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Finley Peter Dunne and Mr. Dooley: The Chicago Years

by Charles Fanning

Availablepaperback$35.00s 978-0-8131-5191-5
Availableweb pdf$35.00s 978-0-8131-6261-4
302 pages  Pubdate: 07/15/2014  6 x 9  Illus

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Finley Peter Dunne, American journalist and humorist, is justly famous for his creation of Mr. Dooley, the Chicago Irish barkeep whose weekly commentary on national politics, war, and human nature kept Americans chuckling over their newspapers for nearly two decades at the beginning of this century.

Largely forgotten in the files of Chicago newspapers, however, are over 300 Mr. Dooley columns written in the 1890s before national syndication made his name a household word. Charles Fanning offers here the first critical examination of these early Dooley pieces, which, far better than the later ones, reveal the depth and development of the character and his creator.

Dunne created in Mr. Dooley a vehicle for expressing his criticism of Chicago's corruption despite the conservatism of most of his publishers. Dishonest officials who could not be safely attacked in plain English could be roasted with impunity in the "pure Roscommon brogue" of a fictional comic Irishman. In addition, Dunne painted, through the observations of his comic persona, a vivid and often poignant portrait of the daily life of Chicago's working-class Irish community and the impact of assimilation into American life. He also offered cogent views of American urban political life, already dominated by the Irish as firmly in Chicago as in other large American cities, and of the tragicomic phenomenon of Irish nationalism.

Mr. Fanning's penetrating examination of these early Dooley pieces clearly establishes Dunne as far more than a mere humorist. Behind Mr. Dooley's marvelously comic pose and ironic tone lies a wealth of material germane to the social and literary history of turn-of-the century America.

Charles Fanning is emeritus professor of history and English at Southern Illinois University Press.

Winner of the 1979 Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians