Giants of Irish Literature – Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett (Booklet)

Giants of Irish Literature - Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett (Booklet)
  • Giants of Irish Literature – Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett (Booklet)

  • Views 20

  • Downloads 0

  • File size 296KB
  • Author/Uploader: Nathaniel Moore



The Giants of Irish Literature: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett Professor George O’Brien Georgetown University

Recorded Books™ is a trademark of Recorded Books, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Giants of Irish Literature: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett Professor George O’Brien

Executive Producer John J. Alexander Executive Editor Donna F. Carnahan RECORDING

Producer – David Markowitz Director – Matthew Cavnar COURSE GUIDE Editor – James Gallagher Design – Edward White

Lecture content ©2006 by George O’Brien Course guide ©2006 by Recorded Books, LLC

72006 by Recorded Books, LLC Cover image: © #UT080 ISBN: 978-1-4193-8882-8 All beliefs and opinions expressed in this audio/video program and accompanying course guide are those of the author and not of Recorded Books, LLC, or its employees.

Course Syllabus The Giants of Irish Literature: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett

About Your Professor………………………………………………………………………………………4 Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………………………….5 Lecture 1

Out of Ireland ……………………………………………………………………………..6

Lecture 2

Oscar Wilde: Critic as Artist, Artist as Critic ………………………………….12

Lecture 3

Oscar Wilde: Social Comedian……………………………………………………16

Lecture 4

The Life of Sebastian Melmoth……………………………………………………20

Lecture 5

W.B. Yeats: From the Celtic Twilight……………………………………………24

Lecture 6

W.B. Yeats: The National Poet……………………………………………………28

Lecture 7

W.B. Yeats: The Triumph of Failure …………………………………………….32

Lecture 8

James Joyce: The Dublin Writer …………………………………………………36

Lecture 9

James Joyce: The European Writer …………………………………………….40

Lecture 10

James Joyce: The Universal Writer……………………………………………..44

Lecture 11

Samuel Beckett: The Absurdist …………………………………………………..48

Lecture 12

Beckett and the Novel ……………………………………………………………….52

Lecture 13

Samuel Beckett: “Fail Again. Fail Better.” …………………………………….56

Lecture 14

Tradition and Its Discontents ………………………………………………………60

Course Materials …………………………………………………………………………………………..65


Photo courtesy of George O’Brien

About Your Professor George O’Brien George O’Brien is a professor of English. His main scholarly and teaching areas are Irish literature since 1800 and creative writing. Among his numerous publications are three volumes of memoirs and two books on contemporary Irish playwright Brian Friel. O’Brien earned his Ph.D. and B.A. from the University of Warwick. His publications include Playing the Field: Irish Writers on Sport (2000, editor), The Ireland Anthology (1997), Out of Our Minds (1994), Brian Friel: A Research Guide (1995), Brian Friel (1990), The Village of Longing: An Irish Boyhood in the Fifties (1987), and Dancehall Days (1988).



Introduction Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett: These four masters of Irish literature created works of startling innovation and unparalleled literary merit. Among them, they defied popular expectations and confounded critics with unique masterpieces that one might think of as puzzles, the solution of which lies at the heart of the modern age. Understanding the works of these greats, all associated to some degree with the Irish Literary Revival, is fundamental not only to a richer appreciation of Irish literature, but to a better comprehension of modern literature in all its manifestations, for these authors struggled with the idea of modernity and all it entailed, and the fruits of their struggle stand as monuments to the remarkable capacity of literary imagination. Renowned professor George O’Brien of Georgetown University provides the biographical background of these authors and an in-depth analysis of their greatest works, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, the poems of W.B. Yeats, Ulysses, and Waiting for Godot. In the course of these lectures, O’Brien discusses the very qualities that set these works apart and the “Irishness” that characterizes each of them.


Lecture 1: Out of Ireland

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Lyrics and Satires From Tom Moore, edited by Sean O’Faolain.

The four writers who did more than any of the many other Irish writers to make and maintain a place for Irish writing in the modern world are Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett. Internationally acclaimed for the wit, eloquence, formal innovation, and controversial perspectives that made their works central to an assessment of the expressive possibilities of the English language in the twentieth century, these four authors seem at first glance to be quite distinct from each other. Yet while there is no denying their artistic originality or the power and distinctiveness of their personalities, there are numerous points of contact between them. Their most obvious connection is biographical. All four were born in Dublin. Wilde reviewed Yeats’s first collection of poetry, and Yeats publicly supported Wilde at the time of his trial and downfall. Joyce kept his distance from Yeats, but the poet was an important contact for the young Joyce in financial and other ways. In turn, Joyce befriended Samuel Beckett when he left Ireland for Paris. Wilde, Joyce, and Beckett lived their careers in exile from Ireland, while the strength and conviction of a good deal of Yeats’s later verse drew on his increasing disaffection with the Ireland of his old age. Despite estrangement, however, all retained important family and cultural links with their native country, even if in some cases these were heavily disguised. These four authors may also be related to each other through their artistry. Wilde, Joyce, and Beckett are particularly noted for verbal flair and stylistic finesse. Phrases from Yeats’s poem “Easter 1916”—“a terrible beauty” and “a stone of the heart,” for example—have been applied in contexts far removed from the original one. And each writer’s output is remarkable for its versatility. In addition to being a dramatist, Wilde was a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist. Yeats’s poetic accomplishments have overshadowed his substantial prose writings. Joyce first came to critical attention through Chamber Music, a collection of poems published in 1907. Beckett’s first publication was a prizewinning poem entitled “Whoroscope” (1930).


In addition to connections between them of this kind, all four are associated, to a greater or lesser degree, with the Irish Literary Revival, that remarkable period of artistic and cultural activity that coincided with the foundation of an independent modern Ireland. Wilde’s drawing-room comedies or Beckett’s decrepit protagonists may seem to have little to do with the idealizing energies of the Revival, but Wilde’s mother was a prolific writer of nationalistic verse, and Wilde’s own wit is subversively directed at an upper-class London 6

social scene then in the full flower of its confidence and privilege. And while the voices of Beckett’s wretched of the earth originally express themselves in the author’s French, his translations contain many an echo of English as it is spoken in Ireland. Yeats is at the center of the Revival’s literary activity, while Joyce maintains a detached and somewhat satirical distance from it. Rather than constituting a group, or school, defining Irish writing, the four constitute a spectrum in which may be seen the problems and possibilities that arose during the course of a particularly intensive period of self-realization and selfexpression involving all phases of Irishness. Quite what the duration of the Irish Literary Revival was, how it originated, and what its accomplishments were are questions to which there are no simple answers. In order to appreciate why the Revival was so important, a certain amount of historical background is required. The first important historical event to note is the Act of Union. Passed in 1800, this law meant that from that date onwards, Ireland would be governed directly by the British government. In part, the act was a response to the Rebellion of 1798, at the forefront of which were members of a republican group named the United Irishmen, under the leadership of Wolfe Tone. One immediate reaction to the legislation was a short-lived rebellion in 1803 led by a student named Robert Emmett, whose high-flown speech from the dock prior to his execution made him live in popular memory as “Bold Robert Emmett, the Darling of Ireland.” Not long after this, the Irish songs of Emmett’s friend Thomas Moore, suitably adapted for English drawing-room tastes, were achieving a popularity that has been virtually undimmed since. Moore’s best-known numbers include “The Minstrel Boy” and “The Harp That Once.” Some twenty-five years after 1798, another attempt was made to remedy the political lot of the Irish people. This effort was led by Daniel O’Connell, a lawyer by training, and was constitutional by nature; that is, it did not intend to secure its aims by force of arms. Known as “The Liberator” and noted for the witty and combative nature of his public speaking, O’Connell’s belief in the ballot-box was of fundamental significance for the future of Anglo-Irish relations. His greatest achievement was the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, which by extending the franchise to certain sections of the Catholic population, encouraged the growth of a Catholic middle class. O’Connell then began to turn his attention to repeal of the Union, again using the tactic of socalled “monster meetings” throughout the country—meetings attended by hundreds of thousands—to indicate that he meant business. The repeal campaign also attracted a number of young political idealists who formed a group around the Nation newspaper. This group, known as Young Ireland, is important for a number of reasons. They drew on O’Connell’s use of English to promote literacy among the people. And they also harnessed nationalist sentiment for literary purposes, printing in the Nation patriotic verses intended to stimulate popular patriotic sentiment. The chief exponent of this notion of literature was the newspaper’s editor, Thomas Davis, whose essays on the concept of national literature and on the exclusive character and destiny of the Irish people gave rise to a sense of Ireland still echoed today. For the first time, Irish writing and Irish politics, cultural nationalism and political autonomy, were linked and the ensuing vision projected onto the popular mind. One result of this ideological innovation was the effective eclipse of other kinds of 7

literary work being carried out by Irish writers of the day, even when such writers, including the greatest Irish poet of the nineteenth century, James Clarence Mangan, were themselves contributors to the Nation. A rift occurred between Young Ireland and O’Connell when the latter called off a monster meeting when the authorities threatened to disband it with troops. Young Ireland thereafter became more politically militant, though the rebellion it staged in 1848 was a hopeless failure and resulted in its leaders being exiled to Australia. Thus nineteenth-century Irish political aspirations continued to oscillate between legislative frustration and abortive rebellion, a pattern that would culminate in the establishment of an independent Irish Free State in 1921. Yet it is doubtful if even the most superbly organized rebellion would have succeeded in the Ireland of 1848, because the country was then in the grip of famine. The Great Famine, as it is called, to distinguish it from other Irish famines over the centuries, lasted from the fall of 1845 to the spring of 1849, and was a disaster, not only in the unprecedented amount of death and suffering it caused, but demographically and culturally as well. The population of the country was halved, from eight million to four; two million emigrated, most to the United States; in particular, the western seaboard, the poorest and least anglicized part of the country, sustained population loss from which it has never recovered. When the Irish Revival set about designating a distinctive Irish identity, it was the Irish-speaking peasant of this underdeveloped area that it took for its prototype. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was amidst Irish emigrants to America that the next phase of nationalist agitation originated. The Irish adherents to this new brand of separatist militancy were known as the Fenians, an important name, as it introduced a further dimension to Irish ideological self-awareness. The first Fenians flourished in pre-Christian Ireland. A band of warriors was led by Finn MacCool (one of many Irish personages to make a guest appearance in Finnegans Wake, by the way), and one of their tasks was to protect Ireland from invaders. Their many adventures constitute one of the “cycles” of stories that together comprise ancient Irish heroic tales and sagas. The cultural value of these materials was of critical importance to the literature produced in the early days of the Revival. Among the Fenians of the 1860s was John O’Leary, who was imprisoned and subsequently exiled for his participation in the failed Rebellion of 1867, and who upon his return from exile was one of the young Yeats’s most influential father figures. O’Leary introduced the poet not only to ancient works but to authors from earlier in the nineteenth century, notably, “Davis, Mangan, Ferguson,” as Yeats wrote in his poem “To Ireland in the Coming Times.”


The defeat of the Fenians was followed by the rise of the constitutional Home Rule movement. Its leader was Charles Stewart Parnell, a landlord who was also a Protestant, in common with such other Irish heroes as Tone, Emmett, and Davis. The objective of Home Rule was to obtain legislative independence for Ireland and responsibility for internal Irish affairs without wishing “to break the connection with England,” which was militant republicanism’s goal. While Parnell operated with great skill and nerve in Parliament, where the newly energized Irish Party was sufficiently numerous to hold the balance of power, an agitation was taking place in rural Ireland to 8

improve the lot of the tenantry. This focused and localized agitation brought about a number of the desired improvements, with a corresponding diminution of landlord power. The state of the union was becoming increasingly precarious. But before Parnell could achieve Home Rule, he was cited as a corespondent in a petition for divorce brought by the husband of his mistress, Catherine O’Shea. This happened in late 1889. The Irish Party relieved him of the leadership, and although Catholic popular opinion regarded him as “the uncrowned King of Ireland,” it too rejected him. Parnell died in 1891. The force of his personality, his unflinching public presence, and the extraordinary cost of his transgression made him a hero in many eyes, including those of Yeats and Joyce. At the same time, the wind now went out of the sails of Irish politics, leading Yeats to write, looking back at that time, of his “sudden certainty that Ireland was to be like soft wax for years to come.” Here, then, was a chance to make an impression, and the critical consensus is that the Revival dates from around this time. At any rate, it was in the years following Parnell’s death that Yeats organized various literary societies, both in Dublin and London, beginning with the Irish Literary Society in 1892 and culminating in his being a founding member of the Irish Literary Theater in 1897, an organization that in 1904 became the Abbey Theater. Also significant was the foundation in 1893 of the Gaelic League by a friend of Yeats, Douglas Hyde (later to be the first president of the Free State). The Gaelic League was dedicated to the preservation of the Irish language, and was enormously successful in interesting people not only in their linguistic heritage but in the cultural values embodied in the language. Yeats, however, did not learn to speak Irish, and made a point of saying that the Irish literature then being written should be in English. In addition to language classes, the Gaelic League also promoted traditional Irish music and dance. This type of cultural activity is part of the Irish Revival in the wider sense and is more fundamental to popular experience of the revivalist spirit. But its connections with the Literary Revival, as such, are not exactly straightforward. The Gaelic League, despite its founder, Hyde, having shared Yeats’s interest in the folk and folklore, ultimately had more in common with the organization founded to promote Gaelic games, the Gaelic Athletic Association. This organization dates from 1884. The Irish Literary Revival, therefore, is heir to a complex cultural heritage that bears a marked ideological coloring. And it had to argue the case for its own particular vision and viability in the matrix of groups and identities contending in Ireland at the turn of the nineteenth century. One important way in which it managed to do that was to retain a sense of the ancient sagas as cultural and imaginative resources. In particular, the figure of Cuchulain (pronounced Coo-cullen), the most doughty and impressive hero from that literature, was significant to Yeats’s work early and late (Yeats’s final play is The Death of Cuchulain and in his Last Poems is found “Cuchulain Comforted”). Another significant common interest of all interested parties connected with the revival is a concern for the people. Often subjected to boilerplate treatment by the Revival’s many minor poets, the people are nevertheless seen anew, particularly when depicted on stage, where they become something rather more than the feckless and loquacious stage Irishmen of the popular theater. Being shown in this theatrical light could 9

cause trouble, however. In 1907, the opening night and subsequent weeklong run of J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, a comedy about parricide set in the remote West of Ireland, caused the audience to riot. Nevertheless, even if the Revival was as diverse and complicated as the ways in which Ireland’s four most important modern writers are affiliated to it, it certainly did contribute significantly to the formation of a new, more confident, more aware Irish identity. In that way, it prepared the cultural and ideological environment in which the rebellion of Easter 1916 broke out. That rebellion’s headquarters was the General Post Office in Dublin, a fact that is commemorated by a statue of Cuchulain in the lobby. There were those who, like the young James Joyce, were keenly aware of the Revival’s agenda but who chose not to go along with it in the precise terms that it proposed. At the same time, it would be a mistake to think that Joyce was immune to the general cultural atmosphere—and he did attend Irish-language Gaelic League classes, briefly, where his teacher Patrick Pearse was the leader of the 1916 rebellion.


