righteous.” But that is just not good enough. The victims of Nazi Germany, including those 1,000 poor souls who died in the Belfast Blitz, expect no less than complete opprobrium for Stuart from us as their descendents and friends. Furthermore, significantly, Helmut Clissman is described in McCartney’s book merely as “Head of the German Academic Exchange Service”. Surely McCartney knows who Clissman really was. Nor could I find a single mention of his colleague, Herr Hoven, the superlative Warrior Spy and one of Stuart’s closest friends in Berlin, who lived in Belfast before the War under the Invisibility Cloak of Southern Irish neutrality, and helped plan its destruction.


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