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About this book

This Guide surveys existing criticism and theory, making clear the key critical debates, themes and issues surrounding a wide variety of Irish poets, playwrights and novelists. It relates Irish literature to debates surrounding issues such as national identity, modernity and the Revival period, armed struggle, gender, sexuality and post colonialism.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
This Guide to Essential Criticism of twentieth-century Irish literature written in English necessarily addresses issues pertaining to a nationally specific culture. However, while Irish literary criticism permits us to think deeply about Ireland and nationality, it is, equally, not bound by the nation as an already agreed concept or a homogeneous entity. In fact, Irish literature continually rethinks the parameters of its own national context in terms of ideas of identity, culture, gender, social class and so forth. The global scope of Irish writing makes plain that it harbours an international range of important themes that cannot be simply reduced to a hermetically sealed nation. This guide seeks to deal with Irish literary criticism in its specificity without peculiarizing it or cordoning it off from the rest of the world. The wilful internationalism of writers such as James Joyce (1882–1941) or Samuel Beckett (1906–89), the internationally informed debates within Irish Studies itself, together with the engagement with Irish writing by a host of internationally renowned scholars such as Edward W. Said (1935–2003) and Fredric Jameson (born 1934), all affirm that Irish literature is able to think about its borders, boundaries and divisions and simultaneously to think beyond them. In tracing the paths of Irish literature and literary criticism in the twentieth-century, the highly charged contexts and debates which emerge are given specific forms by Irish society but they are also shaped by, and indeed help to shape, international dialogues concerning tradition and modernity; war and social conflict; profound economic change; nationalism, colonialism and postcolonialism; emancipation projects of class and gender; and the onset of a global age.
Aaron Kelly

Chapter One. Irish Literature and Criticism in the Revival

Abstract
Given the political impetus behind Arnold’s Celticism, its desire to endorse and galvanize a settled and homogeneous British nation, it may seem odd that the Irish nationalist Yeats should take up Arnold’s template in his own essay ‘The Celtic Element in Literature’. But it does need to be acknowledged that where Arnold saw the different races as complementing one another in a unified British State, Yeats seeks to turn Arnold’s model against its own putative logic. Yeats argues that if Saxon and Celt are so racially, historically and culturally distinct in their identities and values, then this necessitates political separatism and an Ireland unfettered by British domination and materialism. Nonetheless — as will be discussed in due course with regard to those critical paradigms opposed to Yeats’s project — while his political intentions are radically different from Arnold’s, Yeats does broadly accept the racial designations and assumptions of Arnold’s lectures. Yeats is eager, however, to stress his deeper and more profound attachment to Celtic culture than Arnold, in a manner that helps explain the reasons for his own and Lady Gregory’s systematic effort to collect, recuperate and rewrite a disparate array of Irish folk cultural sources into a literary tradition, such as in Representative Irish Tales (1891). Yeats claims:
■ When Matthew Arnold wrote, it was not as easy to know as much as we know now of folk-song and folk-belief, and I do not think he understood that our ‘natural magic’ is but the ancient religion of the world, the ancient worship of Nature and that troubled ecstasy before her, that certainty of all beautiful places being haunted, which it brought into men’s minds.1
Aaron Kelly

Chapter Two. Irish Literature and Criticism after Partition

Abstract
This chapter details core details about Irish literature in the wake of the War of Independence and partition and follows those debates through to the 1970s. We will first examine how the energies of the Revival’s national re-imagining continue in the work of certain writers and critics in an effort to shape the specifically Irish and nationalist credentials of the new Free State. In turn though, we will address the abatement of those nationalist dynamics in literary criticism which either was or became fundamentally opposed to the official doctrine of the new Ireland. The response of literature and criticism to the Northern Irish state and its ideological strictures will also be analyzed in due course, before we address an increasing interest in Irish literature by an array of international critics in the post-Second World War period. But we will commence with an examination of Daniel Corkery’s criticism and its close alignment to the official nationalism of the Irish Free State in order to enable us to sense the dominant cultural and social climate of the period.
Aaron Kelly