The rebellion of Easter 1916 led, eventually and indirectly, to the establishment of the Irish Free State, which was the first form that an independent Ireland took (Ireland officially became a republic in 1948). This state consisted of twenty-six of the original thirty-two counties of Ireland. Partition gave six northeastern counties their own parliament and membership of the United Kingdom. And it is generally considered that sometime around this time— possibly at the conclusion of the Civil War in 1923, the year that Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize—the Irish Literary Revival came to an end, its conclusion as difficult to pinpoint as its beginnings. The publication of Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 is used as additional evidence to support this view. In chronological terms, perhaps, this closing time makes a certain amount of sense. But its dovetailing of literary production with nationalist aspirations is open to question. The old days of theater rioting were not over. Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett remained controversial, and Wilde’s name was treated with puritanical silence. But the value of these authors has outlived their historical moment. Indeed, these are authors whose works continue to resonate not only within modern Ireland, and not only wherever English is spoken, but wherever the complex challenge of becoming modern is debated.



Questions 1. What are the connections among the writers discussed in this course? 2. Why is it difficult to pinpoint the beginning and the end of the Irish Literary Revival?

Suggested Reading O’Faolain, Sean, ed. Lyrics and Satires From Tom Moore. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003.

Other Books of Interest Brown, Malcolm. The Politics of Irish Literature: From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1972. Ellmann, Richard. Four Dubliners. New York: Braziller, 1987. Fallis, Richard. The Irish Renaissance. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1977. Gregory, Augusta Lady. Cuchulain of Muirthemne. Gerrards Cross: Smythe, 1970. ———. Gods and Fighting Men. Gerrards Cross: Smythe, 1970. Heaney, Marie. Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends. Boston: Faber, 1994. Kain, Richard M. Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Lyons, F.S.L. Charles Stewart Parnell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Moore, George. Hail and Farewell. Gerrards Cross: Smythe, 1976. O’Connor, Ulick. All the Olympians: A Biographical Portrait of the Irish Literary Renaissance. New York: Atheneum, 1984. Synge, J.M. The Aran Islands. New York: Penguin, 1992. Yeats, W.B. Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth. London: Penguin, 1993. Yeats, W.B., and Thomas Kinsella. Davis, Mangan, Ferguson?: Tradition and the Irish Writer. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1970.


Lecture 2: Oscar Wilde: Critic as Artist, Artist as Critic

The Suggested Readings for this lecture are Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Intentions in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.

Few authors can have had years as productive as the one Oscar Wilde had in 1891. In April of that year he published the book-length version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. The following month, Intentions, a collection of essays, appeared. July saw the appearance of a collection of short stories, Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime and Other Stories. A collection of children’s stories, A House of Pomegranates, was issued in November. The year ended with Wilde writing his controversial play Salomé. Of course, for ten years previously, Wilde had been a prominent figure in the literary and cultural life of London, the city which at that time was, politically, economically, and in every other way that mattered, the capital of the world. As early as 1881, just two years after he graduated from Oxford, he was satirized as “the Fleshly Poet” Bunthorne in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience. Such notoriety only enhanced the reputation for flamboyant dress and outspoken utterance that Wilde was already in the process of creating for himself. And if the lengths to which Wilde went to make a name for himself in London seem to have a certain preemptive aspect, this is not entirely surprising, given his parents and background. Born in Dublin in 1854, his very name—Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde—has the kind of ornamental elaboration found in both his conversational and his writing style. His mother, neé Jane Francesca Elgee, claimed to have among her ancestors the poet Dante, and was a poet herself who, under the pen name “Speranza,” wrote reams of patriotic verse. Lady Wilde was also renowned as a hostess, whose salons in Dublin, and later in London, no doubt taught Oscar a thing or two about social performance.


Wilde’s father, Sir William, was one of the most eminent eye specialists of his day, and also a noted collector of Irish folklore. His reputation as a womanizer, however, led to his being successfully sued by one of his female patients, an experience that introduced Oscar to the realities of social humiliation and the frailty of reputation. It is not too difficult to imagine the influence such a background might have on questions of identity, and on the need to establish an identity that one could control, rather than be controlled by. And perhaps it was because of Wilde’s preoccupation with securing a pliable and plausible mask for himself that his career as a writer was slow to develop. In any case, there was not a great deal of promise in the plays and poems he produced prior to 1891 of the sparkling successes that lay ahead. But there was some promise, as can be seen from the version of The Picture of Dorian Gray that appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1890. And Intentions, 12

also, provides important insight into Wilde’s critical intelligence. The unusual use of dialogue in such essays as “The Critic as Artist” and “The Decay of Lying” in Intentions, not to mention the playful philosophizing in which the speakers engage, not only draw on Wilde’s own legendary gifts as a talker, but anticipate the exuberant paradoxes in which his plays abound. But, like the plays, Intentions is not all frothy verbiage. In them, Wilde also shows himself to be in touch with the latest artistic developments and, in arresting and illuminating ways, makes his own of the aesthetic sensibility expressed in the works of Walter Pater, under whose spell Wilde fell while at Oxford. The essays also highlight the artist—not merely the painter of pictures, but a new type of personage on the fringes of conventional society, a position from which he takes an aesthetic perspective on life. One version of what this perspective consists of may be gathered from Wilde’s statement that, “It is better to take pleasure in a rose than to put its root under a microscope.” As though to make a direct connection between Intentions and the revised version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde retained many of the essays’ aphorisms and observations and added a preface that in effect summarizes the positions the essays advance. Now enlarged by six new chapters, the novel is not only the major Wilde publication of 1891, it is also the work out of which the remarkable run of success the author was to enjoy for the next four years emerges. But Dorian Gray is significant not for echoing what Wilde had already said or for anticipating what he was going to say. Its importance is in the way it carries out a critique on its own materials, on how it puts into action Wilde’s claim in “The Truth of Masks” that, “A truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.” The acknowledgment and exploration of the contradictory are among the essential ingredients of Wilde’s work. Dorian Gray, a beautiful youth, realizes his desire to retain his youth and beauty by having the portrait that represents these qualities undergo change and decay. These changes are exaggerated in Dorian’s case by their alleged extremism and moral abandon, beginning with his callousness to the actress Sybil Vane, whom he’d thought of marrying, and culminating with the murder of Basil Hallward, the painter of the picture. The mentor of Dorian’s behavior is the cynical and amoral Lord Henry Wotton. The two deaths for which Dorian is responsible are not only those of characters who love him; both victims are also artists. Sybil is disposed of for not being talented enough, Basil for having a conscience. But the sight of how his portrait has degenerated prompts Dorian to destroy it. Inevitably, he destroys himself. The picture reverts to its original state, leaving Dorian to embody the horrors he wished to transfer to it. It is a paradox typical of Wilde that a story whose subject appears to be the growth of a young man turns out to be the story of a young man’s degeneration. To maintain the image of himself that pleases his vanity, he is encouraged by Lord Henry to feel free to debase himself. The meaning and consequences of experience are of less significance than the fact of experiencing. And experiencing attains a value through the lavishness and intensity of its sensory impact. Dorian confuses art and life, not only in how he regards his picture but in his following the prescriptions for supposedly enriching experiences that he finds in the novel Lord Henry loans him. The pivotal sequence in The Picture of 13

Dorian Gray, which shows Dorian acting on what he has read, owes a good deal to Joris-Karl Huysmans’ A Rebours (1884), and the novel contains additional evidence of Wilde’s artistic affiliation with the French literature of his time, in particular with that current of French writing devoted to investigations of unique sensibilities and to representations of decadence. This connection to the motifs of excess and depletion characteristic of fin de siècle works was important to Wilde intellectually, and again, it is typical of his artistic approach that he would use French thought to criticize English society.


And it is the upper class, the very echelon of society to which Wilde himself aspired, that is the target of his critique. The various ways in which the Vanes are affected by their social superiors is one aspect of the critique, as is the “do-goodism” of, for instance, Lord Henry’s Aunt Agatha, in which Lord Henry prevents Dorian from participating. And it is a member of the lowest class who, in the opium den, definitively describes Dorian’s as “the devil’s bargain.” In which case, it is Lord Henry who is the Mephistopheles of the Faustian pact. He carries out this role solely by the power of his personality. Neither Basil or Sybil stand a chance of influencing Dorian, whereas Lord Henry is nothing but an influence, a character who seems to have an answer for everything and as a result has evidently no need to experience anything. In the course of defending his novel from the intensely negative reactions that greeted its publication, Wilde described Lord Henry as a character who “seeks merely to be the spectator of life,” and thus a character in need of designating Dorian as worth watching. Yet, beneath all Lord Henry’s wit, worldliness, style, and culture, there seems to be a profound sense of disappointment and tedium, as though he is utterly incapable of giving himself a sense of direction or purpose. That such a figure is a lord of the realm might well have raised contemporary eyebrows, not to mention hackles. Dorian’s naïve ideal of eternal youth becomes, under Lord Henry’s supervision, a dark, adult fairy tale, one which, in a typically modern turn of events, shows the beauty and the beast to be aspects of the contradictory individual personality.



Questions 1. Why would Wilde have gone to lengths to make a name for himself? 2. How does Intentions provide insight into Wilde’s critical intelligence?

Suggested Reading Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. New York: Harper Perennial, 1989.

Other Books of Interest Ellmann, Richard, ed. The Artist as Critic: The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde. New York: Random House, 1969. ———. Oscar Wilde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, 1988. Holland, Merlin, and Rupert Hart-Davis, eds. The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. New York: Henry Holt & Co., Inc., 2000. Holland, Vyvyan. Oscar Wilde and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1960. Murray, Douglas. Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001. Pine, Richard. The Thief of Reason: Oscar Wilde and Modern Ireland. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, Ltd., 1995.


Lecture 3: Oscar Wilde: Social Comedian

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.

The glittering world of the social comedies that have made Wilde’s name a byword for theatrical flair seems a far cry from the bad end suffered by almost everybody associated with The Picture of Dorian Gray. These increasingly brilliant works appeared in rapid succession and give every impression of being written in a spirit of delight and ease—Lady Windermere’s Fan was produced in 1892, A Woman of No Importance in the following year, and in 1895, the year of his downfall, two Wilde hits were playing in the West End: An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. Yet, although their tone is far different, and though they avoid the melodrama and staginess that sometimes colors the action of The Picture of Dorian Gray, there are some suggestive and revealing links between the social comedies and the novel.


Before considering some of those links and their implications, however, a word or two is necessary about the theatrical form of Wilde’s comedies. And it should be appreciated also that at the time these plays were produced, comedies were few and far between on the London stage. Although Wilde relies on some of the properties of the contemporary world for his drama— telegrams, trains, photographs—he is also imparting his own particular spin to a venerable tradition of the English comedy of manners, in the formation of which Irish playwrights played a significant role. This tradition began in Restoration England (around the 1660s), and two of its major exponents at that time, William Congreve and George Farquhar, had Irish backgrounds. Concerned with love, property, mistaken identity, and uncertain ancestry, these plays revel in unmasking and comeuppance. Adapted to the social climate of the late eighteenth century by another Irish playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the form attained its finest expression, most notably in The School for Scandal. The social world of these plays is that of lords, ladies, and interlopers, very much the world that Wilde delights in presenting and exposing. This is the world of fashion and entitlement to which Lord Henry Wotton belongs, except that in the social comedies Wilde focuses equally on the place of dandies like Lord Henry in this world—Lord Illingworth of A Woman of No Importance and Lord Goring of An Ideal Husband are cases in point—and on its more conventional members, represented in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Lady Agatha and Lady Narborough. Wilde’s knowing and detached dandies offer a perspective on society from the outside, while the more orthodox members of society provide an insider’s view. In addition, Wilde’s use of such cosmetic features as ornately decorated sets, elaborate costumes, and eye-catching surfaces generally emphasize the fairy-tale quality of this world, making it at once fascinating and unreal. But all is not well in this never-never land, and 16

perhaps the most significant connection between Wilde and earlier practitioners of this genre of social comedy is in his reliance on concealment to drive his plots. The piquancy of the dramatic situations derives from the existence of certain facts that cannot be faced. For all the characters’ brilliant talk, some essential matters remain extremely difficult to talk about. (And of course the most obvious feature of Dorian’s possession of his picture is that he keeps it from view.) The essential matters in both Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Woman of No Importance are sexual. Unknown to herself, Lady Windermere is Mrs. Erlynne’s illegitimate daughter. Mrs. Erlynne attempts to blackmail Lord Windermere with this information, while Lady Windermere plans to leave her husband for Lord Darlington. Ultimately, Mrs. Erlynne saves the day, but perhaps an audience that has just been exposed to the sexual scandal involving Charles Stewart Parnell would be quite sensitive to the menace of public exposure. Illegitimacy and sexual misconduct are also central to the plot of A Woman of No Importance, while in An Ideal Husband—the most accomplished of the comedies apart from The Importance of Being Earnest—Wilde directs his subversive attention toward the political sphere. It may well be, as Lord Illingworth remarks in A Woman of No Importance, that “whatever the world has treated seriously belongs to the comedy side of things.” But these typically paradoxical observations do not quite dispel these plays’ sense that the upper crust can be threatened by cracks, and that even this sunlit world of high society contains a contradictory opposite that must be kept at bay. Wilde seems to echo that remark of Lord Illingworth’s in the subtitle of The Importance of Being Earnest—“A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.” The titles of both Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Woman of No Importance put triviality in mind, but neither play develops its full significance as an idea to the same degree as The Importance of Being Earnest, where it is not merely a dimension of the action but is built into the outlook of the four central characters. The exchanges between Algernon and his manservant Lane, Jack’s origins in a left-luggage office, and Gwendolyn and Cicely’s engagement to the Ernest of their dreams are all communicated with the same type of insouciance and levity. And in the same way, the plot is driven by such transparent inventions as the fictional Bunbury and the mythical Ernest. The revelation of the flimsiness of these inventions, rather than being damaging, reorganizes things in their desired alignment. So while the reversals of identity and fortune that occur may be serious in themselves, the quartet’s wit and poise ensures that their consequences are not necessarily as serious. Temperament triumphs over circumstance. “Ernest” overcomes being earnest: that’s his importance. And what Wilde called the “butterfly” disposition of his main characters proves more durable and more deft than the ponderous footwork of the more weighty characters. These others—Miss Prism, Canon Chasuble, and Lady Bracknell—are the earnest ones, and their orthodox views act as barriers to the young people’s pursuit of happiness. But although these barriers are grounded in tradition and hierarchical power, they are by no means permanent, as Canon’s and Miss Prism’s falling for each other indicates. There is a delightful anarchism in falling that makes it preferable to rigid uprightness. In not resisting their 17

impulses, this couple, like the other two, creatively contradict what they thought of as their appointed positions. Even that ogress Lady Bracknell is not found to be utterly unbending. The reversal of these three characters’ attitudes has the effect of giving the lie to the social roles they initially felt obliged to maintain. In that way, it complements the unmasking and subsequent liberation that the young lovers effect for themselves. Youth leading age, fiction not less necessary than truth, love before duty—these are some of the delightful, but also socially incisive, subversions of Wilde’s most memorable play.


