Introduction to Select Irish Literature and Film/Printable version

Introduction to Select Irish Literature and Film

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General Introduction edit

In the fall of 2013, a course in Modern Irish Literature was offered at Trent University, Oshawa Campus. Students who took this upper-year university course were offered a number of options for completion of their final project. Eight female students volunteered to create an introduction to Irish literature with the instructor, Dr. Sara Humphreys. The readers of this wikibook will find information on the canonized Irish authors who have had a hand in the construction of a well-established and decidedly Irish literature.

Irish Literature in General edit

Irish literature and culture courses are a growing concern in Canadian Universities. Not so long ago, such courses were quite rare, but most universities in North America that offer English courses, also offer Irish Literature in some form, thankfully. The steady diet of British literature did not represent the vastness of the world’s literature. Indeed, literary scholar and cultural critic, Frank Moretti explains that the word “literature” operates as a kind of “slaughterhouse” in that English professors tend to teach a very limited number of books that have been canonized [1]. Usually, Irish authors are displaced from their - often complicated - national contexts and co-opted by literary movements and concerns, most often modernism, drama, and contemporary poetry. Writers like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett are the usual victims of such critical appropriation. Irish literature courses tend to set things straight and enable students to explore the richness of Irish narrative forms. The authors of this wikibook share their expertise gained from course they took in Modern Irish Literature at Trent University, Oshawa Campus in the fall of 2013. Therefore, this introduction to Irish literature concentrates mainly on twentieth and twenty-first century literary works, but also traces the origins of these works to Ireland's long tradition of storytelling.

  • the most popular authors and forms of Irish literature in order to provide the neophyte with a starting place for further study;
  • the critical conversation that is common to these authors and a select number of works in order to demonstrate how one might read these works;
  • the historical and social contexts in which these works were produced.

Contributors and Acknowledgments edit

I would like to sincerely thank the students of Modern Irish Literature who took the source in winter of 2013. Their hard work is clearly demonstrated in this wikibook, which we hope you find useful.

References edit

  1. [1], Moretti, Frank. "The Slaughterhouse of Literature. MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly. 61.1:(2000).207.

Irish Absurdism

Introduction edit

Absurdist literature defies all stage and narrative conventions and consists of “wildly irrational, often nonsensical goings-on”; they tend to be called “anti-plays”. [1] Absurdist plays do not have an obvious direction or a rational end in sight: instead, almost all happenings in an absurdist play seem completely random. However, absurdist plays “are living proof that the magic of the stage can persist even outside, and divorced from, any framework of conceptual rationality”. [1] This resistance to logical motivation ultimately prompts laughter (or even confused laughter) in the audience. Indeed, the very act of defying “logic” and “rationality” is a means to critique the social order. According to Martin Esslin these plays actually have an order and logic:

“Not only do all these plays make sense, though perhaps not obvious or conventional sense, they also give expression to some of the basic issues and problems of our age, in a uniquely efficient and meaningful manner, so that they meet some of the deepest needs and unexpressed yearnings of their audience.” [1]

Absurdism is situated during a time in Ireland associated with constant strife and sectarian violence. The conflict that arose from the oppression left the nation struggling economically, politically, and even culturally. Likewise, the conflict that arose from the sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics also left Ireland in despair. Absurdism can embody surreal ideas and events in a humorous manner, and it is this very resistance to logic that is able to highlight the absurdity of Irish identity politics and political strife. [2] In fact, the absurdist plays made more sense than what was happening in Ireland at the time; these plays made more sense than The Troubles the Irish were experiencing. Most absurdist plays use a technique called the alienation effect. The alienation effect is “a set of devices in staging, music, acting, and the telling of parable, to confound an audience's comfortable identification with characters and story as encouraged by conventional realism or naturalism”. [3] This social effect ultimately prompted the audience to question the absurdity of what they were watching and perhaps even question the absurdity of their lives. This may well have had the biggest impact on those who were lacking status and were being oppressed because of it. [2] Thus, the alienation effect creates critical distance that caused the audience to question their circumstances as well as the idea that the lives they were oppressed into living made sense at all.

Official Language edit

Official language is the language of education, government, and other institutions. Jonathan Pool argues that it is much easier to discriminate against a society using language than it is to discriminate against a society through race or religion; this is because language is a universal tool of communication and a signifier of identity and cannot be ignored. Pool also argues that “[t]hose whose languages are not official spend years learning others’ languages and may still communicate with difficulty, compete unequally for employment and participation, and suffer from minority or peripheral status”. [4] Absurdist literature breaks down the social constructs that were built with Official language and attacks the idea that the language of the colonizer is the only language that should be heard. [2] Just as the colonized culture is alienated from certain social classes and opportunities, the audience is alienated from the absurdist play. This represents the illogical and illusional barrier that Official language had created between Ireland and other cultures of higher status and education. Absurdist plays provided comfort to the Irish people who were continuously oppressed and alienated from the conventional ways of life; absurdism helped the Irish understand how illogical life was and that these barriers can be easily broken down. Dr. Jan Culik embraces this idea by stating:

“Our individual identity is defined by language, having a name is the source of our separateness - the loss of logical language brings us towards a unity with living things. In being illogical, the absurd theatre is anti-rationalist: it negates rationalism because it feels that rationalist thought, like language, only deals with the superficial aspects of things. Nonsense, on the other hand, opens up a glimpse of the infinite. It offers intoxicating freedom, brings one into contact with the essence of life and is a source of marvellous comedy.” [5]

Absurdist plays contrasted the style of plays previous to this period that had clear objectives and directions, as well as a reasonable end in sight. These plays conveyed a moral code that was easily understood and reflected the ideas, beliefs, and languages of the majority of the audience. [1] However, absurdist plays represent the idea that right and wrong are not always clear; the happenings in absurdist plays “remain recognizable as somehow related to real life with its absurdity, so that eventually the spectators are brought face to face with the irrational side of their existence” [1]. Absurdist literature also broke down “the ridiculous nature of a language which is empty of substance, made up of cliches and slogans”.[1]

Samuel Beckett edit

Samuel Beckett was born on April 13, 1906 and died on December 22, 1989 in Dublin, Ireland. He and his family were Protestant, Irish, and middle class; however, Beckett lost this faith later in life and stated that he was in fact raised as “almost a Quaker[1]. Beckett was an influential novelist, playwright, and poet. He lived in Paris, France for most of his life and wrote his works in either English or French. In 1969, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His works include More Pricks than Kicks(1934), Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates (1935), Murphy (1938), Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951), 'The Unnamable (1953), Waiting for Godot (1953), Watt (1953), Endgame (1957), Krapp’s Last Tape (1958), and How It Is (1961). His literature deals mainly with tragic comedy, the human condition, minimalism, existentialism, and absurdity [6].

The works of Beckett were all essentially a venture into the unknown. Many of the characters in Beckett’s later works are tramps and wanderers that are all lonely [7]. Beckett placed a special importance on language in his literature, rendering it a “dangerous immersion as a creative/destructive element, [...] as the stuff that makes up, or else annihilates, the world and the self” [6]. His literature also embodied themes of isolation; Beckett saw himself as a “writer in exile” who had separated himself from his native country. Andrew Kennedy states that Beckett’s “self-exile thus shows the peculiar intensities of linguistic exile on top of the culturally ‘destabilising’ effect of being Irish in the modern world” [6]. Beckett also experienced a sense of alienation through language because the Irish did not speak the traditional language of the British. Thus, Irish authors like Beckett tended to feel as though they were writing in a foreign language when writing poems, novels, or plays. This feeling of isolation and alienation presents itself strongly in Beckett’s works.

Beckett also tended to resist the conventionality of life and resisted the idea that the oppression of the Irish people made any sense. The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh “praised Beckett for confronting the lack of ‘over-all purpose’ underlying the ‘human condition’, whereas ‘the Ireland writers continued as if nothing had happened; specifically, that they continued to write a national literature ‘as if society were a solid unified Victorian lie” [8]. Likewise, the Irish poet Louis MacNeice “acknowledges Beckett’s project of ‘articulating questions that have no answer -- but merely to put these questions is a worthwhile gesture’” [8].

Waiting for Godot edit

Waiting for Godot is play about two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for Godot to come. The entirety of the play is consumed by Vladimir and Estragon’s thoughts and feelings about their disposition as well as their undying faith and hope that Godot will in fact come. While they are waiting, they encounter two more characters named Lucky and Pozzo. Lucky and Pozzo embody the relationship of master and slave and the need each one has for the other. Martin Esslin states that “Waiting for Godot does not tell a story; it explores a static situation. Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful” [7]. Vladimir and Estragon’s waiting reflects the human condition: “[t]hroughout our lives we always wait for something, and Godot simply represents the objective of our waiting -- an event, a thing, a person, death” [7]. Consequently, living one’s life simply waiting for something to come causes one to be much more aware of time passing one by. Esslin argues that when “we are active, we tend to forget the passage of time, we pass the time, but if we are merely passively waiting, we are confronted with the action of time itself” [7]. Vladimir and Estragon do not engage in living their lives because of their constant waiting for Godot to come. In fact, they are not even entirely sure why they are waiting for Godot or what Godot is going to do for them. The object of desire is Godot himself, not what they are going to accomplish when Godot arrives. This also reflects the human condition; those who live their lives waiting for something to come never actually know what that something is going to entail or accomplish. They have just simply become comfortable with waiting. It has become a habit of living and distracts people from their true disposition in life. Samuel Beckett deconstructs the human condition of living a monotonous set of routines when he writes in an essay:

“Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is habit. Life is habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits, since the individual is a succession of individuals… Habit then is the generic term for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects. The periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptations… represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious, and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being” [7].

Thus, Waiting for Godot can be considered an Existentialist play: it experiments with the human condition and examines the metaphysics and purposes of life. Many people argue that Godot is a representation of God and God never fulfills the promised salvation of those with undying faith [7]. Godot could also be a representation of many other aspects of life that are used to distract people from the realities of their life and give their life more meaning. In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett provokes his audience to question their disposition in life and examine the things they use as distractions as well as the things they use to give their lives more meaning. Samuel Beckett suggests that it is these reactions to life that take away from life itself. Vladimir and Estragon do not do anything with their lives because of their obsession with waiting for Godot to come; just as people waste their lives by living in a routine of waiting for things to come.

Official Language and Waiting for Godot edit

Samuel Beckett chose to write Waiting for Godot in French to further emphasize his resistance to Official Language. He believed that by writing Waiting for Godot in a language he was somewhat unfamiliar with, he would begin to better understand the effects of Official language and how Official language dictates the thoughts of the oppressed. Martin Esslin argues that “while in his own language a writer may be tempted to indulge in virtuosity of style for its own sake, the use of another language may force him to divert the ingenuity that might be expended on mere embellishments of style in his own idiom to the utmost clarity and economy of expression” [7]. Thus, by writing Waiting for Godot in French, Beckett was forced to abandon all conventional styles of writing he had adopted throughout his writing career. He was ultimately successful in empathizing with those who were excluded and marginalized through Official Language. Claude Mauriac has stated in an essay on Beckett that “[t]he danger of being carried along by the logic of language is clearly greater in one’s mother tongue, with its unconsciously accepted meanings and associations. By writing in a foreign language, Beckett ensures that his writing remains a constant struggle, a painful wrestling with the spirit of language itself” [7].

