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Home Uncategorized Mapping the Revival

Mapping the Revival

Barra Ó Seaghdha
Handbook of the Irish Revival: An Anthology of Irish Cultural and Political Writings 1891 – 1922, Declan Kiberd and PJ Matthews (eds), Abbey Theatre Press, 512 pp, €15, ISBN: 978-0993180002 A survey of English writing that appeared in 1918 makes for interesting reading. Harold Williams’s Modern English Writers: Being a Study of Imaginative Literature 1890 – 1914 had been intended for publication in 1914 but appeared only in 1918. Part I was devoted to poetry. The first writer to be mentioned was Oscar Wilde. His birth in Dublin and the “literary leanings” he imbibed from his mother, “Speranza”, were mentioned. “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” was “by far his greatest piece of writing, whether in prose or verse”. Here Wilde had adopted “a simple language in place of a decorative”, with “the plaining recurrence of word melody”, imagery, echo and refrain, and “repetition with slight changes” combining to create “a haunting picture of prison cell and high-walled yard”. If “Reading Gaol” had more enduring quality than the rest of Wilde’s verse, Williams was not led into rhapsodic appreciation: “Yet none of his writing in verse is of special importance; nor can it be said that his English poetry would be regrettably poorer had Wilde never written save in prose.” Williams treated Wilde as a minor figure in English literary life. Was this an erasure of Irish distinctiveness or an English colonisation of Irish literary territory? Rather than launching into righteous indignation, it might be more fruitful to examine Williams’s treatment of Irish writing in detail. If Wilde was indeed treated as an English or British writer among others, this was not at all the general fate of Irish writers. In fact, the five chapters of Part II were devoted exclusively to Irish material. The first of these was a survey of the Celtic Revival, which Williams saw as part of a broad trend: But the Celt has not been alone in asserting his nationality. England, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, the United States have all found expositors of the national spirit, either conceived in the whole or mirrored in small provinces, counties and towns. Beyond this nineteenth century reaction against a rather abstract eighteenth century universalism, Williams saw a further trend: And this decentralisation of literature may be regarded as one aspect of the widespread agitation for decentralisation of government, which is but a natural reaction against the extension of world-empires with wide,…



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