From a formal point of view, also, The Importance of Being Earnest is also a significant advance on Wilde’s earlier comedies of manners. The choice of a central quartet is in itself a complex and ambitious development, not to mention the ways in which the quartet is kept off balance by “Ernest.” The interplay between the different members of the youthful quartet is a triumph of deftness and timing, even by the high standards Wilde had already set. And the contending interests of young and old gives the play an additional layer of comic options and cultural insights. Wilde’s language has its finest showcase here, too. Not only does it avoid the sometimes melodramatic pronouncements that can barge in at critical moments in his other plays, Wilde shows an altogether fuller appreciation of his language’s capacity to sustain, and indeed to exemplify, the play’s emotional choreography. All Wilde’s social comedies honor the possibility of living happily ever after, which comedy traditionally promises—never more so than in The Importance of Being Earnest, where the strong desires of both Gwendolyn and Cicely for precisely such an outcome is striking from the start. It is the strength of that desire that “Ernest” releases in each girl. Once released, this desire enacts a comic revision of the importance of manners by showing, in a typical paradox, that they are most important when not taken seriously.



Questions 1. What are some of the links between Wilde’s social comedies and the novel? 2. What is the nature of the social world of Wilde’s plays?

Suggested Reading Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. New York: Harper Perennial, 1989.

Other Books of Interest Beckson, Karl. The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia. New York: AMS Press, 1998. McCormack, Jerusha, ed. Wilde the Irishman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.


Lecture 4: The Life of Sebastian Melmoth The Suggested Readings for this lecture are Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” and Salomé in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.

If, in the opinion of Buck Mulligan in the opening of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “We have grown out of Wilde and paradoxes,” the first person to have realized this was Wilde himself. This is one of the conclusions a reading of his later works suggests. (A word here about chronology. Although Wilde wrote Salomé in 1891, he was not granted permission to perform in England by the Lord Chamberlain’s office, which at that time licensed plays for performance, because it was forbidden to put biblical material on stage. The play was first published in France in 1893. English publication, accompanied by homoerotic pictures by Aubrey Beardsley, caused an outcry. Salomé received its first production in Paris in 1896, while Wilde was still in prison.) The refrain of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”—“For each man kills the thing he loves/And so himself must die”—may have in it an ironic echo of The Picture of Dorian Gray, but the spirit in which the lines are offered is far from playful or paradoxical. Instead, it draws attention to the presence of the victim, the condemned man, which is a constant in these three works.


The presence of victimization first makes itself known in Wilde’s De Profundis. Written in prison in the form of a letter to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, the letter is understandably concerned with victimization. But Wilde retained the victim’s identity after his release by assuming the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth—names taken from St. Sebastian, whose arrow-pierced body made his martyrdom legendary, and from a nineteenth-century Irish gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Maturin, to whom Wilde’s mother was related. Although De Profundis is in the form of a letter, to think of it in strictly epistolary form hardly does the document justice. It is also a formidable act of self-dramatization, a speech from the dock, a provocative restatement of Wilde’s artistic persona, and a condemnation of all that Wilde found unimaginative and unsympathetic in the social codes that condemned him. The title is taken from the opening words of Psalm 13: “out of the depths.” The letter begins with a history of his relationship with Bosie, as Douglas was known. Their passion and profligacy are well documented; Wilde even includes details of the money he spent in the course of the affair. Then the focus shifts to Wilde’s examination of who he was, and who he might be in the future. It transpires that what he has retained is a powerful sense of his own significance as an artist. “I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age,” he declares. “I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram.” More surprisingly, however, Wilde then goes on to compare himself with Christ, whom he regards as the prototype of the suffering artist. And he offers some striking readings of 20

Christ’s character as they stand, so to speak, in symbolic relation to his own, or at least to the character he was now attempting to create for himself. Among the points of affiliation are Christ’s attachment to sinners and his abhorrence of hypocrisy. Like the letter’s opening, this part is not sustained either, and eventually gives way to criticisms of the Douglas family. Nevertheless, De Profundis is a key document in the Wilde canon, both for its passages of stylistic brilliance and its treatment of such central themes as crime and punishment, love and rage, and redemption and renewal. The born-again artist whom Wilde envisages in De Profundis did not flourish. Upon his release from prison, he maintained a silence that was only broken once, by “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” This is an atypical work, not so much in content, perhaps, as in its lack of flair and polish. Wilde himself was not particularly pleased with the final product. At the same time, however, its uncharacteristic directness and rawness does convey a certain power, and the poem is, at one level, a courageous protest against capital punishment. It certainly succeeds in making the point that if being taken through the various phases leading to the scaffold is demanding on the reader, it must be many times as exacting for the condemned man. Taken from an actual incident that occurred during Wilde’s time in Reading Prison, the poem also interestingly adapts the interaction between the insider’s and the outsider’s points of view used to such fine effect in his social comedies. Here the technique is applied to subject matter and circumstances from the opposite end of the social spectrum. Again, crime and punishment are clearly the main concerns. The sympathy and solidarity Wilde extends to the murderer are not necessarily Christ-like. But the poem does pose some searching questions about the human plight of the victim and the human reality of his crime, as well as about the dehumanizing nature of capital punishment. Wilde both feels for his subject and thinks about its implications. His feelings are directed toward himself. But his thought is addressed to the audience. In this way, Wilde raises the disturbing possibility that members of society, in whose name execution is carried out, are in some unknowing and indifferent way the hangman’s accomplices. The intimacy and detail with which Wilde deals with the case are precisely what the public washes its hands of. His indictment of prison in the poem—“It is only what is good in Man/That wastes and withers there”—inevitably has an autobiographical ring. And here, obviously, fairy-tale allure has been exhausted. But if, as Wilde claimed in De Profundis, his experiences can be seen as representative of the age, then his prison experiences must be taken as seriously as the rest. In view of its date of composition, it seems uncanny that Salomé should also deal with victims and punishment. But the play’s theme is not the only reason why it occupies a unique position among Wilde’s works. And it is appropriate that it was written in Paris, as it is Wilde’s French play. This means that not only did Wilde write Salomé in French, but that it was read by some leading French authors—Flaubert, Gautier, Mallarmé—to whom the intensity of the confrontation between opposing civilizations (represented by Herod and John the Baptist) and the oriental exoticism of Salomé’s dance of the seven veils had appealed. And Wilde used the French style of modern, symbolic drama, so that Salomé marks a significant departure from drawing-room comedy to a theater of passion and violence. Even the play’s spare, repetitive language 21

makes it stand out from all Wilde’s other works. The result is Wilde’s most artistically sophisticated and intellectually daring work.


And because it is compressed into one act and is deprived of a plot line, Salomé presents a challenge to reader and audience alike. But then the central character herself presents a challenge that the two men affected by it find difficult to handle. On the one hand, Herod, the secular power, has trouble in knowing quite what to do about the kind of power that Salomé emits. On the other hand, the spiritual power, Iokanaan (as Wilde calls John the Baptist), resists the young woman’s desire but is destroyed as a result. Indeed, Salomé herself ends up a victim of her passion, crushed by the symbolic no less than the actual weight of the shields of Herod’s troops. The gathering of the various foreign representatives at Herod’s court shows his status as a ruler. But his political eminence apparently makes the subversive force of Salomé’s sexuality intolerable. Alternatively, the spiritual force that will ultimately transform Herod’s world, represented by Iokanaan, is evidently doomed by its inability to accommodate what Salomé embodies. Various other sexual cross-currents also reveal themselves in the course of the play. In all, Salomé seems like a collision of forces rather than an interplay of characters, with Salomé herself as much driven by her wilful power as in control of it, as her lack of a motive for her behavior indicates. Yet even in the play’s stark clash of opposites, recognizable Wildean concerns declare themselves—the power of personality, the impact of sensory experience, the difficulty of separating love from illicit behavior, the special claims that the victim makes on the audience, and above all, perhaps, the contradictory capacity of beauty to destroy.



Questions 1. How does victimization make itself known in De Profundis? 2. In what ways does Salomé present a challenge to readers and audiences?

Suggested Reading Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. New York: Harper Perennial, 1989.

Other Books of Interest Hyde, H. Montgomery. The Trials of Oscar Wilde. New York: Dover Publications, 1973. Kilroy, Thomas. The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde. Loughcrew, IR: The Gallery Press, 1997.


Lecture 5: W.B. Yeats: From the Celtic Twilight

The Suggested Readings for this lecture are W.B. Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “Who Goes with Fergus?,” “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” “A Woman Homer Sung,” and “No Second Troy” in The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems.

William Butler Yeats (1856–1939) was not only the leading English-language poet of his generation, he almost single-handedly invented the idea of modern Irish literature. There are a number of ways in which he accomplished the latter feat—through his energy as a cultural propagandist and controversialist, in his role in the founding of the Abbey Theater, and of course by the technical excellence with which he handled Irish materials in his poetry. Yet in many ways, Yeats was hostile to the modern world, and his sense of tradition as both a concept and a body of cultural works remained a crucial imaginative resource to him throughout his career.


Yeats’s early work illustrates how complicated his interest in tradition was. One aspect of this interest was inspired by the landscape around the town of Sligo, in the northwest of Ireland, where Yeats spent a good deal of time as a child. This landscape is rich in sites mentioned in the pre-Christian sagas and legends, which Yeats was later to read, and these sites, such as Ben Bulben and Knocknarea, became permanent features of Yeats’s poetic vision. In addition, this was a part of the world whose native people seemed largely untouched by the materialism and hectic pace of modern life and among whom one could still hear age-old peasant lore about the fairy folk and other uncanny entities. The appeal of such a landscape is evident in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” where it appears as a dream of deliverance from “the pavement grey” of the city (for Yeats, the modern is usually a synonym for the metropolitan), offering the promise of independence and self-sufficiency. The combination of vision and desire evoked by the poem’s opening affirmation of “I will,” together with the representation of a voice speaking openly and directly, introduces the reader to some of Yeats’s typical artistic strategies and artistic resources. And it should also be noted that not less important than the real Innisfree is the state of mind to which the idea of it generates, a mindset relying heavily on atmosphere, sensory experience, and sensitivity of spirit. Another aspect of tradition that was a formative influence on Yeats comprised those sagas and legends themselves. Their highly colorful narratives, dramatic conflicts, otherworldly powers, and larger-than-life warriors and nobility lent Yeats a repertoire of archetypal figures in whom he could invest qualities of integrity, courage, and indomitability. These qualities all testify to the power of personality, of the capacity of the hero to resist the force of whatever particular circumstance he finds himself in. Fergus is a case in point, a poet-king who renounced the throne in favor of pursuing his own individual and more sensory pursuits. His behavior is offered as an example in 24

“Who Goes with Fergus?,” representing the possibility of breakthrough in the first stanza, and in the second a recommendation to the younger generation to turn their gaze to uplifting, lofty matters. As in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” separateness and going one’s own way are valued, and by projecting such qualities, Yeats’s treatment of this ancient Irish material contributed to the overall mood of cultural nationalism in the Ireland of the day. The same qualities, together with steadfastness and fidelity to one’s vision and one’s sense of the ideal, form the subject of “The Song of Wandering Aengus” (god of youth, beauty, and poetry, king of the mythological realm of Tír na nóg—pronounced “teer nuh nogue”—the Land of Eternal Youth). Poems of this kind, with their emphasis on mood, feeling, atmosphere, desire, and natural surroundings, had many imitators and are known by the generic name of the Celtic Twilight, which is also the name of a Yeats collection of folklore published in 1893. But these strictly Irish influences on Yeats’s development are complicated by other interests of his. One of these is a lifelong involvement with the occult, spiritualism, and magic, the anti-material character of which the poet also found in the traditions and superstitions of the Irish peasantry. And English romantic poetry, particularly as represented in the works of Shelley and Blake, was also another tradition of considerable intellectual and artistic importance to Yeats. In addition, as a young man in London, he also associated with the poets of the day who shared his aesthetic preoccupation with dreams, longings, otherness, and sexual sublimation. The high point of Yeats’s poems in this idiom may be found in The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), which places highly stylized love poems alongside poems with a more obvious Irish background. By the time Yeats published this book, however, he had learned the hard way that love was not merely a dimension of the poetic temperament. The person from whom he learned the difference was named Maud Gonne, with whom the poet fell hopelessly in love, despite their marked differences in temperament and outlook. For not only did Maud Gonne reject Yeats, she was also an ardent nationalist and political activist—quite a firebrand, in fact. However, it was principally because of “the troubling of his life” that he said Maud Gonne produced that Yeats’s poetry began to evolve, forsaking its timeless realms and generalized emotion in favor of the historical present and personal feeling. Even without Maud Gonne for a muse, however, it is likely that Yeats’s poetry would have evolved in the years following The Wind Among the Reeds, as it was in this period that he became an increasingly visible and outspoken defender of his vision of Ireland’s cultural future. The establishment of the Abbey Theater in 1904 was the main reason for this greater exposure. With his friend and writing associate Lady Augusta Gregory, of Coole Park, County Galway, Yeats had been engaged with the idea of a national theater from 1897 onwards. The Abbey Theater was the ultimate embodiment of this idea; Yeats, Lady Gregory, and the playwright J.M. Synge were its first directors. By 1904, Yeats had also written a number of plays, including Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902), a strong expression of nationalist sentiment. In its first production, Maud Gonne played the part of the Poor Old Woman, an embodiment of Ireland. (It was to this work Yeats 25

was referring when he wondered in “The Man and the Echo,” a poem from his old age, “Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?”)


But it is in the poems that Maud Gonne inspired—in particular, “No Second Troy,” “Words,” and “A Woman Homer Sung”—that we can see the mature poet coming into his own. These poems retain the simple language and clear-cut sense of form that are the best features of his earliest work. Now, however, the voice is more intimate, more thoughtful. It’s as though the reader overhears the poet talking to himself, assessing the quality and value of the experience of being an unrequited lover. And this use of the voice shows Yeats’s mastery of the poetic form that he was to use to such arresting effect throughout the rest of his poetic career, the dramatic monologue. The lover’s heightened experiences give the romantic pursuit of an ideal in a poem such as “A Woman Homer Sung” a specificity and a context. At the same time, the beloved retains the status of an ideal—somebody to be looked up to, as the motif of picturing and looking in the poem attests. She is larger than life, a mythological figure, another Helen of Troy. Such a personage seems not to belong to the realm of ordinary mortals that “life and letters” connote, although, of course, in what is another characteristic aspect of Yeats’s verse, the poem is in effect that special space where both the ideal and the real may coexist. It is hardly surprising that such a commanding presence and powerful personality may be thought of in the same historically complicated terms as Helen; that is, as somebody who is so exceptional that it is no wonder that the world is seriously disturbed by them. By celebrating Maud Gonne’s power, the lover finds a means of reconciling himself to political activities that otherwise he is reluctant to endorse. More importantly, these poems show the poet embodying the difficulty of accepting the here and now and his pained acknowledgment of the struggle between the real and the ideal that human experience discloses. The recognition of the dual and contrary relationship between self and world that comes to the fore in these poems is one that nourished Yeats’s poetic vision throughout the rest of his writing life.



Questions 1. In what ways did Yeats help to invent the idea of modern Irish literature? 2. What aspects of tradition had a formative influence on Yeats?