References edit

  1. a b c d e f g Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. The Tulane Drama Review 4.4 (1960): 3-15. The MIT Press.
  2. a b c Humphreys, Sara. “The Absurdity of Class, Gender, and Nationalism.” Trent University, Oshawa. 31 October 2013. Lecture.
  3. University of Washington glossary.
  4. Pool, Jonathan. The Official Language Problem. The American Political Science Review 85.2 (1991): 495-514. American Political Science Association
  5. Culik, Jan. "The Theatre of the Absurd" (2000)">
  6. a b c Kennedy, Andrew K. Samuel Beckett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Web.
  7. a b c d e f g h Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. United States: Penguin Books Ltd, 1985. Print.
  8. a b Nixon, Mark. A Brief Glow in the Dark. The Yearbook of English Studies 35 (2005): 43-57. Modern Humanities Research Association

The Importance of Irish Theatre

Introduction edit

Ireland has been home to many world-famous playwrights, including George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats. Their works have been adapted and performed by theatre companies across the world, but the common denominator that links these playwrights is that they all had their start at the Abbey Theatre. The Abbey Theatre opened its doors on December 27th, 1904, opening with three one-act plays; On Baile's Strand and Cathleen Ní Houlihan, written by W.B. Yeats, and Spreading the News, written by Lady Gregory. [1] Modern Irish drama is usually classified into three major varieties--allegorical plays, folk history plays, and peasant plays. Each variety has its own representation in the literary revival. Yeats is associated with allegorical plays, often recognized as the “dreamer and poet”. Lady Gregory is associated with folk history plays, and is usually recognized as more of the observer of social conditions, and finally Synge with the plays of the peasantry, known for his bitter humour and wit. [2] An avid fan of the Abbey Theatre and friend to the directors, Joseph Holloway wrote in his journal, “Synge is the evil genius of the Abbey and Yeats his able lieutenant. Both dabble in the unhealthy. Lady Gregory, though she backs them up when they transgress good taste and casts decency to the winds, keeps clean in her plays". [3] It is with these different representations of Ireland and these very different playwrights that the literary revival was able to be advanced, and at its core was the Abbey Theatre.

Abbey Theatre edit

The birth of what would become the Abbey Theatre occurred in the summer of 1897, at a home on the Southern shore of Galway Bay. It was here that Edward Martyn, Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats discussed the formation of a society dedicated to the renewal of Gaelic literature, language and culture. [4] The authors felt as though a literary revival was necessary in order to ensure the survival of Irish traditions and of the Gaelic language.

From there, Lady Gregory published an outline of aims and requested financial support from fellow literary enthusiasts. It appeared that many literary enthusiasts had the same vision of renewing Irish culture, as financial support was lent by Emily Lawless, W. E. H. Lecky, J.P. Mahaffy, and Aubrey de Vere, amongst others. With this, the society that became the Irish Literary Theatre came to be. Eventually, the Irish Literary Theatre evolved into the Irish National Theatre Society. [5]

The Abbey Theatre opened in 1904 as a project of the Irish National Theatre Society, the directors of which were Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge and W. B. Yeats. Yeats had wanted to open a theatre for quite a few years, but didn’t have the resources to do so. Yeats met Gregory in August of 1896, just a few months before he met John Millington Synge in December. Gregory and Yeats instantly became friends, and together they travelled the cottages of Killartan Cross collecting folktales, an experience in which Yeats found a great deal of inspiration. Yeats met Synge in Paris after visiting the Aran Islands and saw potential in the young writer, encouraging him to forget Paris and instead visit the Aran Islands for inspiration. It was on this advice that Synge did so, and the Aran Islands provided inspiration for three of Synge’s plays; Riders to the Sea, In the Shadow of the Glen, and The Playboy of the Western World. The three writers were also similar in their predominantly socialist political views and sympathies. Their compatibility is what allowed for them to form an alliance and bring forth a new generation of literature. [6]

The building that would become the Abbey Theatre was purchased for the society by a wealthy English patron of the arts, Anne Horniman, who was persuaded into the investment by Yeats’ involvement.[7] It was with Horniman’s financial support that the amateur company was able to turn into a Limited Company in 1905, giving the directors complete financial and artistic direction of the company, which was previously held by the leader of the Irish National Dramatic Society, W. G. and Frank J. Fay.[7]

In 1910, Lennox Robinson became the manager of the Abbey Theatre. By a miscommunication, Robinson kept the theatre open on May 7th, the day of Edward VII’s death. This infuriated Miss Horniman, who insisted that Robinson be fired for the indiscretion. When Yeats refused to fire him, Horniman withdrew her monetary support and ended her friendship with Yeats. (13) This resulted in severe economic instability for the theatre, and after many years and negotiations with the Minister of Finance, Ernest Blythe, the theatre became the first state-subsidized National Theatre in the English speaking world in 1925.[8]

Towards the end of the 1920s, the Abbey Theatre was able to obtain additional space in order to create an experimental branch of the theatre. This portion of the theatre is called The Peacock, and is often used to stage American and European plays for Irish audiences, while the main theatre is used to deliver purely Irish content. [9]

The theatre was also home to The Abbey Theatre School of Ballet for a short period of time, between 1927-1933, which was organized and run by Ninette de Valois at the request of Yeats. Valois provided a lot of the choreography for Yeats plays during that time. [10]

The original Abbey Theatre building burnt down on July 18th, 1951. The only surviving part of building was The Peacock. The theatre relocated its performances to the Queen’s Theatre for 15 years before a new building was opened, on the original spot of the Abbey Theatre, in 1966, on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion.[11] The Abbey Theatre is still a popular destination for patrons of the arts worldwide, and still strives for the same mission it did when it first opened its doors in 1904:

To invest in and promote new Irish writers and artists – To produce an annual programme of diverse, engaging, innovative Irish and international theatre – To attract and engage a broad range of customers and provide compelling experiences that inspire them to return – To create a dynamic working environment which delivers world best practice across our business.[12]

Following Yeats’ withdrawal from the theatre, the Abbey experienced an artistic decline, causing audience numbers to plummet.[13][14] After the Abbey’s reopening, however, the theatre was able to establish a much more affluent following. Since 1957, the Abbey Theatre has participated in the Dublin Theatre Festival, which aided in its revival. Today it continues to stage influential works by Irish playwrights, like Marina Carr and Tom Murphy, on its mission to keep Gaelic culture relevant for generations to come. [15]

Performance and Controversy edit

Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Spreading the News edit

As previously mentioned, opening night at the Abbey brought the debut of one of the most iconic national plays in Irish history, Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Written as a collaboration between Lady Gregory and Yeats, the play is an allegory of the 1798 Irish Rebellion, with the eponymous character being portrayed first as both an old lady and a young woman, with the “walk of a queen”. In the story, the old Cathleen Ni Houlihan arrives at the door of a family celebrating a wedding, where she tells her story of how she had four beautiful lands taken from her, the four lands representing the four provinces of Ireland. The woman requests a blood sacrifice from the young man in order to win back her land, and when this sacrifice is made, the woman transforms into a young, beautiful woman. It is evident that Cathleen Ni Houlihan represents Ireland and the play is a statement promoting Irish independence. The play is often considered the love of country allegorized. [16]

The authorship of this play has been highly debated by literary scholars over the years, such as Deidre Toomey in her book ‘Yeats and his Women’[17] and Henry Meritt in his article ‘Dead Many Times: Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Yeats, Two Old Women and a Vampire’.[18] While it’s clear that both Lady Gregory and Yeats were involved in its creation, it is unclear which had the heavier hand in its writing. The concept purportedly came from a dream Yeats had, and he asked Gregory for her help in its composition. While Yeats is given for the majority of the credit, most argue that Gregory contributed more to the writing, based on the style in which the play was written. [19]

Regardless of who had the larger influence in its creation, Cathleen Ni Houlihan was staggering in its effect on its audience. The play is widely regarded as creating an image of Ireland “worthy of worship”[20]. In Yeats’ poem ‘The Man and the Echo’, he wonders if his work inspired a revolution,[21] the poem asking, “Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?”[22]

Even before Yeats and Gregory’s play, Cathleen Ni Houlihan was a familiar symbol to patrons of Gaelic literature, with the idea of Ireland as a feminine entity in literature dating back as early as the Jacobite poets of the eighteenth century.[23] The concept of Cathleen was not an unfamiliar subject for Yeats himself, who had written about her twice before in the earlier play, ‘Countless Cathleen’, which he rewrote 4 times, and the poem ‘Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland’, which included the lines, “But purer than a tall candle before a Holy Rood/is Cathleen the daughter of Houlihan”[22]. Undoubtedly, however, it is the play Cathleen Ni Houlihan that was the first to take the Abbey Theatre stage in late 1904 that had the biggest influence, and consequently the symbol of Cathleen Ni Houlihan found itself on the pages of James Joyce’s ‘A Mother’ and Beckett’s ‘Murphy’, amongst other works of Irish literature.[21]

The other play written by Lady Gregory that opened the Abbey Theatre was ‘Spreading the News’. This play was less significant in its political influence, but was very well-received. Critics remarked that Gregory wrote the characters of ‘Spreading the News’ “very true to Ireland”. Which makes sense, since Gregory was very well-attuned to the core of Irishness and focused a great amount of her work in restoring old myths into a familiar version of Irish Gaelic language in order to make it more accessible to a wide audience, as well as for generations to come. [24]

The Playboy of the Western World edit

But while the play from two of the directors of the Irish National Theatre Society gained wide acclaim from Ireland, the third director had a great influence on his audience in a very different fashion. John Millington Synge premiered his play ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ on February 27th, 1907. The play was about a young man named Christy who becomes a local hero when he travels to a small, rural Irish town and declares to its residence that he killed his father. Upon its premiere, the play was resented by Irish Nationalists who felt as though the play evoked an image of Irish peasantry as alcoholics and irrational people, so unlike those capable of running their own government, as was their goal. Riots erupted within the Abbey Theatre, and police were called in to tame the audience.[25] [20][26]

Synge, however, had a great amount of respect for the peasantry of Ireland.[27] A first hand account from Joseph Holloway, an avid patron of the Abbey Theatre who attended almost every performance the theatre put on up until his death in 1944, was recorded in his journal. Holloway wrote, “I maintain that his play of ‘The Playboy’ is not a truthful or just picture of the Irish peasants but simply the outpouring of a morbid, unhealthy mind ever seeking on the dunghill of life for the nastiness that lies concealed there”. [28] Synge would absorb himself in the lives of the peasants, and was a socialist, meaning that it was not his intention to create a negative image of the nationalist peasants within his play. Like Yeats, Synge’s political sympathies rejected his own class.[29] Ironically, ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ had a very Nationalist message. Christy is “a figure of anti-authoritarian and anti-patriarchal liberation” with overtones of the Christian resurrection,[30] as is obvious in the name Synge gave this figure, which is a form of Christ.

In the face of the conflict, Yeats stood by his fellow director. On the night The Playboy of the Western World, premiered, Yeats was visiting Scotland. When called upon to pull the play off of the stage, Yeats refused[31], stating that his theatre was a place for art, not a place for political propaganda. Gregory also stood by Synge, despite his own reservations about the play.[32] Following Synge’s death in 1909, the Abbey Theatre put on ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ again in his honour, this time opening to great acclaim, which positioned Synge as a kind of martyr for the Nationalist cause.[33]

The Plough and the Stars edit

Controversy hit the Abbey Theatre once again in 1926, when the company put on 'The Plough and the Stars’, written by Sean O’Casey. As the theatre was government subsidized by the time this play was put on, George O’Brien, the government appointed special director, objected to the play being put on when it was first proposed, but the other directors overruled him.[34] In the second act of ‘The Plough and the Stars’, there is a scene in which a group of characters are drinking in a pub while the words of Pádraic Pearse, an Irish national hero, drift through a window. This is contrasted with a prostitute promoting herself in the pub, drawing a likeness between the drunken lust for sex and the drunken lust for war. On the fourth night of the play’s run, with an audience filled with both Nationalists and the family of men who had sacrificed themselves in the 1916 Easter Uprising, the crowd began to riot. At this, Yeats went onstage and declared to the audience that they had “disgraced [themselves] again.” He went on to add, “Is this to be an ever-recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius? Once more you have rocked the cradle of genius.” Yeats is referencing the riots that preceded this one, at the premiere of Synge’s ‘Playboy of the Western World’.[35]As Yeats pointed out in his speech during the interrupted performance of ‘The Plough and the Stars’, a passionate reaction to performance had become a recurring theme in Ireland. This speaks to the great influence theatre has, as well as the seriousness with which it is taken.

