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.
Fanning traces the roots of Irish-American writing back to the eighteenth century and carries it forward through the traumatic years of the Famine to the present time with an intensely productive period in the twentieth century beginning with James T. Farrell. Later writers treated in depth include Edwin O'Connor, Elizabeth Cullinan, Maureen Howard, and William Kennedy. Along the way he places in the historical record many all but forgotten writers, including the prolific Mary Ann Sadlier. The Irish Voice in America is not only a highly readable contribution to American literary history but also a valuable reference to many writers and their works.
For this second edition, Fanning has added a chapter that covers the fiction of the past decade. He argues that contemporary writers continue to draw on Ireland as a source and are important chroniclers of the modern American experience.