Suggested Reading Yeats, William B. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems. Rev. 2nd ed. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Other Books of Interest Donoghue, Denis. William Butler Yeats. New York: Viking, 1971. Jeffares, A.N. A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B. Yeats. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984. Kiely, Benedict. Yeats’s Ireland: An Enchanted Vision. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1989. MacBride, Maud Gonne. A Servant of the Queen: Her Own Story. Dublin: Golden Eagle Books, 1950. Tóibín, Colm. Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush. Dublin: Lilliput, 2002. Yeats, W.B. Essays and Introductions. New York: Macmillan, 1961.


Lecture 6: W.B. Yeats: The National Poet

The Suggested Readings for this lecture are W.B. Yeats’s “September 1913,” “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death,” “The Fisherman,” and “Easter 1916” in The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems.

Yeats said that, “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” One of the ways in which the quarrel with himself developed is stated in the “Introductory Rhymes” of Responsibilities (1914), arguably the pivotal volume in Yeats’s artistic growth. In these lines, the poet thinks himself as unworthy of his illustrious family lineage, with little to show for the traditions he inherited. But although the selfdoubt and distress of these lines recur later on in his work, Yeats in this collection of poems also shows how adept he was of making poetry from the quarrel with others.


Indeed, it is his apparent failure to make a mark on the way those others thought that lies behind the unhappy tone of the “Introductory Rhymes.” These others are identified at the beginning of “September 1913,” where in their craven, timid, self-seeking, and ungenerous outlook they set the social and cultural tone of the nation. The particular occasion to which the title of the poem refers is the lockout by leading employers of members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which led to much suffering among Dublin’s working class. In earlier poems, Yeats had already identified the lockout’s leaders as hostile to the kind of artistic enlightenment and cultural well-being that he was attempting to introduce. Now, however, he considers these prominent citizens as traitors to a proud Irish tradition of service and self-sacrifice. The poem’s tone is bitter, its rhythm aggressive, and its refrain of “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone” sounds fatalistic. The patriotic tradition that Yeats uses as a stick to beat his enemies is made up of the powerful personalities mentioned in the poem, all of whom gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom. Though those mentioned by name are nineteenth-century figures, the reference to “the wild geese” extends the tradition back to the end of the seventeenth century (the Catholic aristocracy that went into the exile after their defeat by William of Orange are known as the wild geese). And the tradition is also brought up to date with the mention of John O’Leary, a member of the Fenians who himself spent many years in exile, and who was one of the poet’s early mentors and introduced him to the ancient heroic literature. Yet, as the poem concludes, if such great men were to return and practice what they preached in September 1913, their idealism would be regarded as no more than a passing fancy inspired by “some woman’s yellow hair.” Such is the small-mindedness of the times. Evidence of the heroic spirit may be difficult to find, but it is not entirely absent, and in commemoration of the death of Lady Gregory’s only son, 28

Robert, Yeats assimilates him into his pantheon of exemplary and powerful personalities. Gregory, who was a member of the Royal Flying Corps and who was shot down early in 1918, is nothing if not his own man in the poem. Yeats honors his singularity and integrity by giving him his own voice and his own unique set of attitudes. The poem’s opening “I know” establishes Gregory’s value by indicating that although he is well aware of what might happen, it doesn’t deter him, nor does Gregory seek ideological or political justification for his participation in the war. His loyalties are to his own native place (“Kiltartan”) and to his own nature. The sense of composure that emerges from Gregory’s knowledge of his own mind is particularly, and unnervingly, striking in the poem’s conclusion. The way in which Gregory weighs his military service shows a remarkable degree of self-possession, courage, and investment in the intensity of the moment. It is as though he overcomes “my fate” by being able to confront it in such an unblinking manner, without emotion or self-importance. Here Yeats attributes to a figure who appears to be at the mercy of history an outlook that shares the same qualities as those Yeats imagined the ancient Irish heroes to possess. These qualities enable the hero to rise above his time-bound historical circumstances, an ability with which the patriots in “September 1913” are also credited, and which are seen in a broader cultural context in Yeats’s more elaborate “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory.” Not only can a transcendent possibility be extrapolated from real life, it is also feasible in purely imaginative terms. This is the force of “The Fisherman,” an image that comes into the mind’s eye as a means of counteracting the vulgar and contentious “reality” of the town. In contrast to metropolitan sound and fury, the fisherman embodies pastoral peace and quiet (and the fact that he’s a fly fisherman means that he has the time and means to fish for sport and not to feed himself). His “grey Connemara clothes”—made, that is, from untreated wool from the west of Ireland—make him one with the speckled rock and the frothy stream. And again it is the vision of singularity, solitariness, and composure that the poet desires to project. In terms of range and ambition, it is a long way from “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” to this poem, but in terms of theme and the force of imaginative will, the distance is not as great as it may seem. And then, most surprisingly, it turns out that romantic Ireland turns out not to be dead and gone after all. This is what the rebellion of Easter 1916 says to Yeats, even though, like everybody else in Dublin, it was the last thing he expected of the rebels. As the poem’s first stanza indicates, the rebels were rather anonymous lower middle-class young men, not particularly impressive to meet and not taken seriously. But then, the rebellion itself took the city and the country unawares, and was initially met with widespread shock and outrage. It was only after the leaders of the rebellion, some of whom Yeats mentions by name, were executed by the British authorities that public sympathy swung in their direction. One of the most impressive features of “Easter 1916” is the way in which each successive stanza attempts to cope with such a startling turn of events. In the first stanza, both circumstances and personnel seem unpromising. The second stanza notes how extraordinary it is to know who the rebels were— aristocrats, poets, scholars, and even the “drunken vainglorious lout” who is 29


Major John MacBride, whom Maud Gonne had married in 1903. Then there is an attempt to regard the rebellion in metaphorical terms. The rebels’ dedication “troubles the living stream.” And finally, the possibility of second-guessing the rebels is entertained. One can pretend that they haven’t died, or one can believe that England would indeed be as good as its word by putting into effect the bill granting Irish legislative independence, which was passed in 1914 but suspended for the duration of World War I. Whichever way one looks at the rebellion, however, there’s no denying the fact that Ireland will never be the same again, as the refrain makes plain. The list of names at the end adds to that given in “September 1913,” as though to indicate that the tradition of heroic sacrifice lives on. And the place where that tradition is best preserved is the poem, as the deliberateness of “I write it out in a verse” affirms. By means of poetry, the extraordinary upheaval finds it fitting that art makes good the violence of history. The ideal realm is the necessary complement to the real.



Questions 1. How does Yeats make poetry from the “quarrel with others”? 2. What is embodied by the subject of “The Fisherman”?

Suggested Reading Yeats, William B. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems. Rev. 2nd ed. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Other Books of Interest Foster, Roy F. W.B. Yeats: A Life: The Apprentice Mage, 1865–1914. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pierce, David. Yeats’s Worlds: Ireland, England and the Poetic Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. Yeats, W.B. Autobiographies. New York: Scribner, 1999.


Lecture 7 W.B. Yeats: The Triumph of Failure

The Suggested Readings for this lecture are W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” “Leda and the Swan,” “The Municipal Gallery Revisited,” and “The Circus Animals Desertion” in The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems.


The birth of a terrible beauty through violence was a phenomenon that engaged Yeats’s imagination for many years following “Easter 1916.” And rather than the surprise and awe that the rebellion inspired, the response in later poems is less confident. The questions with which both “The Second Coming” and “Leda and the Swan” conclude are not entirely rhetorical. Their tone also conveys dread and anxiety. These poems also treat in a more universal manner the bloody parturition of historical change, with “The Second Coming” referring to the prospect of the Christian era coming to an end and “Leda and the Swan” meditating on the mythological origins of historical events and wondering aloud if human beings are the agents of invasive gods or their playthings. When Zeus raped and impregnated Leda, did she at the same time acquire some knowledge of what the consequences would be? (Helen of Troy, another terrible beauty, was one of the offspring of this encounter.) If Leda did, she’s the god’s accomplice. If she did not, she’s the unknowing conduit of the god’s destructive might. And adding to the unnerving quality of the poem is its subliminal reminders of Christ’s conception at the Annunciation. The intimate coexistence of myth and history in the poem is an important expression of one way in which Yeats’s thinking developed in his later verse. Related to this development is the theory of history that he began to evolve not only in the light of the continuing violence of the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Civil War (1922–1923), but also as a response to the cataclysmic geopolitical and social changes that World War I brought about. The full statement of this theory is given in complicated cosmological detail in Yeats’s prose work, A Vision (1926). Yeats also coined a special vocabulary to express his theory, one term of which, “gyre” (pronounced with a hard “g”), occurs in the first light of “The Second Coming.” Briefly, Yeats imagined history as two spinning cones, the sharp tip of one inserted in the broad base of the other, so that as one cone reaches its apex its rotating energy is transmitted to the other’s base. Yeats called these cones gyres, and the resulting theory of history is a cyclical one. Thus the poem fears that the “mere anarchy” in which the current era is supposedly coming to an end is going to give rise to some almost unthinkable “rough beast.” Here esoteric terminology, nightmarish imaginings, and dramatic urgency of tone combine to strike the apocalyptic note with which Yeats’s verse frequently resonates.


In addition to the wonderful swooping rhythm of the opening two lines of “The Second Coming” (note their sharp contrast with the third line), the image of the falcon also has aristocratic connotations. Historically speaking, fowling was the sport of the landed gentry. And speaking metaphorically, the falconer—the person in charge—is the one who can bend the bird’s instinct and ferocity to his discipline and will. If the falcon cannot hear the falconer, the traditional hierarchical structure of society is no longer in place. Many of Yeats’s magnificent later poems deal with the collapse of the aristocratic ideal, making the elegy, both for titled personages and for a way of life, the most representative form of Yeats’s poetry in old age. Such a collapse, whose antidemocratic aspects should be taken into account as well as its other features, had a direct historical provenance. During the War of Independence, many of the so-called “Big Houses”—as the homes of landlords and the aristocrats are called in Ireland—were burned to the ground by the I.R.A. on the grounds of past injustice or the English sympathies of their owners. To Yeats, these houses were not so much homes as structures that had stood the test of time and which thereby represented not only continuity but tradition, as well as artistic cultivation and the leisure to develop it. Yeats’s own Thoor Ballylee, a Norman tower in County Galway, where he lived during the 1920s, is architecturally atypical of the houses in question, but in its antiquity and structural shape, it was regarded by the poet as a symbol of the traditional values preserved within aristocratic dwellings. (The poem entitled “The Tower” and the poetic sequence “Meditations in Time of Civil War” are among the most famous of the Yeats poems dealing with these houses and their symbolic value.) A variation on the Big House theme is “The Municipal Gallery Revisited.” This is one of those late poems in which one sees Yeats carrying a rearguard action, defending what his ideals stood for, even though history has marginalized them, and honoring those who shared his ideals. The actual Municipal Gallery in Dublin is a big town house. Its other name is the Hugh Lane Gallery, named for Lady Gregory’s nephew. The city fathers of Dublin turned down the house’s collection of Impressionist paintings in 1913. Yeats protested in verse and in other ways at such short-sightedness. Here the poet comes as a pilgrim, paying homage to depictions of historical events of his time and to some of the leading actors in them, but more importantly (and here “with emotion I sink down”) to those who worked with him on his cultural vision for the country (“dream of the noble and the beggarman”). The two most significant of these coworkers, Lady Gregory and J.M. Synge, are juxtaposed against the other scenes and personages of the age, which fail to hold the poet’s attention. And although they are both now deceased, they live on by virtue of their portraits. Once again, Yeats upholds art, and the house of art, as means of counteracting mortality and the vicissitudes of history. And the simple dignity of his tribute to friendship, with which the poem closes, in addition to being a moving personal statement, may also be read as Yeats distancing himself from the somewhat tribal group-think of party politics that eclipsed his high-minded cultural ambitions.


The strange thing about much of Yeats’s later poetry is that it makes a success of failure. To a certain extent, Yeats’s cultural project failed, but in his poems, he can redeem his aims imaginatively. In this he comes to exemplify some of the qualities that he attributed to the ancient heroes and to modern heroes such as Robert Gregory, the 1916 rebels and, especially in the late poems, Charles Stewart Parnell. “We were the last romantics,” as he said in the poem “Coole Park and Ballylee 1931,” and he tries to maintain a balance between the pride and pain such an identity occasioned. Even when, as in “The Circus Animals Desertion,” the poet begins by admitting that poetry does not come easily to “a broken man” (broken by age, that is), he still identifies with “old themes.” And the poem’s central section revisits again the poet’s repertoire, now regarded with a detached but nevertheless fondly proprietorial eye. What his romancing arose from is the question he confronts. The answer is not very alluring. Rather, it’s ugly and squalid, a view of life that creates the necessity of an alternative view, a “ladder” by which to rise above the level of the polluted common thoroughfare. In the act of saying that this alternative view is no longer available to him, Yeats nevertheless retains it at the center of his imaginative attention. Admitting that he “must” accept the mortal lot and take his place “In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” does not mean that he’s resigned to the idea. In a sense, he’s still fighting to maintain his vision. He still testifies to the significance of his own tradition. The “ladder” may be gone, but it certainly is not forgotten. Mere mortality should not diminish faith in ideals. A similar lofty avowal occurs in the epitaph he wrote for himself in “Under Ben Bulben”: “Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!”


In other words, do not be brought down by the common human destiny; stay on your horse. The lines are a fitting expression of the integrity, tenacity, pride, and will that constitute this poet’s indomitable personality.



Questions 1. How did war affect the development of Yeats’s theories of history? 2. What are the connotations of the falcon in “The Second Coming”?

Suggested Reading Yeats, William B. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems. Rev. 2nd ed. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Other Books of Interest Ellmann, Richard. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. Foster, Roy F. W.B. Yeats: A Life: The Arch-Poet, 1915–1939. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.


Lecture 8: James Joyce: The Dublin Writer

The Suggested Readings for this lecture are James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners in The Portable James Joyce.

In many respects, Joyce is the equal and opposite of Yeats in Irish literary history. Joyce’s imagination tended toward epic, Yeats’s toward lyric. Joyce’s art is comic, Yeats’s tragic. Joyce was metropolitan in temper and outlook, Yeats rural. Joyce came from the actively emerging Catholic middle class, Yeats from the gently declining Protestant middle class. Joyce was musically inclined, Yeats was tone deaf and a devotee of the plastic arts. Joyce’s representative type was the citizen, Yeats’s the hero. And Joyce’s absence from the cultural and political scene in Ireland contrasts with Yeats’s intense concern for both.