Even though Yeats, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, is mainly remembered for his poetry, with iconic poems such as ‘The Falling of the Leaves’ and ‘To a Child Dancing in the Wind’,[36] Yeats did not discount the effect that writing drama had on both his work and his career. In accepting his Nobel Prize for Literature, Yeats famously stated, “Perhaps the English committees would never have sent you my name if I had written no plays, no dramatic criticism, if my lyric poetry had not a quality of speech practiced upon the stage.”[37]

Mythology in Cathleen Ni Houlihan edit

The character Cathleen in Yeats’ play Cathleen ni Houlihan may be a reference of Ériu (modern Irish Éire). Ériu was the wife of Ma Greine and was one of the Tuatha De Danann (“the people of the goddess Dana”), the last generation of gods to rule Ireland before the invasion of the sons of Milesius, the ancestor of the present-day Irish.[38] When the Milesians invaded, Ériu and her two sisters, Banba and Fotla, greeted them[39] All three asked the Milesians to name the island after her. Amairgen, druid and son of Milesius, promised that Ireland would be named after Ériu [40]. Ériu became to represent Ireland as a woman which fueled Yeats’ representation of Cathleen Ni Houlihan.

Oscar Wilde and The Importance of Being Earnest edit

In Context edit

The Importance of Being Earnest was written by Irish author Oscar Wilde. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Willis Wilde [41], was born into an Irish Protestant family in Dublin on October 16th, 1854 . During his time Wilde was an extremely controversial figure due to his sexuality, and his imprisonment because of his homosexuality [42]. Wilde was the second of three children, with his elder brother being his mother’s favourite, and his younger sister being the "pet of the house". [41] Wilde grew up surrounded by literary figures, as “[t]he Wildes entertained a wide circle of professional and literary friends”. [43] In 1874 Wilde left Dublin and began his career as an undergraduate student at Magdalen College, Oxford. [44] During his time at Oxford, Wilde was able to become well acquainted with and observe the upper class English society. A fellow Irish author William Butler Yeats “believed that by adopting the pose of an Englishman, Wilde devised a clever strategy for challenging English prejudices about the Irish” [45]. This is important in understanding Wilde’s representation of the English in The Importance of Being Earnest because Wilde is a figure that understood English, and in general, nationalistic identity and the ways that it can be changed to suit any given situation. Identity is a subject that Wilde spent a large amount of time focusing on in both his works, and life, and his connection to this issue comes through in The Importance of Being Earnest.

At height of Oscar Wilde’s popularity, the political situation between England and Ireland was very tense, with hostility present on both sides (Sloan, 39). Language played a vital role in the conflict between England and Ireland, and how nationalism operated. [46] Language played a vital role in adding to the conflicts of British and Irish nationalism that were present in the late 19th Century, and this issue can be seen throughout the literature that was being produced by Irish authors, with Oscar Wilde being no exception. The nationalistic discourse that is seen through Irish literature is important to understand because it shows the power that language can have, and language can be used for many purposes. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest plays with the idea of the identity of British upper class through the language he creates for his characters. Wilde was raised in a house that held strong nationalistic ideals [47], which could easily be seen to impact his views. Wilde is seen by many modern scholars as a symbol as an ‘Irishman.’ For instance, Irish Studies Review had a Oscar Wilde special edition in 1990. [48] Wilde is an essential Irish literary figure, and the presence of Irish political issues can be seen throughout his work, especially in The Importance of Being Earnest. Irish nationalistic ideals, and an attack on the English upper class is seen throughout this work. Furthermore, there is a great importance to the satire within Wilde’s play within the context of the Irish - English political conflict of the time.

Background to The Importance of Being Earnest edit

The Importance of Being Earnest was written while Wilde was staying in a sea-front house in Worthing, England Page text [49], and was first performed in London, England at the St. James Theatre on February 14th, 1895 at 9 pm, with the lead role of Jack Worthing being played by George Alexander. [50] Wilde was living in London at the time of the opening night, and was fairly well known by audiences at the time due to his previous works. The play was met with high praise and “unrestrained, incessant laughter from all parts of the theatre, and those laughed the loudest whose approved mission it is to read Oscar long lectures in the press on his dramatic and ethical shortcomings”. [49] Moreover, the actor Allan Aynesworth who first played Algernon Moncrieff stated that “In [his] fifty-three years of acting, [he] never remember[ed] a greater triumph than the first night of The Importance of Being Earnest. The audience rose in their seats and cheered and cheered again". [49] Following the 1895 opening night, the play was then published in 1899, with the subtitle “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”. Since the publishing of this play, the work has been immensely popular, spawning many adaptations.

The Importance of Being Earnest tells the story of misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and lying for the purpose of hiding true identity. This play follows the story of two British upper class friends, Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing, who both play around with false identities, and the impact that has on their lives, particularly with the females in their lives. The pun in the title of this play suggests both the importance within the plot of the characters being Ernest as well as the importance within life to be ‘Earnest.’

In addition, the pun within the title questions the idea of identity and dishonesty that is abundantly present within the play, and that is the question of whether or not an individual can be truthful, or ‘earnest,’ about anything. In the 1830s the word earnest began to represent a devotion to a moral and civic duty, and the word became immensely popular as a male name. [51] By the time that Wilde’s work was being performed, this name was very recognisable to British audiences. [51] Wilde had been known to use this name, as in a previous work of his, ‘The Critic as Artist,’a young man was also called Ernest. [51] The subtitle for this work was “With some remarks upon the importance of doing nothing” [51], both works bring attention to the absurd conventions that structure society. [52]

Satire edit

While some may believe that Wilde’s work “proves vexing to critics for it resists categorization, seeming to some merely a flimsy plot which serves as an excuse for Wilde's witty epigrams” [53], The Importance of Being Earnest fits well into the genre of Absurdist Comedy, as well as the genre of Satire. The Oxford English Dictionary defines satire as a work “in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule. Sometimes, less correctly, applied to a composition in verse or prose intended to ridicule a particular person or class of persons, a lampoon” [54], and defines absurdity as “an unreasonable or improper action or practice”. [55] Wilde’s play is able to manipulate representations with both satire and absurdity to create a image of the upper class of British culture which points out the absurdity of that social group. As scholar Eric Bentley argues, “One does not find Wilde’s satire embedded in plot and character as in traditional high comedy. It is a running accompaniment to the [The Importance of Being Earnest], and this fact, far from indicating immaturity, is the making of a new sort of comedy”. [56] While Wilde’s time was well before the absurd movement, it is evident that he provided a solid grounding for future playwrights, and he could be argued to have contributed to the development of this movement.

The characters within Wilde’s work all place a strong importance on the trivial aspects of life, which reflects the view that many Irish citizens had of the British upper class, and the absurdity of their culture. The absurdity and satire within Irish literature, in this case The Importance of Being Earnest, serves as an outlet for the Irish culture to deal with their cultural past. As Tom Boland argues, “the worldview of satire is that the world is absurd and unjustifiable. Thus, there is no sense to the world, and any action within it and any attempt to give it a meaning can only be ridiculous. Within such a worldview, laughter is the only possible response”. [57] The heavy weight placed upon trivial aspects of life, such as names in The Importance of Being Earnest plays within the social critique that Wilde is making in this text. During the second act of Wilde’s work there is a moment between Algernon and Cecily, taking place after their first meeting when Cecily believes Algernon to be Ernest, which clearly expresses the idea of satire that the British Upper class is absurd. In this exchange Cecily explains to Algernon, a man she just met and does not yet know his true identity, that they are already engaged to be married. Moreover, Cecily explains to Algernon in this moment that during their correspondences with each other, Cecily had been “forced to write [his] letters for [him]”. [58] That just being one example, satire and the absurdity of the British upper class that Wilde is pointing to is abundantly present throughout the text.

Moreover, within Wilde’s text the character Lady Bracknell embodies all the stereotypes of a member of the British upper class that Wilde seems to be pointing to. Lady Bracknell has a strong presence on stage, or even in the text, and stands out in stark contrast to the other characters in the play. Throughout the majority of the play Bracknell has a strong opposition to Jack, and the idea of her niece marrying him. However, she does switch her opinions immediately as soon as she discovers the true heritage of Jack. Bracknell has a strong opinion regarding who can enter her social class, yet she does not see a problem once familial ties are revealed. As Jeremy Lalonde argues, “[Lady Bracknell] manifests a preoccupation with social class and an awareness that middle-class subjects can enter into the aristocratic order if they are able to cultivate the right image”. [59] She realizes that once it has been revealed that Jack shares family ties with herself, he is able to enter that class. Moreover, Lady Bracknell has a fear of the intrusion of members that she does not see fit into her social order. It is apparent that behind the fear which Bracknell expresses her understanding that the social classes are solely focused on keeping with the appearances over the actual members which populate this class. Lady Bracknell is a vital character to understanding the genre of The Importance of Being Earnest because as a character she embodies the genre, as one of a satirical absurd social critique.

However, it is also important to note that the strong satire and social critique that is present within The Importance of Being Earnest would have been recognizable to the original audience of 1895. [59]

Identity, Bunbury, and The Importance of Names edit

This play characterizes the British upper class as a culture focused on the superficial aspects of life. This can be seen through the character Gwendolen Fairfax. Gwendolen’s focus on names and the importance of them suggest that she is primarily concerned with the parts of society and life that are sitting on the surface. In act one of The Importance of Being Earnest, Gwendolen states,

“No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations ... I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest”.[60]

This is just one of many examples of how the superficial aspects of life are highly regarded by the upper class British characters in Wilde’s work. Gwendolen is one character of many that exhibit this type of behavior. A strong concern with superficial things, such as names, suggests that the British characters within this play are vain and cannot see past the shell, name, of a person. The way that names and identity work for characters within The Importance of Being Earnest is an even more furtherment and evidence of the social satire Wilde is using to point out the issues with the British upper class.

The issue of names is present throughout the entirety of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and this technique is very significant in the play. A name creates a grounding for audiences and for the characters, and with Wilde’s use of instability with names in this work, he is removing the stability of the character’s identities. Within this text, the importance of names and the power that names can hold is very abundant, from the title of the play, to the simple names of the characters. Wilde has “male characters nam[ing] themselves to achieve their desires and female characters name others to exert power and ultimately provide the inevitable happy ending” [61].

Moreover, the character Jack goes through many identity changes throughout the course of this play. This suggests the idea that identity is not a concrete concept, but is a fluid part of everyone. A way in which identity is fluid in this play is the concept of being a ‘Bunburyist.’ The character Algernon explains Bunburying as

“You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable” [62]

Bunburying is the act of inventing a character to use as an excuse to get out of previous engagements. In many ways those who are a Bunburyist in Wilde’s play, become that character through the creation of them, thus showing again the fluidity of identity. Furthermore, “Modern critics have defined the fictional characters of Ernest and Bunbury as evidencing Jack and Algy's search for identity” [53] , which suggests their lack of a solid identity. The use of Bunburying in this play adds a dimension to the characters that gives the audience the impression that their identities are things that they can change themselves. In many ways Algernon becomes Bunbury when he uses him as an excuse, which suggests that Algernon can pick and choose when he can be Algernon and when he can be Bunbury. Through the concept of Bunburying within The Importance of Earnest Wilde is able to express the idea that the identity of a person is fluid rather than stable.

As suggested above, Bunburying allows for the characters to form and create their own identities, that are not what they are born into, for instance, Algernon’s creation of his version of ‘Ernest.’ Algernon’s version of Ernest gives him the power to use identity, names, and lives, in his favour to be able to make an attempt at changing his possibilities in life. Introducing himself to Cecily as Algernon and not Ernest would have prevented a possible engagement between the two, and Algernon recognizes this. Identity is used in The Importance of Being Earnest as a tool that many of the characters understand how to use to their advantage, however it is also a source of misunderstandings and an extension of the satire of the British upper class. For this text, identity is fluid for the characters, but is also fluid in how it is being used by Wilde.

