In response to the recent spat between Ukrainians and Russians over the true citizenship of Nikolai Gogol, The Guardian books blogger John Mullan questions the whole notion of countries laying claims of ownership on writers. He also takes the opportunity to poke some fun at Ireland, for what he sees as its penchant for stealing authors away from Britain.
Look at the Irish, who have proved particularly skilful at this. They have effortlessly reclaimed all the great authors who fled the country of their birth “ Goldsmith, Joyce, Beckett “ even though the latter wrote some of his greatest work in French, the language of his adopted country. They have managed to persuade many that Laurence Sterne (born in Ireland because his father was a British soldier stationed there) and William Congreve (born in Yorkshire, but educated partly in Ireland because his father was another British officer) were really Irish. (The fact that both these writers were witty somehow confirms their essential Irishness.) And, their biggest triumph, they have taken possession of Jonathan Swift, perhaps the greatest of all satirists. In fact Swift called himself “English”, spoke of his residence in Dublin as an “exile” in “a land I hate”, and did not even have an Irish accent. But he has long become a great Irish patriot, adorning banknotes and tourist brochures.