Joyce spent the final thirty-five years of his life in Europe, and it was there that all his major works were written. His remoteness from the great events of those years, together with the status he attained as one of the high priests of Modernist literature, were thought to disqualify him from being considered Irish—a good example of the narrow-mindedness prevalent in Ireland, against which Yeats railed. This outlook saw those who were not National as not being Irish. But to identify Joyce with the “silence, exile and cunning” that his fictional alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, said he would use to preserve both his sense of himself and his integrity as an artist, is a bit of a simplification. Joyce may have left Dublin, but he ensured that it never left him. And one way of thinking about his works is as an invaluable compendium of, among many other items, information, criticism, possibility, and artfully concealed sympathy, which taken all together represent one of the most lavish gifts a native son has ever given his birthplace. It goes without saying that Joyce is an Irish writer, but to see him as a Dublin writer is essential to getting the full flavor of his achievement. Through his desire “to give Dublin to the world,” he gave the world to Dublin. To realize this desire, Joyce had to discover the means by which he could best reproduce not only the city’s sights and sounds, but also the demands of the type of life being typically lived there. While still a student, he discovered the plays of Henrik Ibsen, which also had the ambition of unmasking the capital of a small, dependent country, as Norway was at that time. And, to a lesser extent, Joyce was also influenced by the somewhat brutalist school of realism, whose main exponent was the French novelist Emile Zola. Thus, Joyce was rather skeptical of idealism and of flights of imaginative fancy, though he quite understood how they could be inspired. In a sense, Joyce tended to play down the imagination as such and to dedicate himself to finding the verbal equivalents of the experiences and observations with 36

which Dublin provided him. The highly differentiated sensory input that the city generated—“the stream of life,” as it’s called in Ulysses—was what engaged him, rather than ideas of purpose and uplift. Life as presently lived offered sufficient subject matter, although, of course, he fully acknowledged the shaping influences of past and future, memory and desire, on that present life. Stephen Dedalus is an exception to this general tendency, and he shows more than a little romanticism in his makeup. But ultimately, Joyce forsakes Stephen in favor of Leopold Bloom. To be faithful to the city, Joyce developed a verbal art capable of reproducing not merely the character of Dublin but, more importantly, the character of experiencing it. What he developed assumed two complementary forms, which he rehearsed in his first two works of fiction. In the novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he establishes the importance of subjective consciousness. On the other hand, in the short stories of Dubliners, what Joyce considered typical of the citizenry is given impersonal, objective representation, so that it seems to speak for itself. The subjective consciousness in A Portrait of the Artist is Stephen Dedalus, whose story is based to a great extent on that of Joyce’s own growth from childhood to early manhood. While the narrative certainly possesses a discernible time scheme, its organization is not strictly determined by that, but rather by the distinctive phases of the growth of Stephen’s awareness of who he is, what he needs, and the manner in which his environment either does or does not meet those needs. First we see his moral intelligence, followed by, in turn, his sexual awakening, his spiritual vulnerability, the emergence of his artistic temperament, and finally, his capacity to think for himself. In a manner that may owe something to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the changing young man attains stability by choosing for himself the permanent identity of the artist. The pivotal event in the change is Stephen’s sighting of the young girl by the shore at the end of chapter 4. He sees her both as she is, a girl, and in his imagination, as a bird. This capacity to see the world as it is and at the same time to make something of it derives from Stephen’s identification with his namesake, Dedalus, the mythological ancient Greek whose great achievement was to escape, by flight, from the labyrinth at Knossos (Stephen subsequently speaks of nets and flights). The invocation of Dedalus is also important in view of Stephen’s lack of a father figure. The fathers he has known, whether biological or clerical, fail him. Further, the distress of Simon, Stephen’s father, during the celebrated Christmas dinner scene in chapter 1 of the novel is brought about by the failure of his own social and political father figure, Charles Stewart Parnell. This scene is followed immediately by Stephen’s being unfairly punished at school. Not only are these two scenes an early indication that Stephen will have to contend with discontinuities in political, religious, and familial traditions, they also expose the youngster to the power of language. This power is conclusively enacted in the hellfire sermon of chapter 3, where the degree of the priest’s control is reproduced in the uninterrupted length of his harangues. Stephen’s appropriation of this power for his own personal, secular purposes is expressed in his unchecked sermonizing in chapter 5. And the novel ends with Stephen taking over as narrator, as somebody with the 37

power to authorize his own language. This capacity carries with it the responsibility of living up to the findings of one’s own consciousness, a responsibility that Stephen eagerly takes on. He is not an image of national freedom or cultural reorientation or political enfranchisement. But he is an indispensable example of the liberating value of thinking for oneself. So focused is A Portrait of the Artist on Stephen that Dublin remains far in the background, and it is to Dubliners we must turn for a fuller sense of the overall social and cultural conditions that Stephen is leaving behind. Joyce applied the word “paralysis” to the lifeless tenor of turn-of-the-century Dublin, and indeed many of the stories in the collection concern failure to fly. The population group from which Joyce draws his characters are the shop assistants and clerks who are necessary to maintain the prevailing economic and administrative regimes. Accustomed to the inherent dependence of their social positions, the crisis of their stories frequently occurs when they find themselves resourceless and alone, not knowing what to think. Dependence also typifies their family situations, with comparably stultifying consequences. The candor with which Joyce dealt with his material resulted in his first, but by no means his last, brush with censorship.


Joyce wishes to do more than merely make an exhibition of Dublin’s spiritual and cultural impoverishment. He also wishes to engage the reader, and he manages to do so without violating the objective qualities of his careful prose by the innovation known as the epiphany. Taken from the Greek, this term literally means “showing forth,” and it can be seen to greatest effect at the end of the stories. Rather than ending in some conventional climactic denoument, the stories of Dubliners seem simply to terminate, or break off. Their illustrative moment passes. But in passing it leaves a trace from which the reader can develop some comprehension of what has transpired, some turn of speech, a focus on some material object, some physical circumstance. By giving this detail more emphasis than the character can, readers are able to extend their own imaginative sympathy to the situation, redeeming by means of understanding the constrained and anonymous existences that the author has indicated are worthy of our attention. The greatest story in Dubliners, and one of the greatest short stories in English, is “The Dead.” Yet, in certain respects, it is not a typical Dubliners story, differing by its middle-class setting, its initially convivial and hospitable atmosphere, its musical culture, and its affirmation of passion. Another major difference is that its protagonist, Gabriel Conroy, does have the emotional and moral wherewithal to acknowledge the significance of what his wife, Gretta, tells him. In allowing himself to be moved, in admitting the sense of difference inherent in others’ experiences, Gabriel reveals something of value about himself. Gretta has revealed to him a more heightened sense of experience than he is capable of reaching. But his awareness of his limitations gives him a degree of control over them, so that despite the sense of futility and demoralization that pervades the collection, the final note is humane and generous and honors the resources of an individual consciousness. Joyce was twenty-five years of age when he wrote this story.



Questions 1. How did Ibsen and Zola influence Joyce’s work? 2. How did Joyce’s verbal art reproduce the Dublin experience?

Suggested Reading Joyce, James. The Portable James Joyce. New York: Penguin, 1976.

Other Books of Interest Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. ———. James Joyce: Selected Letters. New York: Viking, 1975. Joyce, James. Giacomo Joyce. New York: Viking, 1968. ———. Stephen Hero. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1963. Joyce, Stanislaus. My Brother’s Keeper. New York: Viking, 1958. Pierce, David. James Joyce’s Ireland. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.


Lecture 9: James Joyce: The European Writer

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is James Joyce’s Ulysses.


Joyce had already nailed his European colors to the mast by employing, in A Portrait of the Artist, one of the classic forms of the nineteenth-century European novel, the bildungsroman, or novel (roman) of development or worldly education (bildung). And though he said that the moral sense of the short stories of Guy de Maupassant was “obtuse,” clearly Dubliners is indebted to new European developments in that form. Nothing in the forms or affiliations of these two works anticipates the revolutionary artistic act of Ulysses, a work that draws on one of the foundational works of the Western humanist tradition, the Odyssey of Homer. But just as Joyce is careful not to make a one-to-one correspondence between Stephen and Dedalus, by using the Latin translation of Odysseus for his title, he is indicating that his epic is a rendering of the original, not a reproduction of it. In this way, Joyce has given himself permission to alter the tone, duration, and geographical scope of the Odyssey, using the techniques of distortion and relativity that are essential to Modernist art in order to bring forth a contemporary truth. Instead of thinking in an either/or manner, Ulysses exemplifies the advantages and challenges of a both/and perspective. Not only are Ulysses and the Odyssey related and different, the idea that estrangement and association both possess equal power also extends to such thematic concerns as connections between father and son, husband and wife, city and citizen, and even to the coexistence in the text of material from both A Portrait of the Artist and Dubliners. The material from the two earlier works establishes a Stephen who has been brought down to earth by the death of his mother and a Bloom whose story was initially conceived as an addition to Dubliners. And inasmuch as Ulysses may be said to have a plot, its driving force is provided by sexuality, or rather by a sexual sin, Molly Bloom’s adultery. Illicit sexuality was also an important means of Stephen’s early self-assertion, and the manner in which Molly’s sexuality, in particular, is represented, caused Joyce further trouble with the censor. From a linguistic standpoint, also, Ulysses exemplifies a both/and approach. Stephen’s impenitent, and sometimes impenetrable, intellectualism is juxtaposed with a more relaxed version of the restrained, demotic text of Dubliners. And Stephen, Bloom, and Molly are affiliated through being represented to a significant degree by the “stream of consciousness” narrative technique. First coined by the philosopher William James, this phrase had its literary inception in the French writer Edouard Dujardin’s novel entitled Les lauriers sont coupé (1888), which consists of a representation of the various thoughts, reactions, and other mental activities that occur in no systematic order to a character going about his daily business. The reader’s relationship to the material conveyed by the technique is somewhat akin to eavesdropping. The character’s consciousness is perceived to be acting, informally or 40

off-stage, as it were, as though without an audience. And so the material in question will be all the more revealing for the character’s failure to give it a formal shape and purpose. Besides Joyce, the technique’s most famous practitioners are Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Use of the stream of consciousness highlights Joyce’s engagement with the present, as does the entire narrative span of Ulysses, which deals with eighteen hours of getting through June 16, 1904. Dealing as it does with three crucial junctures in the lives of its three main characters—Stephen, Bloom, and Molly each contend with varieties of homelessness—it also addresses the past, and in certain respects may be regarded as a work of memory and commemoration. The day and date of the action honors Joyce’s first meeting with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. Dublin’s past is evocatively introduced, and the history of Stephen’s family life and of Bloom’s marriage prepares the reader for the thematic appropriateness of a potential father and son connection between them. Uncertain of the way forward following the day’s events, each member of the threesome is vulnerable to memory. Moreover, memory is a vital asset in reading Ulysses. It is difficult to retain a sense of the basic chain of events, because the links in the chain appear as separate episodes, highly differentiated from each other in style and concept. At the same time, however, an elaborate sense of sequence is maintained through recurring motifs, echoing phrases, geographical cross-references and, in short, a complex web of interconnections. As a result, the task of the reader is also of the both/and variety, so that going back, rather than proceeding in a more conventionally linear manner, is part of the experience. One small example must suffice here. When at the close of “Telemachus,” the opening section of the book, it is revealed that Bannon, an acquaintance of Buck Mulligan’s, has designs on a “sweet young thing,” it is not yet known that the girl in question is Milly, only child of Molly and Leopold. But in “Calypso,” the fourth section, when Bloom has a moment of concern for his daughter’s well-being and recognizes that she will soon be a woman, one not only realizes who it is that Bannon is pursuing but appreciates even more fully than Bloom how well-grounded his concern is. This type of interlinkage between disparate elements in the text provides both a sense of heterogeneity and a promise of order. At the experiential level, the world is diffuse and lacking in finality or completeness. By applying one’s powers of observation and association to the densely littered field of daily life, it becomes susceptible to comprehension and coherence, though not necessarily to truth or to anything approaching the last word. The truth lies in the process. Mentioning the titles of Ulysses’s eighteen sections raises another of the challenges facing the reader, as the text itself does not supply these titles. But Joyce did draw up two schema in which each section—corresponding to a section in the Odyssey—is identified, as well as some other relevant material. (The best-known schema is given in Stuart Gilbert’s James Joyce’s Ulysses [1930]. The earlier schema that Joyce produced for Carlo Linati is more informative; it is reproduced in Richard Ellmann’s Ulysses on the Liffey [1972].) The titles signal the distorted relation between the Homeric original and the modern text. Homer provides the archetypal template of dispossession, quest, conjugal estrangement, and filial suffering. But although the 41

archetypes exist, each individual has to undergo in his own way the experiences that give rise to the archetypes. Bloom is Odyssean in the cunning and resourcefulness with which he keeps his head above water throughout the day. Stephen, on the other hand, is in danger of sinking without trace— “drowning” is one of the words recurringly associated with him. Molly in the role of the loyal Penelope may at first seem counterintuitive. But such a reaction would concede a definitive role to sexual activity, whereas no activity, outlook, or set of orthodoxies are permitted to take such a role. For this reason, the sharpest satire in Ulysses is reserved for short-sighted and narrow-minded characters such as the Citizen in “Cyclops,” who by virtue of his limited outlook becomes the modern equivalent of Homer’s one-eyed monster, while it is the one with the most quirks, Bloom, who is the unlikely but entirely convincing hero. Analogously, the stream of consciousness tour de force that is Molly’s monologue is helter-skelter and idiosyncratic to a degree, yet it is Molly who sings out that final, celebrated “Yes.” Most provocatively of all, perhaps, Ulysses seems to deny its own narrative potential by allowing Stephen, the needy son, to turn down the offer of a room in his house from Bloom, the needy father. But the story of Stephen’s young life has been that of his failure to live up to his potential and his insufficient regard for the business of living. Failure at the personal level does not invalidate potential at the conceptual level.


Stephen is all spirit, Bloom all materiality, Molly all earthiness. Stephen analyzes, Bloom measures, Molly feels. Their differences, indicated in the first instance by the fact that they’re all outsiders, result in varying degrees of estrangement. Yet it is because of their irreducible individuality that they belong together in the text. Together they form an expression of resistance to racial, gender, and cultural stereotypes, and in doing so open up a prospect of a less paralyzed, more diverse, and freer Dublin. The gap that exists between the classical world of Homer and the modern metropolis is comic. But it isn’t laughable. And if those who must navigate the uncertain currents of modern life do not resemble the heroic types of ancient days, they are not less unworthy for that, and everyday pain and passion, even when subjected to the complicated ironic distancing that Joyce uses to anchor them within the here and now, may readily be entitled to the epic’s human scope and cultural significance.



Questions 1. What is meant by the “both/and” perspective in Joyce’s Ulysses? 2. How does Joyce’s stream of consciousness narrative highlight his engagement with the present?

Suggested Reading Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Vintage International, 1990.

Other Books of Interest French, Marilyn. The World as Book: James Joyce’s Ulysses. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976. Gifford, Don, and Robert Seidman. Notes for Joyce: An Annotation of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989. Kenner, Hugh. Ulysses. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987. McCourt, John. The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste 1904–1920. Dublin: Lilliput, 2000.


Lecture 10: James Joyce: The Universal Writer

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

The title of Finnegans Wake is a take from a comic song entitled “Finnegan’s Wake,” which deals with the misadventures of a hod-carrier, Tim Finnegan, who one day at work “fell from the ladder and broke his skull.” But he is not as dead as he appears, and while his passing is being marked at a traditional Irish wake, he is roused from his repose by being accidentally splattered with whiskey (the Irish for whiskey is “uisce beatha,” the literal meaning of which is “water of life”). By dropping the apostrophe in the song’s title, Joyce offers a wake-up call to the Finnegans, the ordinary people, a call to acknowledge their fallen state and to see the exuberant vitality and complex abundance with which they have been endowed as a result of it. Joyce is too sophisticated a writer to create a landscape that is all sweetness and light, and Finnegans Wake certainly has its dark side, as its nocturnal setting suggests. But the critical tendency to think of this work as a despairing expression of chaos and meaninglessness, reflecting the gathering storm of European politics in the 1930s, is misguided. On the contrary, Joyce’s final work acts as a countersign of such doom and gloom in the essential freedom of its procedures.