References edit

  1. , Flannery, James. "W.B Yeats and the Abbey Theatre Company". Educational Theatre Journal 27.2 (1975): 179-96.
  2. Chandler, Frank Wadleigh. "Aspects of Modern Drama". [New York]: Macmillan, 1914. pg. 233. Print.
  3. ,Holloway, Joseph. "Joseph Holloway's Abbey Theatre; a Selection from His Unpublished Journal, Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer." Comp. Robert Goode Hogan and Michael J. O'Neill. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1967. pg. 81. Print.
  4. Welch, Robert, and Bruce Stewart. "The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature". Oxford: Clarendon, 1996. pg. 2. Print.
  5. O'Donoghue, Bernard. "Yeats and the Drama." "The Cambridge Companion to W.B. Yeats". Ed. Marjorie Elizabeth. Howes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2006. pg 101-14. Print.
  6. Costello, Peter. “The Heart Grown Brutal.” N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978. pg 32. Print.
  7. a b Flannery, pg 179. Invalid <ref> tag; name "W.B. Yeats" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Welch, pg 3.
  9. Welch, pg 208.
  10. O'Brien, Victoria. "A History of Irish Ballet from 1927 to 1963". Oxford: Peter Lang, 2011. Print.
  11. Welch, pg 2.
  12. "Abbey Theatre - Amharclann Na Mainistreach." History. Abbey National Theatre, n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.
  13. Welch, pg. 3.
  14. Costello, pg. 35.
  15. "Abbey Theatre- Amharcclann Na Mainistreach."
  16. Costello, pg. 24.
  17. Toomey, Deirdre. Yeats and Women. New York: St. Martin's, 1997. Print.
  18. Merritt, Henry. ""Dead Many Times": "Cathleen Ni Houlihan," Yeats, Two Old Women, and a Vampire." The Modern Language Review 96.3 (2001) pg. 654-663.
  19. Merritt, pg. 654-663.
  20. a b Costello, pg. 27. Invalid <ref> tag; name "heart grown brutal" defined multiple times with different content
  21. a b Welch, pg. 89.
  22. a b Kinsella, Thomas. "The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse". Oxford [Oxfordshire: Oxford UP, 1986. pg. 309. Invalid <ref> tag; name "poem" defined multiple times with different content
  23. Welch, pg 89.
  24. Weygandt, Cornelius. "Irish Plays and Playwrights". Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913. pg. 151.
  25. Welsh, pg. 474.
  26. Holloway, pg. 81.
  27. Costello, pg. 32.
  28. Holloway, pg. 81.
  29. Costello, pg. 33.
  30. Welch, pg. 474.
  31. Welch, pg. 3.
  32. Costello, pg. 32.
  33. Welch, pg. 474.
  34. Welch, pg. 3.
  35. Domestico, Anthony. "The Plough and the Stars." The Modernism Lab at Yale University. Yale University.
  36. McCourt, Malachy. "Voices of Ireland: Classic Writings of a Rich and Rare Land". Philadelphia: Running, 2002. pg. 790.
  37. Donoghue, Denis. "Yeats's Theatre." William Butler Yeats. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. pg. 106. Print.
  38. Arthur Cotterell. "Celtic Mythology" in The Encyclopedia of Mythology. London: Anness Publishing (1996) pg 129 and 170.
  39. Arthur Cotterell. "Celtic Mythology" in The Encyclopedia of Mythology. London: Anness Publishing (1996) pg 129.
  40. Arthur Cotterell. "Celtic Mythology" in The Encyclopedia of Mythology. London: Anness Publishing )(1996) pg 129.
  41. a b Sloan, John. Authors in Context: Oscar Wilde. New York: Oxford World's Classics, 2003, 1. Print.
  42. Schulz, David. "Redressing Oscar: Performance and the Trials of Oscar Wilde." The Drama Review 40.2 (1996): 37. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
  43. Sloan, pg 2
  44. Sloan, pg 5
  45. Sloan, pg 6
  46. McDevitt, Patrick F. "British Democracy and Irish Nationalism 1876-1906, by Eugenio F. Biagini." Victorian Studies 51.4 (2009): 718. JSTOR. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
  47. Fhlathúin, Máire Ni. "The Irish Oscar Wilde: Appropriations of the Artist." Irish Studies Review 7.3: 337. EBSCO Host. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
  48. Fhlathúin, pg 344.
  49. a b c Beckson, Karl. "Oscar Wilde." Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945 (1982). MLA International Bibliography. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
  50. "'The Importance of Being Earnest': The First Stage Production, 1895." Victoria and Albert Museum. Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.
  51. a b c d Sloan, 117.
  52. Sloan, 118.
  53. a b "Overview: The Importance of Being Earnest." Drama for Students. Ed. David M. Galens. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.
  54. "satire, n.". OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 15 December 2013 .
  55. "absurdity, n.". OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 15 December 2013.
  56. Bentley, Eric. "The Importance of Being Earnest." Modern Critical Views: Oscar Wilde. Ed.
  57. Boland, Tom. "Critical Comedy: Satire, Absurdity and Ireland’s Economic Crash." Irish Political Studies 27.3 (2012): 446.Scholars Portal. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.
  58. Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Electronic Classics Series, 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.
  59. a b Lalonde, Jeremy. "A "Revolutionary Outrage": The Importance of Being Earnest as Social Criticism." Modern Drama 48.4 (2005): 659-76. Scholars Portal. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
  60. Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Electronic Classics Series: 15, 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.
  61. Garland, Tony. "The Contest of Naming Between Ladies in The Importance of Being Earnest." The Explicator 40.4 (2012): 272. Scholars Portal. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
  62. Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Electronic Classics Series: 10, 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.

Irish Poetry

Seamus Heaney edit

Irish Poetry and Seamus Heaney edit

Irish poetry is a fundamental aspect of literature in Ireland that helps to explain various experiences and circumstances, which are, in turn, expressed and brought to life through text. Modern Irish poets transitioned from romanticism to more modern discussions.[1] As the twentieth century brought forth the longing for a united nation, Irish poetry was among the many types of literature that supported revivalism and nationalism. However, these Irish poets still wanted to contain historical context such as past culture and traditions in their poems.[2]In respect to Seamus Heaney, his poems presented his own personal experiences and his opinions on restoring Irish culture.[3]Heaney, possibly alike other Irish poets of his time, moved forward into the future by shifting from past traditional ideas to embracing Ireland’s heritage through an advanced and modern concept.[4]

Modern Ireland edit

Historically, Ireland was a public target for Norman earls, however as these foreigners grew accustomed to the countryside, many adapted to Ireland’s lifestyle.[5] Consequently, the Irish communal identity was cohesive previous to the intensive colonization efforts that were to come. Under the thumb of the English rule, Ireland radically transformed from a mainly rural and resource based economy and society to a massive growth of modernization and hence, urbanization.[6]England’s influence reformed Ireland’s rural communities, in which England sometimes brutally changed Ireland’s economy to exploit the land and produce “manufactured goods,” which, in turn, had a profound effect on the nation and its identity.[7]As England imposed its culture onto the Irish, Ireland transformed its rural lifestyle into urbanized modes of living.[8]England’s reinforcement of Ireland’s previous lifestyle concluded to the massive change of urbanization, especially among those residing in the rural regions of the country.[6]The agricultural system that supported generations of Irish lifestyle and its occupations, experienced major transformations in which Ireland had to adapt to industrial regime.[9]Beyond just the economic change, Ireland also experienced political and social alterations, instigated from modernization.[10]

As modernization redefined Ireland’s culture and lifestyle, the demand to move forth with new urbanized customs instigated rage and ambition amongst individuals who wanted to overrule England’s authority and restore home rule.[8]Ireland’s advancement in modernization was no longer able to restore all of its agricultural traditions however, individuals affected by modernization were enraged and had the opportunity to retaliate with the Irish Rebellion.[11]

Several of Seamus Heaney’s poems reflected on Ireland’s transformation into an urbanized and modernized nation. He was inspired to write about the experiences that influenced and affected his life as a youth.[8] In Digging, Ireland’s urban evolution is reflected by Heaney's comparison of his father and grandfather to himself in Digging. These changes are also evident in the abandonment of pastoralism in Death of a Naturalist.[12]As Heaney explores the implications of modernization throughout his work, such as the underlying issues of violence and division that have resulted.[13]

Seamus Heaney's Biography edit

Seamus Heaney was and still is, posthumously, one of Ireland's most influential poets. Born in 1939, Heaney was the eldest of nine children and a son to a cattle dealer.[14] Growing up in County Derby, Heaney was raised in a rural community, which is an imperative foundation to many of his literary works.[15] Heaney attended Queens University in Belfast, earning an honorary degree in English and Literature, and beginning his career as an educator.[16]Throughout the duration of his occupation as an instructor, Heaney published various poems in newspapers such as: the Irish Times and Belfast Telegraph, a contribution to his success in poetry.[17]Heaney won an Eric Gregory Award and the Cholmondeley and Geoffrey Fabel Memorial Award later in his literary career for one of his most popular poems, Death of a Naturalist.[18]He effectively portrayed Ireland’s destitute times and struggle for independence, which were facilitated by the intrusive effects of colonization. Among various Irish poets, Heaney yearned to reveal the issues resulting from urbanization and defend Ireland’s heritage and cultural background.[19]In Elmer Andrew’s interpretation of Heaney’s poetry, he states,

“For Heaney, a sense of self depends on a sense of place and a sense of history, something which is typical of the Irish writer’s desire to protect and preserve what is threatened and diminished. Possession of the land, like possession of different languages, is a matter of particular urgency in Ireland... It marked the beginning of a discovery of confidence in the Irish writer’s own past, his own place, his own speech, English and Irish”.[20]

As mentioned in the passage above, Heaney defended and protected Irish nationality and heritage through the production of his poetry.[21]As a result of his contributions, Seamus Heaney was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his involvement Irish Literature.[15]

Death of a Naturalist edit

Heaney’s collection of poems, “Death of a Naturalist” published in 1966, gave the public an opportunity to appreciate Seamus Heaney’s political stance on Ireland.[15]Scholars suggested that Heaney wanted to shed light onto the problematic occurrences in Ireland by addressing the effects of colonization, and to heal an unfortunate land experiencing distress and segregation. In order to reveal his political and economic beliefs and opinions through his poetry, Heaney contemporized historical circumstances into the modern world.[8]The singular poem, Death of a Naturalist within his collection, pertains to a young child who locates frogspawn in banks near agricultural lands.[12] He removes the eggs from their habitat and displaces them among his recognized locales such as home and school, and continually examine the young eggs grow into tadpoles.[22]As the poem progresses, the child considers the invasion of “angry frogs” whom retaliate, and provide, “obscene threats” causing the child to run.[23]

In Heaney’s, Death of a Naturalist, he attempts to highlight how individuals should compromise with nature, and have nature live by its own natural circumstances. He does so by trying to eliminate the ideas of pastoralism.[8]The beginning of the poem establishes Heaney as a naturalist, acquiring an organism from its ecological habitat and segregating the organism into a controlled state.[24] We are able to identify Heaney’s regulation over the frogs in the following lines,

“But best of all was the warm thick slobber/ Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water/ In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring/ I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied/ Specks to range on window-sills at home, On shelves at school, and wait and watch until/ The fattening dots burst into nimble- Swimming tadpoles”.[12]

At the poem’s conclusion, Heaney furthers his point to destroy pastoralism through the description of, “The angry frogs/ Invaded the flax-dam”, suggesting that the organisms retaliated from captivity.[25]Furthermore, he sheds light onto the misrepresentation of nature’s lifestyle as the frogs overcome the controlled environment, “The great slime kings/ Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew/ That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it”.[26] Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist demonstrates promoting wildlife in its natural state by discarding ideas of pastoralism.[8]

In Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist, he uses symbolism to further highlight the poem’s meaning in connection with farming industries and rural Ireland.[27] As Heaney reminisces on his childhood past, and discusses his “rural origins”, it may be possible that Heaney’s, Death of a Naturalist, highlights Ireland’s transition into urbanization.[28]In Death of a Naturalist, Heaney outlines two views: abandoning the control over the natural world and as an alternative, meeting nature in the middle by understanding their purposes and natural way of living as well as the transformation of urbanized living.[8]In representing the natural world (the frogs) as the colonized, Death of a Naturalist also may shed light on the transformation of rural Ireland to an urbanized, and developed national land. The introduction of the poem first describes the rural atmosphere,

“All year the flax- dam festered in the heart/ Of the townland; green and heavy- headed/ Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods/ Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun. Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles/ Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell".[12]

As the poem continues, the child whom represents Heaney as a youth, removes the eggs and positions them to his own choosing, enforcing the frogspawn to adapt to the new setting in which Heaney enforced.[29]

Digging edit

In 1966, Heaney’s collection of poetry titled, “Death of a Naturalist” gained admiration from the public.[15]Within this collection, Seamus Heaney presented a poem called Digging, which exhibited both detachment and progress, as the narrator attempts to advocate the issues experienced in Ireland through writing as opposed to continuing his ancestral traditions as a farmer.[8]Seamus Heaney’s Digging, is introduced by the narrator whom reflects on how a pen, which is being compared to a gun, is comfortable in his hand".[12] As the poem develops, the narrator recalls his father digging, an occupation that was inherited from Heaney’s grandfather.[30] Through the actions that his family describes while working, the narrator proclaims that he will not bequeath this position.[31]The narrator describes, “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them” and instead “dig” with his pen.[32] In Digging, the narrator represents Seamus Heaney and his recollections of life as a son in Ireland, a son who embarks on a new position instead of continuing his family’s lineage as farmers.[8]

Seamus Heaney represents descendants of farming families as he is one of many sons who are doubtful to maintain the family business.[33]If they choose horticulture, the sons will bear the burden of this occupation whereas those who escape leave the family’s success.[34]Seamus Heaney’s poem, Digging, signifies the occurring issue amongst children who may inherit family companies. In the poem, Heaney elaborates on his father and grandfather’s job as a farmer by describing their success. This success may be seen as the narrator describes, “By God, the old man could handle a spade/ Just like his old man” and continues with,

“My grandfather cut more turf in a day/ Than any other man on Toner’s bog/ Once I carried him milk in a bottle/ Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up/ To drink it, then fell to right away/ Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods/ Over his shoulder, going down and down/ For the good turf. Digging”.[12]

As the poem concludes, the narrator chooses which path he will follow. Seamus Heaney, who is clearly the narrator or at least the implied voice, chooses to leave the success of farming, “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them” and embark on his own path through individual success in writing.[35]

Digging reflects upon Heaney’s position on the sustainability and necessity of Irish culture and identity. As an alternative to embracing urbanization at the expense of rural lifestyles, Heaney preserves the work ethic and knowledge of rural life with the combination of more urban pursuits, such as writing poetry.[36] Heaney discards the naturalist/ pastoral perspective from previous poems in exchange for unity with heritage and ancestry.[37] In Digging, the poem’s introduction begins with Heaney’s first statement of his pen relaxing so effortlessly, “snug as a gun”, to initiate his stance in regards to writing literature.[12]The gun that is “snug” may be referenced to past conflicts with Ireland.[8]Instead of violence, in which a gun would be a primary source of weaponry, the pen takes the place of the gun and instead, Heaney uses the pen to write and move forward from historical conflictions.[38]The readers are given vivid imagery of Heaney holding the pen comfortably as he reminisces on his father digging with a spade.[12]Heaney reflects on various instances where his grandfather or father are digging, such as: “Where he was digging” and “For the good turf digging” while he recalls the success of his family’s rural occupation.[39]In the final verse of the poem, Heaney’s revivalist stance is present as he transitions from reminiscing on the successful past of his ancestry’s farming to the success he will achieve by writing. Seamus Heaney describes, “Between my finger and my thumb/ The squat pen rests/ I’ll dig with it”, informing that Heaney will “dig” with his pen, into his Irish heritage and culture.[40]The exchange of the spade for a pen results in the relation between Heaney and the “ancestral traditions in an immemorial rural world”.[41]

William Butler Yeats edit

William Butler Yeats was born on 13 June 1865 in the Dublin suburb of Sandymount.[42]He was born to John Butler Yeats, a painter and philosopher and Susan (nee Pollexfen) Yeats. His great-grandfather was a rector of Drumcliff in County Sligo, where he was most happy during his childhood riding a pony with a black dog and began steeping himself in the faery lore of the peasants.[42] He moved to London with his family in 1868 but hated living there, the only thing he was interested in was his father’s friends who were painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.[42] In 1880, he returned to Ireland to the country of Howth which was surrounded by faery folklore which entertained him more than his studies.[42]At 17, he started writing poetry but his father sent him to Metropolitan School of Art in Kildare Street.[42]Due to Yeats poor eyesight - both eyes were weak, the left almost useless - he was unable to paint beyond that of an amateur.[42] Yet, like another great half-blind Irishman, James Joyce, he still seemed to see what mattered most.[42] He soon met John O’Leary (a famous patriot who was imprisoned and exiled for revolutionary nationalistic activities) who encouraged Yeats to adopt Irish subjects for writing thus throughout his life he produced many poems based on Irish legends, folklore, ballads and songs.[43] Through O’Leary, he met Maud Gonne who lead him to become a radical Irish nationalist[42] who influenced his writing and his heart but was unable to marry her. [43] He soon after was introduced to Oscar Wilde (who had not been touched by scandal yet) and found him brilliant, hospitable and open-hearted. [42] Yeat’s fascination with the occult influenced him to join the secret society the Order of the Golden Dawn in 1890 [43] who were a society of “Christian Cabbalists” who practiced ritual magic. [42] In 1916, he became a staunch exponent of the nationalist cause, inspired by the Easter Rising at Dublin Castle. [43] In 1917, he married Georgina Hyde-Lees who he had two children with Anne and William Michael. [43]

Yeats’ first volume of verse was The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems published in 1889.[42] He devoted himself to writing Irish subjects - poems, plays, novels and short stories.[43] He constantly and continually changed his writing style over his lifetime.[43] In the twentieth century he simplified his rhythms and diction poetical. [43] As he grew older, he wanted all art to be filled with energy.[43] As a poet, he tried to transform the local concerns of his lifetime by using a universal language within his poems.[43] He used the final ending lines of his poem “Under Ben Bulben” as his epitaph[42] , which reads “Cast a cold eye/On life, on death/ Horseman, pass by!”[44]. During his lifetime, he wrote several volumes of poems, plays, novels, short stories, and letters including The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1892), The Celtic Twilight (1893), The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), The Shadowy Waters (1900), Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902), The Unicorn from the Stars and Other Plays (1908) with Lady Gregory, The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910), Reveries over Childhood and Youth (1916), The Cat and the Moon (1924), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), Wheels and Butterflies (1934), On the Boiler (1939) and Last Poems and Plays (1940), posthumously.[42]

To A Child Dancing in the Wind edit

Yeats “To A Child Dancing in the Wind” is a poem in two parts which talks about the vulnerability of a child as she dances in the wind as she is unable to recognize the destructive forces around her.[45] In the poem, Yeats watches the girl as she dances and her hair tumbling. He views the child using a semi-Romanticism view of childhood, where a child is innocent, intuitively wise, spontaneous, happy, perceptive, sensitive[45] but yet warns of the dangers she cannot seen. The dangers she cannot see are referenced in the lines “What need have you to care/For wind or water’s roar?"[46] (Yeats, 2-3) and “What need have you to dread/The monstrous crying of the wind?"[47]. She does not know of the dangers that the wind and water can have that adults know of but Yeats in referencing the wind may be suggesting a supernatural cause. With Yeats background in faery mythology and folklore, his mention of the wind could be in reference to faery wind. Faery wind is gusting or blasting wind or whirlwinds that appear suddenly and were thought to be caused and contain faeries.[48] Despite the fact the wind and faeries could be helpful, it was also believed that the wind brought illness which caused injury to humans and animals, especially in the eyes.[48]

In the second half of the poem, Yeats states the values that safeguard her against the potential disasters[45]: kindness, innocence, youth, and the ability to dream. Yeats wants to warn her of the dangers she cannot see or fathom to see but knows she will not believe him because of her innocence. Yeats’ semi-Romanticism view of the child is seen more “as a delicate growth which needs the shelter of social and civilized values, rather than as a beautiful blossom which society will warp and wither”.[45] Yeats “To A Child Dancing in the Wind” is a realistic attitude of the innocence of children and the dangers that surround them that they do not realize are there.

Katharine Tynan edit

Katharine Tynan (1859 - 1931) was an Irish writer and poet.[49] Her first volume of writing was Louise de la Vallière and Other Poems[49] published in June of 1885. [50] The subject of her poems are drawn from Irish myths, nature and religion.[51]The titular poem, “Louise de la Vallière” was based on the life of the Duchess de la Vallière, a mistress of Louis XIV.[51] Throughout Tynan’s first volume, she takes inspiration from the English poet Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894) and imitates her style of writing but as she matured, Rossetti’s style disappeared from her work.[52]

Christina Rossetti’s poetry utilized Christian beliefs, Victorian values of self-sacrifice and renunciation, and a melancholy, mournful tone that Tynan recognized after Rossetti’s death.[53] Rossetti’s artistic writing style was influenced by her older brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti who was the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB).[54] The PRB believed art should not be based on a particular school of art and preferred to focus on art before Italian Renaissance painter and architect Raphael’s influence on art.

[54][55] Rossetti’s poems were published at first by the PRB’s The Germ magazine in 1850[54] as well as using PRB artist Arthur Hughes for her poems for children.[50] Her association with the PRB, as well as her intellectual pursuits and her unmarried status made her an interesting role model for Tynan to follow.

Despite Tynan’s imitation of Rossetti, Tynan is often connected to William Butler Yeats whom she met in 1886.[49] Yeats edited Tynan’s work over the years and they were at one point thought to be romantically involved.[56] In 1893, Tynan married Henry Hinkson.[49] After Tynan’s marriage to Hinkson, her poetry celebrated and also critiqued married life and love, motherhood and the beauty of nature[57]. Over Tynan’s lifetime she published eighteen volumes of poetry, over thirty-five romance novels, innumerable biographical studies, anthologies, essays and reviews and five volumes of memoirs.[58] Tynan was as much a literary force to be reckoned with as Yeats.

The Children of Lir edit

The poem “The Children of Lir” focuses on the swan myth and tells the story of Lir’s children who are transformed into swans by an enchantment. The swan maiden myth is found throughout Europe and Asia. Swan maidens are often portrayed as young women who have the power to transform into a swan with a dress of swan feathers or a magic ring or chain.[59] Lir was a sea god who lent his name to many places, and is known as the father of Manannan Mac Lir, the Manx sea god, magician, and god of healing.[60]

The swan myth can be seen as Tynan trying to escape the confines of the definition of womanhood created in the Irish Constitution. The poem suggests that there is no escape from this identity, as the metaphorical women are trapped in the myth of the home in the mythologies of Ireland. As women were confined within the home, just as her swans were confined in a “bird’s stature”[61], through “Children of Lir” Tynan encourages women to no longer be confined and to rebel against “the curse” that has been placed upon them. Tynan attempts to influence her audience to let go of the past and the defining confinements of womanhood in Ireland, and as a result gain the freedom of a bird.

