Renaissance

Patricia Craig

  • Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival: A Changling Art by John Wilson Foster
    Gill and Macmillan, 407 pp, £30.00, November 1987, ISBN 0 8156 2374 7

There’s a moment near the start of Ulysses when a symbol for the whole of Irish art presents itself to Joyce’s exasperated alter ego: ‘the cracked looking-glass of a servant’. As a gloss on this we have, among other commentaries, the remarks of G.J. Watson in his study of 1979, Irish Identity and the Literary Revival. Joyce, as Watson reminds us, was with this image repudiating not only the fatuities of Victorian stage-Irishness as a literary mode, but also their glorified replacement, once Yeats, Lady Gregory and the rest of them got going on the campaign to add dignity to Ireland. ‘The looking-glass, cracked, does not tell the truth’ – and the resulting distortions are, in a sense, John Wilson Foster’s subject in his impressive new scrutiny of the revival era (roughly the period between 1890 and the early 1930s). The word ‘fictions’ in Foster’s title denotes both fictional themes and concomitant misbeliefs: for example, about the incorruptibility of Irish peasant life.

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