Tim Finnegan’s fall is a prototype of many other kinds of fall, from that of Adam and Eve to the Wall Street crash of 1929, and includes that of the work’s father figure, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. But, in keeping with the book’s multifariousness and multiplicity, the fall is not merely understood as an event; it is also taken as a concept. In this, Joyce draws on the theory of history proposed by the seventeenth-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico. According to this theory, history has three phases (the divine, the heroic, and the human), each giving way to its successor in cyclical fashion (this theory is also crucial to Yeats’s philosophy of history in A Vision). Joyce organized books I–III of Finnegans Wake around these three eras and added book IV, known as the “Ricorso,” in recognition of Vico’s idea of cyclical return. The link between the final word (“the”) of Finnegans Wake and the book’s first word is the most explicit expression of how this idea is used. And the alignment of a complicated philosophical theory with a comic song is only one very simple example of this work’s conceptual cross-fertilization, as might well be expected from the author who created the hybrid of Ulysses. There are two obvious problems, however, with Joyce’s method of fusing disparate elements to create fresh imaginative possibilities. One of these concerns story. Because of the inherent fluidity of the materials and their susceptibility to proliferation, it is difficult to acquire a reliable grasp of what, in conventional stories, pass for the facts of the case. Nevertheless, a few basic essentials may be grasped. The setting is Chapelizod, a village on the western outskirts of Dublin. Here Earwicker has a pub where he lives with his 44

wife, Anna Livia Plurabelle, and their three children, sons Shem the Penman and Shaun the Post, and daughter Issy. It is not quite the case that these are characters in the usual sense of the word. But then it is also not quite the case that they are not characters. Insofar as they may be considered recognizable members of the human family, much of what pertains to them derives from their sexuality. Three soldiers see Earwicker perhaps exposing himself to two girls in Dublin’s Phoenix Park; and, of course, not only is this park geographically plausible, its name speaks to Vico’s myth of return through the phoenix’s supposedly regenerative properties. There is some vagueness about what has actually taken place, making the offense resemble the enigma of Original Sin, which caused the fall of mankind’s first parents. But whatever Earwicker did it causes scandal, so Anna Livia has Shem write a letter defending HCE (Earwicker), which is given to Shaun to deliver. The partly indecipherable letter is eventually retrieved by a hen from a midden. Meanwhile, the two brothers vie for their sister’s attention. Earwicker ages, loses his sexual potency, dies, but revives; and Anna Livia also recycles herself. But it is impossible to consider this family as a group of characters. They also represent character types. Thus Shem, often allied to Joyce himself, is the introverted artist; Shaun is the extroverted worldly one. They are thought of in geographical terms, with Earwicker representing the Hill of Howth, at the north end of Dublin Bay, and Anna Livia representing the River Liffey, which flows through Dublin. Anna, then, is always changing and always the same, the eternal female. The male Earwicker has more prominence, but is not so resilient or so essential to fertility. In addition, their initials are used with elaborate associative range throughout—for example, HCE stands for both Here Comes Everybody and Haveth Childers Everywhere, both universalizing connotations. The text also contains numerous other groupings of representative figures—the four old men who may be the four evangelists or the noted annalists of Irish history known as the Four Masters; and there is another group of twelve, who may be the Apostles or gentlemen of the jury. The second and more notorious problem of Finnegans Wake is its language. Because the characters are multiform, thereby making them universal, the language in which they are represented must also be universal. Here the overall context of the work has to be taken into account. If Ulysses is the book of the day, which is the realm of active consciousness, Finnegans Wake is the book of the night, the realm of active unconsciousness. The artistic task, therefore, is to find a language of the unconscious, a language of dreams. This language will not be one that recapitulates the data of what has been dreamt, but will be the idiom of dreaming as it happens. Such a language will be universal, as the activity of dreaming is common to everybody. As such, it dispenses with those social and civic contexts that order and normalize one’s experience of the world. And because nobody dreams in language, a verbal equivalent to what dreaming consists of needs to be found. Joyce’s solution to this problem was to invent an idiom that consists of grafting tonalities, syllables, and other fragmentary elements of a wide variety of languages onto each other (the languages detected in Finnegans Wake include Swahili, Malay, Old Norse, and Manx).


In “The Ballad of Pierce O’Reilly,” an opus detailing Earwicker’s lineage, the name Pierce O’Reilly echoes the French term for earwig—perce oreille. And the name of this insect in English contains a goodly proportion of Earwicker’s surname. Such verbal procedures dissolve the integrity of national languages and the ideologies to which they give rise. Instead, language seems to function as dreams do, that is, as manifestations of the pre-social. Through this mode of spawning and propagating, the endless fertility and potential of language is constantly, or cyclically, renewed. It’s as though the language engendered here is a replica of nature. And of dreams, too. It cannot be denied that, regardless of their frequently deviant and distorted character, and of the strange perspectives in which they appear to us, they are a natural phenomenon. It is not surprising that Samuel Beckett commented that Finnegans Wake “is not about something; it is that something itself.” The same may be true of the hill and the river that are the fundamental constituents of the book’s landscape. Thus to think of the language of Finnegans Wake as simply the last word in punning is to miss out on the more far-reaching implications of Joyce’s method. Still, puns are as crucial to the transgressive vitality of this work as clichés were to the sense of the status quo in Ulysses. The extraordinary ambition of Finnegans Wake probably speaks for itself, but it does not speak in such a way as to silence the essentially comic spirit that underwrites that ambition.


Joyce spent seventeen years writing Finnegans Wake, beginning in late 1922. During the course of its composition, parts of it were published under the title of “Work in Progress,” the title being a closely guarded secret. It is only in recent years that scholarship has made generally accessible its fundamentally genial but strictly unsentimental mimicry of the genesis and continuity of the human lot.



Questions 1. In titling his work, what is the implication of Joyce’s dropping the apostrophe from the song “Finnegan’s Wake”? 2. What problems are associated with Joyce’s method of fusing disparate elements to create fresh imaginative possibilities?

Suggested Reading Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Other Books of Interest Campbell, Joseph, and Henry Morton Robinson. A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake: Unlocking James Joyce’s Masterwork. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2005. Gordon, John. Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986. McHugh, Roland. Annotations to Finnegans Wake. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.


Lecture 11: Samuel Beckett: The Absurdist

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts.


In many ways, Beckett is the least Irish of Irish authors. Early in his career, he went to Paris, but unlike Joyce, in whose footsteps he might appear to be following, Beckett took an active interest in the artistic experimentation of the interwar years, translating Surrealist poetry and keeping abreast of the latest aesthetic developments in modern painting. From the beginning, it seems, his aim is to put as much distance as possible between himself and the Ireland of his time. His alienation from his native country finds its most substantial expression in his first novel, Murphy (1938). Although abandoning Ireland is arguably the least of this work’s concerns, a certain amount of satirical energy is directed toward the people and culture of Murphy’s place of origin. To take the most notorious example, Murphy’s last wish is for his cremated remains to be flushed down the toilet of the Abbey Theater. (As it happens, they are accidentally spilled on the floor of a Dublin pub.) This sense of the Irish Free State’s comprehensive failure to be a place conducive to writing or thought is to be found intermittently throughout Beckett’s intellectually demanding and stylistically rather prickly pre-war imaginative prose. At the same time, however, these works provide important preliminary sketches for the imagination of abandonment and the articulation of nothingness that are the hallmarks of Beckett’s work. And the solitariness to which the protagonists of the early novels and stories aspire emerges as a given for the characters in Beckett’s later works, as do various other manifestations of loss. Beckett’s renunciation of Irishness did not extend to Yeats and Joyce, however, for whose later works, in particular, he expressed a keenly insightful critical appreciation. Nevertheless, he was careful not to be overshadowed by the influence of these two imposing predecessors. In reaction to the exfoliating verbiage of Finnegans Wake, Beckett applied an increasingly restrictive regime to his language. And while Yeats’s late plays, especially, contributed significantly to Beckett’s sense of theater, his own plays constitute something of a critique of Yeats’s dramatic intensity. More generally, Beckett’s resistance to romanticism of the Yeatsian and every other variety is an important element in the constitution of a new European literary sensibility that began to reach mainstream audiences in the immediate post–World War II period. When Beckett resumed writing after the war, two notable changes were immediately evident. The first was that he no longer wrote in English, opting instead for French, which allowed him, as he said, to write without style. Again, this decision may suggest the breaking of one of his few remaining cultural links with Ireland. But in fact his translations into English of the 48

French originals are flavored throughout with Irish idioms. The second change is the disappearance from his work of specific contexts, social amenities, institutions, or historical markers. Places as recognizable as the London of Murphy never again occur in Beckett’s work. From now on, landscapes are largely devoid of human imprint and bear a sense of the natural so minimal as to be parodic. The world has become anonymous, inhospitable, alien, a space merely, such as the one occupied by Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. Similarly, their presence in this space is a matter of time, merely, rather than of purpose or direction. It is difficult to determine the influence Beckett’s World War II experiences had on the vision in his postwar works of humanity, which, stripped of its pretensions and authority, is reduced to a somewhat clownish embodiment of existentialist fundamentals. Those activities by which the human presence articulated its significance—thought, work, love, justice, faith—are to be regarded as snares and delusions and occasions of bad faith. But in view of Beckett’s membership in the French Resistance, and of his enforced rural domicile during the war, it is difficult to believe that these experiences did not enhance the pronounced anti-heroic characteristics that his work already possessed. And it was the presence of such characteristics in the works of authors who came to the fore after the war, particularly in the theater, that gave rise to the phrase “The Theater of the Absurd.” This was not a specific “school” of drama, but rather a collective sensibility with which such celebrated international playwrights as Edward Albee in the United States, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard in England, Jean Genet and Eugene Ionesco in France, and Slawomir Mrozek in Poland identified, and which consisted of representations of the futility, irrationality, and purposelessness of existence. Many Absurdist plays have become modern classics, and the phenomenon received widespread cultural and critical attention, with interpretative discourses pointing to the works in question as evidence of Cold War anxieties, the death of God, and similar weighty matters. But it is Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that became the poster child of the Absurd, partly because of its comparatively prompt appearance in English, Irish, and American productions following 1953 and partly because of the ruefully tragicomic appeal of its content. As one critic put it, Waiting for Godot is a play in which nothing happens—twice. Vladimir and Estragon are in the same position and the same condition at the end of the play as they were at the beginning. Godot, whoever he is, remains knowable only through his invisibility. Even the boy, Godot’s emissary, appears not to change. The present participle “waiting” draws attention to the play’s recurring present. Time has moved on by the beginning of act 2, but that makes no difference, so that although the second act is not the same as the first, the differences only alert the audience to the fact that nothing has basically changed. Time elapsing is the equivalent of time recurring. To pass the time, the two tramps engage in performances that owe a good deal to popular theatrical traditions, such as music hall and circus. And as tramps, they evoke not only the everyman figure pioneered by Charlie Chaplin, but also a figure familiar from the heyday of the Abbey Theater (in the Yeats play of that name, Cathleen Ní Houlihan herself is as landless and homeless as Didi and Gogo, and tramps are the protagonists of choice in 49

most of J.M. Synge’s plays). Vladimir and Estragon also improvise verbal routines. By these means, past and future are kept at bay. The challenge to occupy the moment is the only thing that keeps them going, and they have only each other to distract them from meeting that challenge—although, of course, there is no difference between distraction and being occupied. They have no property (unless Vladimir’s carrot counts), no ego, no sexuality, no emotional range, no objective—to which deficiencies the phrase “to speak of” should be added, because there are oscillations of temper. But these are as momentary as they are unpredictable, and ultimately contribute to the sense that the two do not significantly differ. Absurdly, two seems to be the same as one inasmuch as it’s a duplication of it. The liberty, equality, and fraternity that Estragon and Vladimir share has the effect of their cancelling each other out. Character and setting, action, and destiny all add up to a nullifying but diverting sameness. Duality is sublimated in complementarity. The paradoxical is pushed beyond the limits of its somewhat smug binaries into absurdity.


But then, consider the alternative, though arguably more familiar, duality in operation. This is what Pozzo and Lucky represent. In contrast to Vladimir and Estragon, they exhibit movement, material possessions, difference, purpose, order, and hierarchy. But these attributes are accompanied by oppression and degradation, with Pozzo the irascible master subjecting the meek and mild Lucky to insult and injury, so that the latter’s name seems a joke in poor taste. The most dramatic instance of Pozzo’s superiority is his power to command Lucky to think, resulting in his long incoherent monologue studded with random bits of data and a smattering of traditional philosophical jargon—“qua,” referring to “whatness,” and “essy-in-posse,” referring to the Latin verbs esse (to be) and posse (to be able). This parody of intellection is one of the classic occasions of the Absurd and acts as a provocative parody of the philosophical phrase of Descartes that has often been thought to inaugurate the concept of the autonomous subject: “I think, therefore I am.” Beckett’s work as a whole contains an extensive interrogation of this assertion. Moving on does not appear to do Pozzo and Lucky any good, and its futility is confirmed when they return in act 2 with Pozzo dumb and Lucky blind. Their new interdependence is the opposite of the earlier master-servant relationship, with each version a critique that makes the other untenable. The differences between them now make no difference, and their disabilities make them the physical counterparts of the volitionally disabled tramps. Progress is as illusory as waiting for Godot. It is possible that Godot is also an illusion. And it is possible that—in the best tradition of the theatrical deus ex machina—his arrival will make all the difference in the world. Neither possibility is denied. But neither is fulfilled. And perhaps what makes Waiting for Godot such a surprisingly human document is its paradoxical affirmation that nothing can be known for sure beyond an awareness of being suspended for an indefinite interval in time and space.



Questions 1. How do Beckett’s early works show the imagination of abandonment and articulation of nothingness that became hallmarks of Beckett’s later work? 2. Who are the most noted practitioners of “The Theatre of the Absurd”?

Suggested Reading Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. New York: Grove Press, 1997.

Other Books of Interest Ackerly, C.J., and S.E. Gontarski, eds. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader’s Guide to His Works, Life and Thought. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 2004. Cronin, Anthony. Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist. London: HarperCollins Publishing, Ltd., 1996. Harvey, Lawrence E. Samuel Beckett: Poet and Critic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970. Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Reid, Alec. All I Could Manage, More Than I Could. Dublin: Dolmen, 1968.


Lecture 12: Beckett and the Novel

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Samuel Beckett’s Three Novels by Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable.

Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot in an intensive bout of creativity lasting from mid-1947 to early 1950. In this period, he also produced his trilogy, the three novels Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable. These, together with Endgame (1958), a play that deepens the dark aspects of Waiting for Godot while sharpening its wit, are the works upon which Beckett’s reputation is based, and much of his later writings are in effect critiques of these five extraordinary texts.