Mebdh McGuckian edit

Medbh McGuckian was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1950. [62] She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Irish Literature from Queen’s University in Belfast[62] as well as her Master of Arts in Irish Literature where she was taught by the poet Seamus Heaney.[63] In 1979, her career was launched after winning the British National Poetry Competition for “The Flitting”.[63] With the success of her career, McGuckian was the first woman to be named Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University, Belfast and was Visiting Fellow at the University of California, Berkley.[62] She currently teaches creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast.[64]

She lives with her husband and four children in Belfast where she grew up.[62] McGuckian’s poetry is known for being dense, oblique, and at times cryptic.[64] Her poetry is often concerned with feminist and feminine issues including pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.[64] Her poetry also touches on the political issues concerning “The Troubles” in Ireland. [64] McGuckian currently has thirteen major collections of poetry including The Flower Master (1982), Venus and the Rain (1984), On Ballycastle Beach (1988), Marconi's Cottage (1991), The Flower Master and Other Poems (1993), Captain Lavender (1994), Shelmalier (1998), Drawing Ballerinas (2001), The Face of the Earth (2002), Had I a Thousand Lives (2003), and The Book of the Angel (2004).[65]

Love Affair With Firearms edit

The poem “Love Affair With Firearms” has many specific references and sometimes cryptic meanings buried within the subtext. “Love Affair With Firearms” is about the pain of young men’s deaths and the pain of the lovers they have left behind. The two opening lines of McGuckian’s poem can be interpreted in two ways. The first is in conjunction with the second stanza of her referring to the young men who died in the First and Second World Wars in France fighting for freedom. In the second interpretation, if taken on its own, the first stanza can be seen as a reference to the endless death and sacrifices that young men made to gain Home Rule as well as the deaths that continue with The Troubles in Ireland. The third line of the stanza references Fermanagh and Tyrone. Fermanagh was a county in Northern Ireland until 1973 when it became a district.[66] Tyrone was a county in Northern Ireland until 1973 when the administrative reorganization of Northern Ireland divided the county into various districts.[67]

In the fourth stanza of McGuckian’s “Love Affair With Firearms” she makes a reference to Artemis. She writes, “Artemis, protector of virgins, shovels up fresh pain with the newly-wed long-stemmed roses”.[68]

Artemis is known as the goddess of wild animals, the hunt and vegetation, and of chastity and childbirth.[69] She is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, as well as the older sister and twin of Apollo.[70] Her character and function varied[71] due to the various epithets given to her in various locations throughout Greece.[70] Her Greek (panhellenic) persona was of a virgin goddess and huntress. She presided over women’s transitions from virgin to woman to childbirth and the rearing of children in which she was known by the epithet of Artemis Lochia.[70] In Sparta, Artemis was known as Artemis Orthia where she presided over the transition of spartan boys becoming elite warriors and citizens.[70] Artemis’ persona did include certain aspects of war and she could be vengeful at times.[70] One such story includes Artemis and Apollo murdering the children of Niobe who boasted about how many children she had in comparison to Leto.[70] Before the battle of Troy, Artemis demanded that Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, be sacrificed so that the Archaeons would have a fair wind to sail to Troy.[72]

The Artemis in McGuckian’s poem is the persona who presides over virgins as well as the newly-wed women which is part of her persona. She also “shovels up fresh pain”[73] which is suggestive of her function in certain aspects of war; it could also be about her demand for sacrifice, the sacrifice of young men.

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain edit

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was born in 1942[74] and brought up in Cork city.[75] She was raised by two intellectual Republican parents; her mother, novelist Eilis Dillion[76] and father Cormac O Cuilleanáin who was a Professor of Irish at University College Cork (UCC).[77] Chuilleanáin received her Bachelor of Arts in English and History at University College Cork and a Masters of Arts in English.[78] In contrast to her father, Chuilleanáin teaches English Renaissance literature at Trinity College in Dublin.[77]

Chuilleanáin published her first collection Acts and Monuments in 1972.[77] Her poetry uses history, religion, landscape and mythology.[79] She also investigates in her poetry the treatment of art, gender and politics.[79] She has noted William Butler Yeats, Constantine Cavafy, Sir Philip Sydney and Richard Crashaw as having an influence on her work. [78] Chuilleanáin has several collections of poetry which include Acts and Monuments (1972), Site of Ambush (1975), The Second Voyage (1977), Cork (1977), The Rose-Geranium (1981), The Magdalene Sermon and Earlier Poems (1991), and The Brazen Serpent (1994).[78]

Pygmalion's Image edit

Chuilleanáin’s “Pygmalion’s Image” is a new take on the myth of Pygmalion.[80] The myth of Pygmalion is best known in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.[81] Pygmalion was a man (a king of Cyprus in one version of the myth).[82] He was disgusted with the behaviour of women whom the goddess of love, Venus/Aphrodite, had influenced their lewd behavior.[81] He sculpted the image of his ideal woman or his ideal of womanhood[82]. The statue appeared to be alive[81] to Pygmalion who fell in love with his ivory creation, Galatea. [83] He asks Venus/Aphrodite to give him a wife like his ivory creation and that night, the statue comes to live[81]. Many authors have wondered how the woman must have felt, being born a woman and awaking to already have a lover[81]. Chuilleanáin does not deal with how the woman must have felt awaking a fully-grown and with a lover but not yet born, confined and trapped within her ivory body. Pygmalion’s ivory woman is used to take the place of women in Ireland who are trapped and unable to change their circumstances due to the Constitution stating that a woman’s place is in the home.

“The crisp hair is real, wriggling like snakes”[84] recalls another myth. Medusa was one of three Gorgons but was the only one who was mortal[85]. Medusa’s head and face was referenced as having snakes for hair and a stony gaze[85] Her visage was so frightening that after the hero Perseus beheaded her, the sight of her head turned anyone who saw it into stone[85]. Chuilleanáin’s woman is carved of stone but has snakes for hair like Medusa convoluting the two myths. As the woman has snakes for hair, it can be assumed that she is capable of turning others into stone. If she was alive, her abilities would be something people would be frightened of because she is capable of great things but as she is only stone and trapped, she is stuck. Despite being trapped, the last line of the poem “A green leaf of language comes twisting out of her mouth” suggests there is hope for women through language to escape from their circumstances.

References edit

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The Irish Short Story

An Introduction to Irish Short Stories edit

The short story, in general, is defined as “a fictional prose tale of no specified length, but too short to be published as a volume on its own…normally [concentrating] on a single event with only one or two characters, more economically than a novel’s sustained exploration of a social background…”.[1] In Irish culture, the short story has become central to the literary sphere; in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Ireland - particularly the capital city of Dublin - became a cultural hub known for its artistic achievements in the literary sphere, and the Irish short story is very much a creation of this flourishing literary culture.[2]

Irish people revere their storytellers. This reverence dates back to the earliest civilizations and cultures in Ireland, during which the highly regarded role of fili, a respected aristocratic position that one had to study and master to perform.[3] Those who held this title were thought to be descendants of the Celtic ‘vatis’ and were believed to be seers and prophetic, as opposed to a purveyors of history. While the fili was a poet, the role gradually altered over time to fulfill two functions, both of which evoke the characteristics of short story telling: (1) the fili had to fulfill the function of the seanchaí, which was to preserve Irish history, genealogies and short, local tales which often included mythological creatures; and (2) the fili was also the sgéalaí,in which one was expected to relate more fantastical stories of heroism and wonder.[4]

With the introduction and spread of the printing press, the oral storytelling culture of Ireland was challenged, eventually, by the onset of mass publishing, and, as such, much of the early short stories of Ireland are a hybrid of oral storytelling and modern literature.[5] Many authors who helped in the pioneering and shaping of the modern Irish short story grew up in rural communities in close proximity to cities with libraries; as such, these authors, such as Sean O’Faolain and Frank O’Connor were exposed to classic works of literature and the rural storytelling still prevalent in countryside of Ireland.[6]

Through the late nineteenth and twentieth century, the Irish short story has become a hugely popular form. The short story was said to be created by the "risen people," as the late nineteenth century attracted many authors of the newly emerging Irish Catholic bourgeoisie class, many of whom originated from the impoverished regional towns of Ireland.[7] Irish writers traditionally excel at the short story genre,[8] with notable Irish authors publishing short stories or collections of short stories, including James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats, and Oscar Wilde.

Short stories in the Twentieth Century edit

Ireland cultivated the short story in the early twentieth century and Irish authors such as James Joyce and George Moore experimented in this genre.[9] They pioneered its form and content,[10] often creating “...critical and condemnatory…” [11] narratives regarding their “...attitudes toward art, religion and Ireland….” [12] with similar themes, symbols and images throughout both their works.[13] As a result, they created a uniquely Irish genre of literature. However, after the Easter Rising of 1916, and the onset of the first set of Troubles, this genre evolved even more.[14] In the 1920s and 1930s, special recognition can go to the second generation of short story authors, most notably Liam O’Flaherty, Frank O’Connor, and Sean O’Faolain for reshaping the short story content to an extent from what it had been in the preceding decades.[15] The Civil War in Ireland had a huge impact on the works the authors produced, as it“…brought disillusionment and a recognition that under a different flag, there was still in Ireland dissension and corruption…the impression of being part of a troubled and alienated society made the writers invest their art with particular energy, making it a means to assert their identity before a quite foreign and possibly hostile world, or to write for an Irish audience that they had already grown to disdain.”[16]

By the end of the Second World War, the Irish short story had become an established, popular genre in Ireland, England and the United States, due to the larger distribution that was allotted to these works as the result of periodicals such as the Atlantic Monthly, which regularly published Irish short stories in their volumes.[17] By the mid twentieth century, several more authors were associated with this literary genre including Mary Laverty, Elizabeth Bowen, Benedict Kiely, Bryan MacMahon, and Michael Laverty.[18]

Elements of the Irish Short Story edit

There are many different elements to the Irish short story, with one of the most significant being the narrative voice. The short story genre has to be economical in nature due to its shorter length; as a result, Irish short stories are often focused on a few events or subjects.[19] Through the narrative voice and narration itself, different aspects can be revealed within the text; the narrator of a short story acts as the authority of the text and information about the plot, theme and other characters is determined by the narration, or in some cases a lack thereof.[20]

Irish short stories explore a multitude of themes, including but not limited to rural and poverty hardships, provincialism, rural life versus urban life, clerical interference, and The Troubles. Furthermore, the Irish short story is well known for its treatment of social turmoil and tensions that exist within Irish culture, life and society; in the late nineteenth and twentieth century, these issues largely surrounded feelings of alienation the Irish population felt[21] as a result of the political strife, religious conflict between the Catholic and Protestant sects, nationalism and eventually Civil War and The Troubles.

James Joyce (1882 – 1941) edit

Born on February 2nd, 1882, James Joyce is often considered to be one of the most influential and innovative Irish writers of the twentieth century, often - though with some controversy - referred to as one of the “..fathers of the modern Irish short story.” [22] Born in a suburb outside of Dublin, Ireland, Joyce’s family enjoyed a short period of financial prosperity before they became impoverished.[23] Despite the lost wealth of his family, Joyce received a good education, studying at the finest Jesuit schools in Ireland, followed by studies at University College, Dublin where he showed his first interest and talent in writing.[24] After graduating in 1902, Joyce left Ireland[25] and travelled to Paris where he committed himself to his writing, with a focus on his poetry and “prose sketches.”[26] Following a brief return to Dublin in 1904, Joyce travelled around Europe before settling in Trieste, a city in Northeastern Italy with his wife Nora Barnacle until 1915.[27] Following the onset of the First World War and several relocations as a result of Europe’s conflicts, Joyce and his family moved to Paris, where he connected with notable people in the literary sphere such as American modernist figure Sylvia Beach.[28] In December of 1940, Joyce relocated again to Zurich, Switzerland before dying due to complications sustained during a surgery to repair a perforated ulcer six weeks later on January 13th, 1941.[29]

Despite the fact that Joyce was of Irish citizenship by birth, he did not publish any writings until his self - imposed exile from Ireland. His first book of poetry entitled Chamber Music and his second offering, a collection of short stories entitled Dubliners were published in 1907 and 1914 respectively while he was living in Trieste. His later works, including A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Exiles (1918) were published while Joyce was living in Zurich, Switzerland. Despite this self-exile from Ireland that took Joyce throughout the European continent, his most famous works are set in Ireland, and typically in the city of Dublin.[30] The subjects of Joyce’s short stories embodied themes that were associated with the Irish short story genre, such as hardships faced by the impoverished people of Ireland and the struggles of urban life in Dublin.