Chapter Three. The Development of Irish Studies: Contesting the Revival

Abstract
In order to understand the motivations and intentions behind the key critical approaches in contemporary Irish Studies, we will ground our account of such critics in this chapter in their reading of the Revival period. Where the Revival witnessed an energetic array of contesting attempts to re-imagine Irish cultures and identities, so too contemporary Irish Studies undertakes a similar mission. Hence, we will appraise the critical interventions of Irish Studies through the lens of their own reassessment of that earlier period of national re-conception. Just as debates about literature were either harnessed to, or resistant to, national paradigms in the Revival, the important recent critical interventions in the work of Yeats, Joyce and the Revival have also been, by turns, galvanized or hindered by debates about and within Ireland. Most particularly, social change in the Irish Republic from the 1960s onwards and the onset of political violence in the North (itself coupled with social change) have all given an urgency, at times a vitriol, yet also a clarity, to the evaluation of the Revival, its writers and its fractious legacy. Obviously we will address such issues directly in the chapters on the North and the Republic but we will also bear in mind how such pressures impinge on the critical paradigms surrounding the Revival. The major critical fracture is often characterized as a confrontation between, on the one hand, Revisionism, and, on the other, a reworked Irish Nationalism (at least, according to Revisionists) that is most commonly associated with the Field Day project.
Aaron Kelly

Chapter Four. Irish Studies Paradigms and Literature after Partition

Abstract
This chapter offers an account of the major ways in which contemporary Irish Studies has interpreted Irish literature since the foundation of the Free State and Northern Ireland. As with our discussion of the opposing ways in which key figures in the Revival are enlisted to support current critical schools, we will evaluate how writing after partition is also deployed to endorse or refute attitudes to culture, the state and society. Obviously, in contrast to the still fluid, literally stateless energies of the Revival, the post-partition period instigated concrete state formations in both the Free State and the North so that literature, culture, ideology and both Nationalist and Unionist rhetoric had more palpable terms of reference. So the writing of this period readily lends itself to contemporary Irish Studies paradigms as a further means of negotiating with the nature of both the Republic and Northern Ireland in the present.
Aaron Kelly

Chapter Five. Gender, Sexuality and Feminism in Irish Literature

Abstract
As we evaluate issues of gender and sexuality through the twentieth century, one fundamental problem faced by Irish feminism was its difficult relationship to nationalism. There were many women participants in the Irish Nationalist and Republican agitations of the Revival period, most famously Maud Gonne, Countess Markievicz and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. There were highly divergent views as to whether nationalism and feminism shared the same emancipatory agenda, whether feminism was an equalizing pre-requisite to nationalism, or whether national liberation must come first and then facilitate the emancipation of women once the national question had been resolved. Sheehy-Skeffington was clear that feminism had both the priority and the means to transform society more broadly in advance of national freedom. Her sense of the disempowerment of women did not just include British rule in Ireland — hence, she asks of female subjection:
■ The result of Anglicization? This is partly true; much of the evil is, however, inherent in latter-day Irish life. Nor will the evil disappear, as we are assured, when Ireland comes to her own again, whenever that may be. For until the women of Ireland are free, the men will not achieve emancipation.1
Aaron Kelly

Chapter Six. Contemporary Literature in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland

Abstract
As the previous chapter suggested, John McGahern’s Amongst Women helps illustrate a prevailing ideology of the Republic losing its normative status and, resultantly, its habituated silences become a problem rather than a sign that power needs no justification — where once the very fact of power was all the articulation it required. McGahern is therefore very much in keeping with a new dispensation in contemporary Republic culture and society. Amidst the celebratory tenor of the Celtic Tiger, a whole range of much more subterranean voices emerged restively at odds not only with the supposed economic successes of a new globalizing Ireland but also anxious to undercut the mythic past and the sacrosanct narrative of the nation. Indeed, Fintan O’Toole (born 1958) felt that by the 1990s the official narrative of Irish Nationalism had broken down and left a void which it could not itself fill: ‘The grand narrative of Irish nationalist history has been destroyed, leaving a gap for the pop images to fill, not merely for the tourist but for the native as well’.1
Aaron Kelly

Conclusion

Irish Studies Today
Abstract
Our examination of literature and criticism in the Irish Republic and the North concluded in each case with an acknowledgement of the globalized networks now coursing through Irish society. For some, this global dispensation promised a new open, pluralist possibility through which to vanquish the repressive fixities of the past. Other writers and critics, we observed, while certainly not harking back to unrealizable ideals, equally remained more circumspect about the economic changes and realignments of power which this new global context brings forth. An important and engaging intervention in debates about a new Ireland or new Irish cultural constellations is granted by Multi-Culturalism: The View From the Two Irelands (2001), which comprises parallel essays by Edna Longley and Declan Kiberd. Each assesses, respectively, the North and the Republic with regard to multiculturalism and the possibilities and limitations of social pluralism.
Aaron Kelly
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