As noted in Waiting for Godot, Beckett deconstructs perhaps the most familiar stand-by of popular theater, the double act. A similar project is carried out in the trilogy, where rather more systematically and elaborately the conventions of the novel are retained even while they are shown to be no longer reliable in the eyes of the narrator or viable in the eyes of the author. Here again, a discrepancy between subject and object, between presence and knowing, between thought and action, becomes the central focus of interest. The focus is on breakdown, of which each successive work in the trilogy features a more comprehensive version. This focus is formed, in the first place, by Beckett’s adaptation of the tramp figure in Waiting for Godot for narrative purposes. Thus the narrator of the first part of Molloy becomes increasingly debilitated as his story progresses, until he eventually is crippled. Malone is bedfast. And the figure in The Unnameable crawls through mud. This figure may be the Unnameable. But so may be the mud. If they are not quite as set in their ways as Vladimir and Estragon, the limited mobility of Molloy and the Unnameable is hardly a condition to envy. Moreover, it is not a condition that intends to carry out the task that the novel usually sets itself, which is that of representing social reality. On the contrary, social, historical, and cultural frameworks are no longer applicable. Even the landscape itself is devoid of significant features, so that in both Molloy and, to a considerably more daunting degree in The Unnameable, the known world is available neither as a domicile or as a resource. These figures are of the earth in a literal sense. But the world is not their place. Such a sense of dislocation is not merely a matter of narrative novelty. It also offers an unnerving challenge to well-known assumptions that the earth has been made for humans, that we are here for a purpose, that in certain respects we are the lords of the earth. Perhaps Beckett does not go all the way in dismantling such an anthropocentric view of existence, but he comes as close to doing so as any artist has dared. The assumption that, despite the lessons of experience, one can find one’s place in alien and unfamiliar 52

and inhospitable territory is what goads these figures and at the same time hampers them. Their search is both understandable and illogical, necessary and beside the point, unremitting but counterproductive. Of the three novels in the trilogy, Molloy is the one that, even if it dispenses with such novelistic ingredients as plot, reliable time-frame, consistent characterization, and narrative arc, initially at least retains the traces of a story, however unusual the story seems. The first part of the novel begins with Molloy writing in his mother’s house, though his mother isn’t there. His writings consist of his unsystematic recall of various events that occurred as he made his increasingly enfeebled way to this shelter. These include an encounter with the police and a sojourn with a woman named Lousse, law and love proving equally blind. Much solitary wandering ensues before a final collapse. A rescue by unknown hands results in his coming home. This narrative ends up where it begins, which makes it self-enclosed, justifying nothing, explaining nothing, merely a reflection of writing for its own sake and for the want of a more conclusive activity. The second part of Molloy features an attempt to find out what happened to Molloy carried out by Jacques Moran, who seems to be a detective. He is quite an unusual character, being a strict Catholic, a bourgeois, and a father. He sets off on the case with a good deal of professional confidence and fully equipped, although his instructions do not include what he is supposed to do when he finds Molloy. Things soon go wrong, and in such a way that the reader begins to wonder if what is taking place is some sort of retelling of material from Molloy’s own narrative, distorted or seen from Moran’s perspective. It may be that Molloy was Moran in a different life. It may be that Moran’s assumption that there is something of significance to be discovered about Molloy is misguided from the start. In the course of his pursuit, Moran kills a man. The man may be Molloy. The separation of the novel into two parts also allows each part to speak obscurely to the other. Such lines of communication indicate that there is no firm basis for stable identity and that there is nothing in experience to guarantee that lessons may be derived from it. Again, the double act seems liable to collapse into a single self-cancelling narrative. The novel ends with Moran returning home, defeated. He sets about writing his report for the agency. The novel ends: “Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.” Language itself collaborates in the perpetuation of illusion and self-representation. Both Malone Dies and The Unnameable venture further into the discursive territory mapped in Molloy—the pilgrim’s progress that gets nowhere, the flesh’s frailty, the limits of personality, fiction’s shared reality of truth and falsity and, of particular significance, the ways in which this landscape of fallibility reveals the difficulty of knowing anything for sure. Understanding is made even more difficult because, unlike his plays, Beckett’s novels rely paradoxically on change, in however restrictive a form, being the only constant. Even when the narrator is confined to bed, like Malone, and when he establishes a narrative agenda for himself, when he knows the purpose of his stories is to place something between himself and his impending end, change occurs. 53

Invested though he may be in the stories of Sapo, Macmann, and the others, he must break off from time to time to utter misanthropic denunciations. Other kinds of interruptions and abrupt changes of subject also occur, as if to dramatize not only the difficulty of narrative but, more fundamentally, of giving shape to the vagaries of consciousness. The “I” that was at least a functional narrative device in Molloy is here exposed to forgetfulness, inattention, commentary, and other similar antinarrative devices.


And yet, writing appears to be life for Malone. While there is language, there is the pressure to use it, irrational and unproductive as that pressure and its products might be. The impoverishment and deprivation with which Beckett deals make it difficult to find a redeeming feature in his work. And of course he is not a writer who can be expected to lay claim to some ultimate meaning and value. On the contrary, his work continually calls into account the slender basis on which such claims rest. And The Unnameable constitutes an extreme statement of this philosophical skepticism, undoubtedly the most inaccessible work of the trilogy with its virtually lightless setting, its gallery of unrelated or perhaps related “delegates,” its minimal action, impenetrable narrative, and confusing references to Murphy, Molloy, Malone, and other figures from what’s referred to as a “gallery of moribunds.” Yet it is also in the final words of this work, following some arresting passages that express in self-lacerating tones the speaker’s despair, that one of the most celebrated statements in all Beckett’s work is made: “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” The availability of language makes going on inevitable. And the stylistic mastery that Beckett exerts over language succeeds in conferring form on those thoughts of poverty and powerlessness that are usually so difficult to face. It is a large measure of Beckett’s genius that he has, without compromising, made such thoughts tolerable, containable, and human, all too human.



Questions 1. In Beckett’s trilogy, how does he deconstruct the conventions of the novel? 2. What are the effects of the separation of Molloy into two parts?

Suggested Reading Beckett, Samuel. Three Novels by Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable. New York: Grove Press, 1999.

Other Books of Interest Ackerly, C.J., and S.E. Gontarski, eds. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader’s Guide to His Works, Life and Thought. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 2004. Kenner, Hugh. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. O’Brien, Eoin. The Beckett Country: Samuel Beckett’s Ireland. Dublin: Black Cat, 1986.


Lecture 13: Samuel Beckett: “Fail Again. Fail Better.”

The Suggested Readings for this lecture are Samuel Beckett’s Not I and Company.

That concluding expression of affirmation and resistance from the Unnameable echoes a statement Beckett made in the 1930s regarding the problem of the modern artist, whose work must contend with “the expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.” And Beckett’s work, particularly in its later stages, reveals an increasingly acute tension between the impetus to express and the limited means of expression. Even for a body of work that is so clearly concerned with language in so many different forms, from cliché to concept, from colloquialism to critique, the reliance on language in his late prose pieces represents a further state of linguistic challenge. In texts such as Company (1979), Ill Seen Ill Said (1982), and Worstward Ho (1983)—which together may be regarded as a counter-trilogy—darkness and silence are invoked as the human subject’s desired environment, the limitations of which are denoted by a varied pattern of utterances drawn from a strictly limited vocabulary. The transitional work between the two trilogies is How It Is, in which the protagonist is now simply a speaker, rather than a writer, and in which his speech is recorded in sustained utterances presented in brief, distinct paragraphs.


In earlier prose works, the characters were able to divert themselves with commonplace material objects. Molloy has his bicycle and his crutches, and he is even able to engage in his famous stone-counting game. Although Malone is bedridden, the loss of his stick seriously restricts his range of activity around the bed. And even the Unnameable wonders about being clothed and the clothing of others. Later works remove all such props. They are much briefer, much more concentrated, eschew the word “I,” which the writers in the first trilogy have had such trouble understanding, and represent much more explicitly than the earlier novels the condition of terminus expressed in the idiom of tautology. Such a refinement of technique and resources are also evident in Beckett’s later works for theater, although in this case the paring away is more gradual. Beckett’s interest in theatrical production grew in the course of his career, and his later works for the stage are more numerous than his prose output. These plays—or rather, “dramaticules,” as Beckett called them—are also notable for their brevity and concentration, and they have a similar commitment to verbal patterning and repetition as the late prose works; and, like those prose works, they are noteworthy for their technical innovation. This 56

condensed treatment of the Beckett canon unfortunately risks giving the appearance of overlooking entirely such substantial plays as Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) and Happy Days (1961), which anticipate some later developments—Beckett’s repertoire for women is inaugurated by Happy Days, and the use of audiotape to represent memory in Krapp’s Last Tape is echoed, to a degree, in Rockabye (1981). Of the later plays, the most striking and intense is Not I (1973). There are two characters, a speaker who can hardly stop speaking and an auditor (“sex undeterminable”), who says nothing. The auditor is something of a darkness within the dark. The stage directions call for this figure to be clothed from head to foot in a “djellaba,” though perhaps it is inevitable that an audience will think of a monk’s cowl, particularly as the figure’s hands are raised four times during the course of the piece “in a gesture of helpless compassion.” Each time the gesture is made, however, it is less emphatic, so that by the end of the monologue not even a gesture can demonstrably be made to acknowledge or commiserate. As to the spoken matter itself, this is uttered in a nonsequential and repetitive manner. From what can be gathered, the life-story being told is nothing to write home about, and consists of the familiar Beckett concern with powerlessness and, as the title indicates, problems of identity, though ending on a surprisingly, but typically momentary, lyrical note. Two aspects of what’s being said make it memorable, however. The first is that it begins before the curtain is raised and after it’s been lowered, so that all the audience are given is a representative sample of what crosses the woman’s mind. And more remarkably, all the audience can see is the speaking mouth moving in darkness. Located at some height above the floor of the stage, and speaking through an aperture in a black cloth, the incessant and compulsive mouth, spotlit and heavily made up, becomes an unnerving instrument and a riveting experience. The cumulative effect is less of somebody speaking than of somebody, as it were, being spoken, there being a spectral dimension to the vivid and seemingly eternal present of the woman’s condition. The play runs for some fifteen minutes. The kind of impassioned but desiccated autobiography represented by Not I had long been a form explored by Beckett, as the trilogy attests. Some of the later dramaticules also use this hopelessly inconclusive but compulsively necessary singular voice. And on occasion the material is literally autobiographical, not merely autobiographical or confessional in form: Ohio Impromptu (1981), for example, draws upon, distresses, and transmutes Beckett’s Paris walks with Joyce, among other material. There are also various allusions to the author’s childhood in Company, but again, because Beckett’s works are notably successful in resisting categorization, it is a mistake to see them as meeting the expectations of any one particular form of writing. The crisis of genre is one of the many crises pertaining to witness, testimony, knowledge, and belief that Beckett’s works relentlessly address. More important than references to materials from the author’s past—which in any case may be misremembered or reshaped to meet the requirements of the imagination—is the position of the subject in Company, an old man, prone, in darkness. Instead of speaking, however, as might be expected from a work with an autobiographical dimension, the figure is spoken for. He is 57

being addressed, reminded, questioned. This is the voice he has for company. It is as if the voice is inventing him, confining him to silence, yet unable to be silent itself. One of the effects of this situation is the absence, or perhaps negation, of the word “I.” Instead, “you” carries out the work of harnessing intimate detail from the past, while “he” is used to talk about the constricted present. The figure is an objective representation of what might be referred to as “not I” syndrome, just as the speaker in Not I is the subjective version of it. Even if the subject in Company is clearly beyond being able to “go on,” and devoid of a language of his own, that doesn’t mean that he has forsaken the domain of language. The voice of a different time, insistent in its stylization and demanding in its repetitive rhythms, claims him, exposing his weakness while it ratifies his presence. In one way, the figure is an exile from language. In another way, his condition places him at the mercy of language. And the ultimately paradoxical function of the voice in Company is to prevent the subject from being “as you always were. Alone.” Company and solitude collapse: the duality has been maintained merely for the sake of form.


Like all of Beckett’s late works, both Company and Not I are minimalist in form, if not necessarily in scope, distillations of the thematic imponderables with which the author has contended throughout his career. By working within deliberately, and obviously self-imposed, restrictions, he is able to achieve his ambition to “fail better” in the treatment of his preoccupations. Not to fail at all would be to convey in its own terms the nothingness that his work continually approaches. In acknowledging his failure, Beckett may be mocking his own artistic goals. Or he may be indicating his desire that his work continues to distance itself from the mainstays of literary tradition, a tradition in which the scholarly Beckett was extremely well-versed. Yet, even to pursue failure has an air of quest about it, and as such is a recognizable aspect of human desire and human feeling, particularly when the quest in question is undertaken in full awareness that it requires both going into exile, the unknown, and the dark, as well as never being able to lose sight of one’s identity and the limitations that define it.



Questions 1. How are darkness and silence invoked in Beckett’s later work? 2. What is meant by Beckett’s ambition to “fail better”?

Suggested Reading Beckett, Samuel. Collected Shorter Plays. New York: Grove Press, 1984. ———-. Company. Edison, NJ: Riverrun Press, 1996.

Other Books of Interest Brater, Enoch. Why Beckett? London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Mercier, Vivian. Beckett/Beckett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.


Lecture 14: Tradition and Its Discontents

The Suggested Readings for this lecture are Patrick Kavanagh’s “The Great Hunger” in Collected Poems, Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, and Francis Stuart’s Black List Section H.

“That is no country for old men,” Yeats famously declared in his 1927 poem, “Sailing to Byzantium.” The poet was referring to his own impending old age, but his statement could have been adapted by the generation of Irish writers who came of age in the years following the establishment of an independent Ireland. That a number of them—Frank O’Connor, Francis Stuart, Liam O’Flaherty, and Sean O’Faolain, to name the most notable cases—participated in the War of Independence (1919 –1921) and the Civil War (1922–1923) did not make their attitudes to independence any less complicated.