James Joyce and Modernism edit

Joyce was known for his contributions to the short story genre and is often considered to be a modernist writer; modernism is “...characterized chiefly by the rejection of the 19th - century traditions and of their consensus between author and reader...James Joyce...attempted new ways of tracing the flow of the characters’ thoughts in [his] stream of consciousness [style]..” [31] Joyce was critical of Britain’s influence in Ireland, but he was also critical of the Celtic Revival’s creation of Irish national identity in response to this; through his work, Joyce expressed his criticism of Ireland and Irish identity from his exiled perspective.[32] Joyce used experimental techniques with story components, such as free narrative style and methods that created a distance between the authority of the narrator and the characters in the text[33] and this spoke to his modernist, experimental style.

James Joyce and William Butler (W.B.) Yeats edit

While Joyce was known to be a supporter and enthusiast of his contemporaries such as W. B. Yeats, his writing style largely broke away from many of the stylistic components and literary elements that were used by them.[34] James Joyce held Yeats in high regard; Joyce had read all of Yeats’ prose works and both men held one another with immense respect as authors.[35] Despite this admiration of Yeats, in his writings Joyce showed a preference to depicting a more realistic Dublin which included portraying Ireland’s lower class and the day to day strife these people faced.[36] Joyce favoured the real world conditions in Dublin to the inclusion of Classical and Irish mythology used by other writers of this time,[37] including Yeats.

Dubliners edit

Written in August of 1904 and intermittently revised through September 1907, James Joyce’s Dubliners – a collection of short stories that portray different aspects of life in early twentieth century Dublin - was published in 1914. The critical reception of Joyce’s collection was lackluster and for many years, Dubliners was overshadowed by Joyce’s other publications, receiving only tepid reviews when it was published.[38]

While initially thought by critics to be a collection of unrelated short stories, more recent scholarship on Dubliners suggests that there is a thread of images and themes interwoven throughout the text, thus connecting the stories by a sort of literary structure.[39] With Dubliners, Joyce aimed to “...write a chapter of the moral history of Ireland.”[40] Some of these overarching themes include the progression from the individual to the public, from youth to some sort of maturity, a significance placed in darkness, and a thematic paralysis throughout many of the stories.[41] Scholars have agreed that Joyce’s individual short stories in this text can be grouped together[42] in threes and fours to evoke a sense of progression through life.[43] Specifically, the groups that make up the fifteen stories found in Dubliners trace a person’s life by starting in childhood, progressing to adolescence, maturity and public life,[44] culminating in death, which is evocative of the collection’s final story, “The Dead”.[45] Another element that is prevalent through the text is certain types of paralysis, particularly a spiritual paralysis that is felt by many of the characters.[46] In several stories, it is explicitly mentioned that it is raining, misty or otherwise unpleasant in terms of weather, and it has been said that this could be due to Joyce’s desire to portray a realistic Dublin. Other critics disagree, stating that the darkness of Dubliners is meant to be symbolic, and represent the darkness that Irish people are surrounded in culturally, religiously, and politically.[47]

“The Sisters” edit

The collection begins with a first person narrative of young boy pondering the death of Father Flynn, a priest with whom he is acquainted. He goes home and finds his aunt, uncle and Old Cotter discussing the death, despite how uncomfortable this conversation makes the boy feel.[48] The following day, the boy sees a death notice about the priest, and while initially feeling a strange sense of freedom as a result of the death, he and his aunt attend the wake later that evening. After seeing the body, the boy and his aunt sit down with the sisters of the deceased, and have a conversation about the events leading to and following the priest’s death, and his struggles and failures in dealing with this role.[49]

This opening story sets up the tone and imagery that is largely found throughout Dubliners. There is a recurring image of paralysis throughout this collection,[50] which is evident from the opening paragraph, when the narrator says that Father Flynn had suffered paralyzing strokes in the past and also when the narrator describes himself as repeating the word “paralysis”[51] every time he passes the priest’s house. This repetition is furthered when the narrator “...imaged [he] saw again the heavy grey face of the paralytic…I wondered why it smiled continually…then I remembered that it had died of paralysis…”.[52] This paralysis is further reiterated with the repeated mentions of the idleness of the priest’s body in the coffin, and the poignant pauses in the conversation between the boy and his aunt, Nannie and Eliza.[53]

This establishes one of the overarching themes of the story; the boy and his surroundings are almost paralyzed, and he is aware of this, evident by his repetition and recognition of this concept. He is consciously documenting the lack of movement and the significance of paralysis in his life. With this to build on, “The Sisters” establishes the paralysis and trapped feeling that Dubliners have actually felt, in this case, in terms of mortality and to an extent, religion.[54] This story sets up the theme of Dubliners creating “...thwarted and defeated human being[s].”[55]

“Araby” edit

Completed in 1905,[56] “Araby” is the third story in Dubliners. It is written in first person narrative and this is important, as the narrative is then related through a limited voice, and thus, the story is dominated by “...a central consciousness.”[57] “Araby” tells the story of a boy living in urban Ireland who is infatuated with his companion’s sibling, known as Mangan’s sister.[58] When the boy eventually speaks with her, she asks him if he is going to the Araby, a bazaar she will be unable to attend due to a prior engagement, despite her interest in attending. The boy swears he will go to the Araby and bring her back a present. When the evening of the Araby arrives, the boy’s uncle says he will give him money when he returns home later that day. The boy waits until the evening when his uncle finally arrives, having forgotten his promise. The boy arrives at the Araby as it is winding down; the boy cannot afford the more desirable gifts, and he is largely ignored by the Araby staff. As the lights turn off, the boy is overcome with feelings of defeat and self-loathing.[59]

Falling into the youth group of stories, this text shows the themes that reverberate through Irish short stories. The boy lives in impoverished conditions, embodying the impoverished urban life in Dublin. The narrator describes his street at the opening of the story; he states “...An uninhabited house...stood at the blind end [of the street], detached from its neighbours....”[60] This mimics the feelings of isolation and alienation much of the population of Ireland felt due to the political and religious strife in their country. By noting the house apart from the others, Joyce demonstrates the separation present in Ireland. It may be one street or country, but in reality, there is alienation between neighbours. Joyce created this Dublin to look dreary and paralyzing, and “Araby” evokes a feeling of being trapped. This is evident with the narrator’s repetition of ‘blind’ when he describes his surroundings, stating “North Richmond Street, being blind was a quiet street...An uninhabited house...stood at the blind end....”.[61] This repetition leads to feeling trapped, as though there is no escape from this alienated street or lifestyle.

Joyce creates a contrast between lightness and darkness,[62] and in doing so creates a dichotomy for the narrator’s affection. The narrator’s surroundings are dark and depressing. The houses have “...brown imperturbable faces.”[63], he describes the air as musty, and explains a priest has died in his home. As winter approaches, he describes the houses had “...grown sombre…”[64] by the time he enters the darkened streets after dinner. Joyce creates the narrator’s surroundings to be bleak; they are lackluster and dark, and in many ways represent the “dirty Dublin” Joyce loved to portray.[65]

This darkness shifts when the narrator sees Mangan’s sister; he describes her as “...defined by the light of the half - opened door…”.[66] Illuminated amongst the darkness of the narrator’s surroundings, the definition of her figure by the light almost becomes angelic in its nature. Furthermore, the narrator states that “Every morning, I lay on the floor...watching her door.”[67] She becomes both “...a part of the atmosphere of North Richmond Street, yet something apart from it.”[68] His infatuation in full swing, the boy watches her in the morning light and this contrasts the time of day typically depicted in Dubliners, which is usually at dusk or night.[69] It contrasts between the narrator’s bleak life, and the object of his affection; Mangan’s sister is the narrator’s light.

At the end of the story when he arrives at the Araby, the boy is alienated by his surroundings and the people in the bazaar. He comes to a realization, “I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real.”[70] He realizes he will not win the affection of Mangan’s sister through a gift from the Araby, and at this moment, “The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.”[71] He loses his hope, and thus, loses the light, solidified when he declares he was “Gazing up into the darkness, I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity…”[72] With the removal of the boy's light comes the disintegration of the boy's hope.

Joyce received criticism about his representation of the Araby in his story.[73] The Araby is based on a real event; in 1894 James Joyce attended the “Araby: A Grand Oriental Fête” in Dublin.[74] However, this event was attended by over a third of Dublin’s population over the course of the week it ran, and was much more extravagant and busy than Joyce made it out to be in his story.[75] What this minimizing of the Araby does, however, is reiterate the feelings of paralysis that is felt throughout the entire collection. With the boy realizing his efforts to win the affection of Mangan’s sister at the Araby are futile, his optimism is halted, and he becomes paralyzed in his self - loathing. By minimizing the Araby and creating an anticlimax, Joyce has achieved a realistic depiction of the disappointments of youth.

References edit

  1. “Short Story.” in Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. 3rd ed. (2008). 307.
  2. Kilroy, James F. “Introduction.” in The Irish Short Story: A Critical History. ed. James F. Kilroy. Boston: Twayne Publishers (1984) 1.
  3. Kilroy "Introduction" 4.
  4. Kilroy "Introduction" 4.
  5. Kiberd, Declan. “Storytelling: The Gaelic Tradition.” in The Irish Short Story. ed. Patrick Rafroidi and Terrence Brown. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press Inc. (1979) 14.
  6. Kiberd 14-15.
  7. Kiberd 14-15.
  8. Kilroy "Introduction" 1.
  9. Carens, James F. “In Quest of a New Impulse: George Moore’s The Untilled Field and James Joyce’s Dubliners.” in The Irish Short Story: A Critical History. ed. James F. Kilroy. Boston: Twayne Publishers (1984) 45.
  10. Egleson Dunleavy, Janet. “Mary Lavin, Elizabeth Bowen, and a New Generation: The Irish Short Story at Midcentury.” in The Irish Short Story: A Critical History. ed. James F. Kilroy. Boston: Twayne Publishers (1984) 145.
  11. Hogan, Robert. “Old Boys, Young Bucks, and New Women: The Contemporary Irish Short Story.” in The Irish Short Story: A Critical History. ed. James F. Kilroy. Boston: Twayne Publishers (1984). 169.
  12. Beckson, Karl. “Moore's The Untilled Field and Joyce's Dubliners: The Short Story's Intricate Maze.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920. 15.4:(1972) 291.
  13. Beckson 291.
  14. Kilroy, James F. “Setting the Standards: Writers of the 1920s and 1930s,” in The Irish Short Story: A Critical History, ed. James F. Kilroy. Boston: Twayne Publishers (1984) 96.
  15. Egleson Dunleavy 145.
  16. Kilroy “Setting the Standards" 96.
  17. Egleson Dunleavy 145
  18. Egleson Dunleavy 145.
  19. Rafroidi, Patrick. “The Irish Short Story in English. The Birth of a new Tradition.” in The Irish Short Story. ed. Patrick Rafroidi and Terrence Brown. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press Inc. (1979) 28.
  20. Kilroy "Introduction" 3-4.
  21. Rafroidi 27.
  22. Rafroidi 35.
  23. Brown, Terence. “Introduction”. in Dubliners. James Joyce. London: Penguin Books (1914)xi.
  24. Brown n.p.
  25. Davis, Joseph K. “The City as Radical Order: James Joyce’s “Dubliners”.” Literary Imagination. 3. 1:(1970) 79.
  26. Brown n.p.
  27. Bruni, Alessandro Francini. “Alessandro Francini Bruini.” in Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans. ed. Willard Potts. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press (1979) 3-4.
  28. Spinks, Lee. James Joyce: A Critical Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2009) 35.
  29. Spinks 43.
  30. Davis 79.
  31. “Modernism.” in Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. 3rd ed. (2008). 213.
  32. Spinks 15-16.
  33. Spinks 16.
  34. Lester, John A. “Joyce, Yeats, and the Short Story.” English Literature in Transition, 1880 – 1920. 15.4:(1972) 305.
  35. Lester 305.
  36. Murphy, M.W. “Darkness in “Dubliners”.” Fiction Studies 15. 1:(1969) 99.
  37. Lester 306.
  38. Spinks 157.
  39. Murphy 97.
  40. Beckson 291.
  41. Murphy 97.
  42. Torchiana, Donald T. “James Joyce’s Method in Dubliners.” in The Irish Short Story. ed. Patrick Rafroidi and Terrence Brown. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press Inc. (1979) 127.
  43. Davis 83.
  44. Torchiana 127.
  45. Rafroidi 36.
  46. Beckson 294.
  47. Murphy 98-100.
  48. Joyce, James. Dubliners. London: Penguin Books (1914) 1-2.
  49. Joyce 9.
  50. Murphy 100.
  51. Joyce 1.
  52. Joyce 3.
  53. Joyce 9.
  54. Beckson 294.
  55. Carens 74.
  56. Brown, Terence. “Notes” in Dubliners. James Joyce. London: Penguin Books (1914) 227.
  57. Carens 71.
  58. Joyce 22.
  59. Joyce 28.
  60. Joyce 21.
  61. Joyce 21.
  62. Murphy 102.
  63. Joyce 21.
  64. Joyce 21.
  65. Murphy 98 - 99.
  66. Joyce 22.
  67. Joyce 22.
  68. Carens 76.
  69. Murphy 97.
  70. Joyce 27.
  71. Joyce 27.
  72. Joyce 28.
  73. Mullin Katherine. “‘Something in the Name of Araby’: James Joyce and the Irish Bazaars.” Dublin James Joyce Journal 4:(2011) 31.
  74. Mullin 31.
  75. Mullin 33.

Irish Film: Waking Ned Devine

Context and the Celtic Tiger edit

Waking Ned Devine is an Irish comedy set in a small village in rural Ireland and was inspired by a true story.[1] The film was released in 1998 at a time when Ireland’s economic performance was at a historical high.[2] While cities like Dublin enjoyed the advantages of this economic boom, known as the Celtic Tiger, rural parts of Ireland were not necessarily receiving any economic benefits.[3] Rather than approach this sensitive issue with bitterness or resentment, this film uses dark humour and mockery to draw attention to the issues facing those in rural communities from a lack of amenities and services to economic struggles such as sustaining businesses without viable potential for growth. The film also focuses on the idea that money is an opportunity to break free from stereotypical Irish roles (farming), as well as the perception that money can provide comfort and security. While the Celtic Tiger was recognized globally and this boom had an impact on a great number of Irish people, not everyone enjoyed the economic benefits, so while the story is told from the perspective of the villagers, the movie effectively demonstrates how money, specifically when there is an economic imbalance between rural and urban, can marginalize, rather than unite a nation. This film loosely addresses this economic inequity between rural and urban, but abstains from an “in-depth exploration of socio-political issues” [4] which some argue is the reason for the film’s commercial success and global appeal.

Rural vs Urban edit

The movie is about a small village which works together to collect the lottery winnings of a recently deceased member of the community, Ned Devine. Notably, while money can serve to divide many groups, this film demonstrates how money can bring people in this community together. It is possible to attribute this unity to greed, but the underlying message is that in order to work together to gain the lottery winnings, the ties that bind this small community would have to be firmly entrenched, beyond this one endeavour.[3] What the money represents, the renewed sense of hope, regeneration of the community and the people with in it, is more important than the money itself. The reaction of the outsider to this community, the lottery investigator from Dublin, further draws attention to the sense of isolation of the rural, and the stark contrast to urban life. When the investigator arrives in the village he continually sneezes, presumably as a result of allergies, and his reaction to the villagers belies his sense of urban sophistication, while the villagers perceive his reaction as his “inability to handle the country (the real Ireland)”.[5] There is a stereotype being challenged here, that the country folk are quaint, eccentric and unsophisticated, which completely underestimates their ability to act beyond the confines of the world they know, and trusting this stereotype is what allows the lottery inspector to be fooled.

Humour and Humanity edit

This film embraces Irish culture, tradition, lifestyle and economics, but it presents these issues with humour. While the film is classified as a comedy, the humour is dark, which allows the viewer to process topics such as death and dying in a way that is not only palatable but entertaining as laughter can serve to combat suffering and despair;[6] each character uses humour to communicate and to cope with their circumstances. The Irish comic tradition embraces humour, wit and satire and parody, all of which display a cultural continuity[7] and Waking Ned Devine is a good example of how humour can add levity to difficult situations, such as discovering that Ned is dead.

Despite the economic struggle and simple lives of the villagers, the movie’s overarching themes of humour, human connection and a sense of community, triumph. This connection and familiarity seem to provide the characters with a sense of comfort and in fact the Government of Canada[8] even suggests that humour is a cultural norm in Ireland that is intended to be friendly and to build trust. In the movie, the “teasing” nature of the exchanges about more serious issues, like how the money would be divided, embodies the essence of Irish humour, so that rather than overt hostility, there is a sense of friendly banter.[9] The film effectively demonstrates the interconnectedness that comes with living in a small, isolated community, and while exaggerated for effect, the atmosphere within the small village provides the audience with a tangible awareness of just how small the population of Ireland is.

Selecting and Filming on the Isle of Man edit

Ireland is a small country with a population of only 4 million people. While there has been a renewed interest and growth in the independent film in Ireland, it is difficult to sustain, due to costs and limited human resources.[3] Waking Ned Devine showcases Ireland and stays true to the culture and identity of Ireland, but shooting the film outside of Ireland is what made it feasible to tell the story of Ned Devine. Though it was filmed on the Isle of Man, which has caused some debate as to its Irish authenticity, the film’s narrative is true to Irish culture, people and traditions.

The film’s director, Kirk Jones, originally intended to film the movie in the Republic of Ireland, but logistics and cost prevented this from happening. Jones spent three months in Ireland immersing himself in the culture, absorbing “the dialect, the accents and the characters”,[10] but ultimately could not find a location that that captured his artistic vision for the story logistically. In order to film the movie, the building and homes in a village location would need to be in close proximity, rather than spread apart by several miles, which in a true rural, farming village in Ireland would be nearly impossible, hence Jones’ challenge.[11] Realistically, the Isle of Man, which can be seen from Ireland’s coast, is comparable in terms of landscape and geographic beauty. In fact, Jones went out of his way to ensure that the physical splendour of Ireland was captured in his film, taking great care to shoot a dream sequence scene on the Irish Sea, rather than indoors as originally intended, exactly so Ireland’s magnificent beauty was prominently featured. To achieve this, Jones’ described what it took to film this scene; a human chain of 16 people passing equipment “down to the end of a slippery, dangerous peninsula covered in seaweed and slime”.[12]

Narrative and Nationalism edit

The choice not to locate the film in Ireland essentially became an economic and logistical decision rather than about short-changing Ireland, either economically or in terms of authentic national identity. What is also important to keep in mind, is that this is a fictional story, thus the director, in addition to being true to Ireland, like any artist needed to remain true to his work and his vision. In order to best tell his story, it was necessary to consider not only the financial aspects of making the movie, but the artistic freedom that shooting this film on Isle of Man allowed for. This is not a documentary or a historical account and as such, it is impossible to set a standard to the Waking of Ned Devine that is not applied to other comparable fictional films. Nations are built through narrative, so as long as the work authentically articulates the ideology of the nation, it doesn’t necessarily have to be geographically faithful. Great examples of this are films like Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan. Despite being filmed in Ireland, the films are based on their subject matter, and thus the narrative is widely accepted as Scottish and American, respectively.[13]

Critics have even questioned the authenticity of the film’s Irishness because the director is English and one of the lead actors is Scottish, despite not presenting any argument that supports simply commenting on the actor and director, rather than the story itself. This arbitrary decision to declare a film inauthentic simply due to the nationality of the actors and director, would subsequently discount a number of films that are widely accepted to represent a nation’s identity. It is an actor’s job to be representative and to take on a persona, and thus nationality, by taking the role in the first place. For example Cold Mountain, a film about the American Civil War, is filmed in Romania, starring Nicole Kidman, an Australian and Jude Law, an Englishman, and yet, it is classified as an American film [14] so it is necessary to consider and analyse a number of factors beyond film production to determine national cinema.[15]

Given the vast number of factors that lead to a film being produced, from writers, to funding sources, location, and actors, it would be impossible to ever create a work that is entirely faithful to one nation if to ensure authenticity, as everyone involved would be required to be, in this case, Irish. Thus production practices make it very difficult to delineate national distinction.[16] It has also been argued that simply dismissing the Irishness of the film based on generalizations about Ireland and its people, discounts a body of work based on biases that should not serve to shape a national identity as it resorts to stereotyping in order to do so.[17] The problem with stereotyping a nation, a people or a culture is that by its very definition a stereotype is “false or misleading”.[18] Despite harsh and seemingly unwarranted criticism that the film is not Irish for a variety of reasons, the film does act as a catalyst for a dialogue about Ireland which is certainly a positive aspect of this fictional story as it puts Ireland on a global stage which in itself is important for shaping identity and breaking down stereotypes.

References edit

  1. Petrakis, John. “Director Jones’ ‘Waking Ned Devine’ Had a Long Incubation”. Chicago Tribune. 1 Jan 1999.
  2. Murphy, Antoin E. “The ‘Celtic Tiger’ – An Analysis of Ireland’s Economic Growth Performance”. European University Institute. RSC No. 2000/16.
  3. a b c Humphreys, Sara. “Modern Irish Literature”. Trent University, Oshawa campus. Oshawa, ON. November 7, 2013. Lecture 9: Irish Film Renaissance.
  4. Clark, David, and Ruben Jarazo Alvarez. “In the Wake of the Tiger Irish Studies in the 21st Century”. Oleiros: Netbiblo, S. L., 2010.
  5. Mann, Erika Noelle. “Cinema’s Green is Gold: The Commodification of Irishness in Film” Thesis Essay. Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, 1999.
  6. Lickerman, Alex. “Why We Laugh”. Psychology Today. Mag., 23 Jan 2011.
  7. Messenger, John C. “Humour is an Irish Folk Community”. Irish University Review Vol. 6, No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 214-222.
  8. Government of Canada. “Cultural Information - Ireland”.
  9. Gillespie, Michael Patrick. “The Myth of an Irish Cinema: Approaching Irish-themed Films”. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008. pg. 50. Print.
  10. Pfefferman, Naomi. “Braving the Isle of Man”. Global Village. The American Society of Cinematographers Mag., Feb. 1999.
  11. Pfefferman, Naomi. “Braving the Isle of Man”. Global Village. The American Society of Cinematographers Mag., Feb. 1999.
  12. Pfefferman, Naomi. “Braving the Isle of Man”. Global Village. The American Society of Cinematographers Mag., Feb. 1999.
  13. Gillespie, Michael Patrick. New Hibernia Review. / Iris Éireannach Nua. Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 145-147.
  14. Gillespie, Michael Patrick. “The Myth of an Irish Cinema: Approaching Irish-themed Films”. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008. pg. 44. Print.
  15. Pettitt, Lance. “Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation”. New York: Manchester University Press, 2000. Print.
  16. Gillespie, Michael Patrick. New Hibernia Review. / Iris Éireannach Nua. Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 145.
  17. Gillespie, Michael Patrick. “The Myth of an Irish Cinema: Approaching Irish-themed Films”. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008. pg. 50. Print.
  18. Blum, Lawrence. “Stereotypes and Stereotyping: A Moral Analysis”. Philosophical Papers. Vol. 33, No. 3 (November 2004): 251 289.