A number of factors proved inhibiting to imaginative work in the Ireland of the 1920s and 1930s. A sense of postwar exhaustion affected many areas of public life, and there was little energy for cultural or ideological controversy. The new state relied on the commanding institutional presence of the Catholic Church to generate a civic sense and general moral tone, which had the effect of limiting the range of public debate. In 1929, the Censorship of Publications Act was introduced, ostensibly to protect the population from pornography and books on birth control, but prohibition fell equally on all writers, with the result that Ireland was officially forbidden to read what the rest of the world chose to read. Censorship also affected the majority of the new generation also. Within literary culture itself, problems also arose. As Beckett’s early work demonstrates, it was clearly very difficult and ill-advised to try to emulate one’s illustrious forerunners. Not only were Joyce and Yeats and Wilde remarkable wordsmiths, but their sense of form was innovative and the modes of thought from which that sense derived was highly idiosyncratic. Very few of the new generation of authors were able to follow in those footsteps. The early poetry of Austin Clarke did revisit saga materials, but his poetry soon found a more promising focus in contemporary conditions. The Northern Irish poet Louis MacNeice was one of the first to write a critical appreciation of Yeats, but his own imaginative interests aligned him with the English poets of the 1930s, notably W.H. Auden, though as a result his work provides a valuable outsider’s perspective on Irish social and cultural conditions. The Anglo-Irish novelist and short-story writer Elizabeth Bowen occupies a similar outsider position, and her novel The Last September (1929) is a sharply etched account of the end of a “Big House.” The author for whom Yeatsian idealism remained worth keeping faith with is Francis Stuart. A militant republican and husband of Maud Gonne’s daughter, Iseult, Stuart is the person referred to by the last word of the following lines 60

from Yeats’s 1936 poem, “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?”: “A girl who knew all Dante once/Live to bear children to a dunce.” Stuart’s novels deal with the spiritual and sexual adventures of sensitive outsiders. These characters are all essentially on a romantic quest of self-realization, a quest that typically leads them into places of suffering and abjection, from which they emerge tempered and vindicated. Retaining their integrity while going to extremes is the hallmark of the Stuart hero, and as exponent of the idealist quest, Stuart rather relished being a voice in the wilderness. His sojourn in wartime Berlin, where he made numerous broadcasts to Ireland on German radio, confirmed his outsider status, among other things. But on his eventual return to Ireland, the publication of his autobiographical novel Black List Section H in 1971 won him a new measure of respect and cultural authority. The way that Stuart went, however, is very much the opposite of the direction taken by most Irish writing in the interwar period. A number of important changes of focus took place in these years. One was the comparative decline of the Abbey Theater as a medium of cultural concerns. From its opening in 1930, Dublin’s Gate Theatre staged much of the new work in Irish theater, spearheaded by the works of Dennis Johnston, the title of whose first play, The Old Lady Says No, is said to be derived from Lady Gregory’s rejection of it. Another change was the emergence of the short story as the form of choice for prose writers—despite Dubliners, this form did not gain many practitioners in the Literary Revival’s heyday. Further, Irish poetry embarked on what has proven to be a long-lasting discounting of Yeats. The emergence of the short story established prose as the principal medium of Irish literature in the post-Independence period. Yet, the model used by the main short-story writers—Frank O’Connor, Liam O’Flaherty, and Sean O’Faolain—was not Dubliners. O’Connor and O’Faolain, especially, instead found their models in the works of nineteenth-century masters of realism, particularly the Russians, Turgenev and Chekhov. Supported by the keen interest shown in their work by editors of such prestigious American magazines as the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly, these authors set a different tone and used different settings to produce a new perspective on their native country. Both O’Connor and O’Faolain came from Cork City; both were veterans of the War of Independence; and they both had identified with the cultural nationalism of the times. Having grown up among the people in a part of Ireland that had not featured in the literature of the revival, they both wrote from a point of view that was more familiar with ordinary provincial Irish life and was more sympathetic to the ways in which political principles and romantic ideals could produce unrealistic ideas about the world. Their overall achievement was to portray the ordinary man in the street, or in the field, in a three-dimensional, down-to-earth manner. Resisting the generalizations of Joyce’s “paralysis” and of Yeats’s noble peasant, the effect of their writing is to humanize the Irish subject, as may be seen from O’Connor’s celebrated story “Guests of the Nation,” which deals with the unhappy handling of a pair of English soldiers taken hostage during the War of Independence. At the same time, like other members of his generation, O’Connor’s work also represents the air of anticlimax that succeeded the high drama of the fight for freedom.


Of these two authors, O’Faolain was the more cerebral and analytical, supplementing his novels and stories with works seeking to trace the lineaments of Irish social and political identity in biographies of noted Irish historical figures—King of the Beggars is his account of the life and political significance of Daniel O’Connell. O’Faolain’s cultural identity was that of a Catholic liberal intellectual, a type found in France and Spain, but seldom in Ireland, where it has proved much more difficult to maintain a line of thought independent of clerical orthodoxy. Indeed, independence of thought and action was a troublesome subject in the new Ireland. Such O’Faolain stories as “The Man Who Invented Sin,” “The Silence of the Valley,” and “Lovers of the Lake” are noteworthy for their mapping of the complicated ways in which his characters are challenged to adjust to, and even more importantly to understand, the choices, impositions, and responsibilities of the moral landscape that their newfound political freedom has—surprisingly, it seems—brought into being. The influence of this more domesticated and linguistically more plainspoken kind of prose fiction reached forward to influence the family-oriented and individually focused works of such highly regarded post–World War II Irish authors as Edna O’Brien and John McGahern.


This influence also received a major impetus from the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. Despite the technical accomplishments and modern themes of both Austin Clarke and Louis MacNeice, Kavanagh’s work greatly contributed to the cultural tone of his generation. He did this by a commitment to what he called “parochialism,” meaning an emphasis on the unique qualities of specific, generally nonmetropolitan localities. This imaginative realm he contrasted with the “provincial,” which to Kavanagh connoted secondhand imitation of urban styles and attitudes. A native of rural County Monaghan, in the north of Ireland, Kavanagh brought a degree of authenticity and intimacy to the theme of life on the land, which was in sharp contrast to the revival’s notions of country life. Not only are issues of blood and soil reconfigured in Kavanagh’s poetry, he also had a more complicated sense of the individual countryman’s existential and spiritual reality. This sense is an important element in the complicated delineation of the Irish Catholic imagination, which was part of the cultural work of the years in question. Among Kavanagh’s best-known lyrics are “Inniskeen Road: July Evening,” “Epic,” and “Shancoduff,” while his most substantial poem is “The Great Hunger,” an extended treatment of the life and times of a bachelor farmer, Patrick Maguire. The title evokes one of the names given the Great Famine. But it also speaks to the other kinds of deprivation from which Maguire suffers—sexual, social, emotional, and spiritual. Yet Kavanagh is unwilling to write off this epitome of the rural citizen, and wishes, somewhat self-consciously, to see him as both the heir of repressive social mores and a beneficiary of the type of uplift that his natural surroundings often provide in their flowering and fruition. The poem’s traditional materials and free-verse technique is one of the ways in which it suggests being focused on tradition as well as on modernity. One of the most striking features of the literature of the Irish Literary Revival is its relation to the Modernist movement. And one of the most striking features of post-Revival Irish literature is how that relationship faded. The 62

Modernist strain did not entirely die out, but its exponents did not attain anything like the visibility of a Joyce or Yeats. Generally speaking, the new generation ushered in an age of reaction. One major exception to this generalization, however, is the novelist Flann O’Brien. Born Brian O’Nolan, he also used the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen for the columns he wrote for The Irish Times. These columns consumed most of his literary energy. But his two best novels, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)—applauded by Joyce—and The Third Policeman (completed in 1941 but not published until 1966) are both uniquely imaginative works whose satire of so many aspects of the literary imagination place them among the highest achievements of modern Irish writing. In their treatment of time and of fictional form, these novels also connect with Modernist concerns, although their keenly satirical skepticism regarding the types of knowledge also shows the author distancing himself from Modernism’s more culturally doctrinaire perspectives. More assured and sophisticated than Kavanagh’s work in their recognition of the interplay between tradition and modernity, O’Brien’s novels nevertheless exhibit a sense of misgiving as to whether the interplay is an end in itself or if it leads to developments that O’Brien intellectually rejected—developments that Beckett subsequently pioneered. And so for all Wilde’s dazzling subversiveness and Yeats’s “beautiful lofty things,” Joyce’s revolutionary aesthetics and Beckett’s intellectual comedy, the Irish Literary Revival proved to be a complicated legacy for Irish writing— at once too much to assimilate in the way of influence and too individualistic in style and thought to provide effective touchstones for future artistic developments. Yet, even if the Revival’s complicated inheritance is even today a subject of ongoing cultural debate, this is of great benefit to Irish writers and to the intellectual life of the country as a whole. The questions presented by the visionary and critical energies of the great Irish writers are still current, and although Ireland has seen many social and political changes since the days of the Revival, it still remains a country where the word of the imagination has a vital significance and where it is remembered with pride that poets are part of the national treasury. So, in Ireland itself, the gifts of its great writers are seen in a typically double perspective—as the unique gifts of the individual writer and as a gift made to the nation. Not that what these four giants have to offer is exclusively Irish, as shown by the continuing interest in their work on the part of international audiences. In bringing Ireland to the world, the great Irish writers have brought the world to Ireland, delighting and intriguing generations of readers all over the world with their faith in the eye-opening potential of the literary imagination.



Questions 1. What factors inhibited imaginative work in the Ireland of the 1920s and 1930s? 2. What is meant by “parochialism” in Kavanagh’s work?

Suggested Reading Kavanagh, Patrick. Collected Poems. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004. O’Brien, Flann. At Swim-Two-Birds. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archives Press, 1998. Stuart, Francis. Black List Section H. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Other Books of Interest Brown, Terence. Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922–2002. London: HarperCollins, 2004. Carlson, Julia, ed. Banned in Ireland: Censorship and the Irish Writer. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1990. Cronin, Anthony. No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien. London: Grafton, 1989. Ferriter, Diarmaid. The Transformation of Ireland 1900–2000. London: Profile, 2004. Johnston, Dillon. Irish Poetry After Joyce. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985. Kavanagh, Patrick. The Green Fool. London: Martin Brian and O’Keeffe, 1971. Mercier, Vivian. The Irish Comic Tradition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. O’Brien, Flann [Myles na Gopaleen]. The Best of Myles. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1968. O’Connor, Frank. An Only Child. New York: Knopf, 1961. LECTURE FOURTEEN

———. Collected Stories. New York: Knopf, 1981. O’Faolain, Sean. The Collected Stories of Sean O’Faolain. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983. ———. Vive Moi! London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993.



Suggested Readings: Beckett, Samuel. Collected Shorter Plays. New York: Grove Press, 1984. ———. Company. Edison, NJ: Riverrun Press, 1996. ———. Three Novels by Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable. New York: Grove Press, 1999. ———. Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. New York: Grove Press, 1997. Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. The Portable James Joyce. New York: Penguin, 1976. ———. Ulysses. New York: Vintage International, 1990. Kavanagh, Patrick. Collected Poems. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004. O’Brien, Flann. At Swim-Two-Birds. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archives Press, 1998. O’Faolain, Sean, ed. Lyrics and Satires From Tom Moore. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003. Stuart, Francis. Black List Section H. New York: Penguin, 1997. Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. New York: Harper Perennial, 1989. Yeats, William B. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems. Rev. 2nd ed. New York: Scribner, 1996. Other Books of Interest: Ackerly, C.J., and S.E. Gontarski, eds. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader’s Guide to His Works, Life and Thought. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 2004. Beckson, Karl. The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia. New York: AMS Press, 1998. Brater, Enoch. Why Beckett? London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Brown, Malcolm. The Politics of Irish Literature: From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1972. Brown, Terence. Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922–2002. London: HarperCollins, 2004. Campbell, Joseph, and Henry Morton Robinson. A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake: Unlocking James Joyce’s Masterwork. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2005. Carlson, Julia, ed. Banned in Ireland: Censorship and the Irish Writer. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1990. Cronin, Anthony. No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien. London: Grafton, 1989.



Other Books of Interest (continued): Cronin, Anthony. Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist. London: HarperCollins Publishing, Ltd., 1996. Donoghue, Denis. William Butler Yeats. New York: Viking, 1971. Ellmann, Richard, ed. The Artist as Critic: The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde. New York: Random House, 1969. ———. Four Dubliners. New York: Braziller, 1987. ———. James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. ———. James Joyce: Selected Letters. New York: Viking, 1975. ———. Oscar Wilde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, 1988. ———. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. Fallis, Richard. The Irish Renaissance. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1977. Ferriter, Diarmaid. The Transformation of Ireland 1900–2000. London: Profile, 2004. Foster, Roy F. W.B. Yeats: A Life. The Apprentice Mage, 1865–1914. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. ———. W.B. Yeats: A Life. The Arch-Poet, 1915–1939. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. French, Marilyn. The World as Book: James Joyce’s Ulysses. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976. Gifford, Don, and Robert Seidman. Notes for Joyce: An Annotation of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989. Gordon, John. Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986. Gregory, Augusta Lady. Cuchulain of Muirthemne. Gerrards Cross: Smythe, 1970. ———. Gods and Fighting Men. Gerrards Cross: Smythe, 1970. Harvey, Lawrence E. Samuel Beckett: Poet and Critic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970.


Heaney, Marie. Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends. Boston: Faber, 1994. Holland, Merlin, and Rupert Hart-Davis, eds. The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. New York: Henry Holt & Co., Inc., 2000. Holland, Vyvyan. Oscar Wilde and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1960. Hyde, H. Montgomery. The Trials of Oscar Wilde. New York: Dover Publications, 1973. 66


Other Books of Interest (continued): Jeffares, A.N. A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B. Yeats. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984. Johnston, Dillon. Irish Poetry After Joyce. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985. Joyce, James. Giacomo Joyce. New York: Viking, 1968. ———. Stephen Hero. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1963. Joyce, Stanislaus. My Brother’s Keeper. New York: Viking, 1958. Kain, Richard M. Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. Kavanagh, Patrick. The Green Fool. London: Martin Brian and O’Keeffe, 1971. Kenner, Hugh. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. ———. Ulysses. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987. Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Kiely, Benedict. Yeats’s Ireland: An Enchanted Vision. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1989. Kilroy, Thomas. The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde. Loughcrew, IR: The Gallery Press, 1997. Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Lyons, F.S.L. Charles Stewart Parnell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. MacBride, Maud Gonne. A Servant of the Queen: Her Own Story. Dublin: Golden Eagle Books, 1950. McCormack, Jerusha, ed. Wilde the Irishman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. McCourt, John. The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste 1904–1920. Dublin: Lilliput, 2000. McHugh, Roland. Annotations to Finnegans Wake. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. Mercier, Vivian. Beckett/Beckett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. ———. The Irish Comic Tradition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. Moore, George. Hail and Farewell. Gerrards Cross: Smythe, 1976. Murray, Douglas. Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001. 67


Other Books of Interest (continued): O’Brien, Eoin. The Beckett Country: Samuel Beckett’s Ireland. Dublin: Black Cat, 1986. O’Brien, Flann [Myles na Gopaleen]. The Best of Myles. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1968. O’Connor, Frank. Collected Stories. New York: Knopf, 1981. ———. An Only Child. New York: Knopf, 1961. O’Connor, Ulick. All the Olympians: A Biographical Portrait of the Irish Literary Renaissance. New York: Atheneum, 1984. O’Faolain, Sean. The Collected Stories of Sean O’Faolain. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983. ———. Vive Moi! London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993. Pierce, David. James Joyce’s Ireland. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992. ———. Yeats’s Worlds: Ireland, England and the Poetic Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. Pine, Richard. The Thief of Reason: Oscar Wilde and Modern Ireland. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, Ltd., 1995. Reid, Alec. All I Could Manage, More Than I Could. Dublin: Dolmen, 1968. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Synge, J.M. The Aran Islands. New York: Penguin, 1992. Tóibín, Colm. Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush. Dublin: Lilliput, 2002. Yeats, W.B. Autobiographies. New York: Scribner, 1999. ———. Essays and Introductions. New York: Macmillan, 1961. ———. Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth. London: Penguin, 1993. Yeats, W.B., and Thomas Kinsella. Davis, Mangan, Ferguson?: Tradition and the Irish Writer. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1970.


These books are available online through or by calling Recorded Books at 1-800-636-3399.