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Reviewed by:
  • Irish Writing: Exile and Subversion, and: Ancestral Voices: The Big House in Anglo-Irish Literature, and: The Big House in Ireland: Reality and Representation, and: The Literary Works of Jack B. Yeats
  • James M. Cahalan
Paul Hyland and Neil Sammells, eds. Irish Writing: Exile and Subversion. New York: St. Martin's, 1991. 260 pp. $39.95.
Otto Rauchbauer, ed. Ancestral Voices: The Big House in Anglo-Irish Literature. Dublin: Lilliput, 1992. 304 pp. Ir $25.00.
Jacqueline Genet, ed. The Big House in Ireland: Reality and Representation. Dingle, Co. Kerry: Brandon/Savage, Maryland: Barnes and Noble, 1991. 311 pp. No price given.
John W. Purser. The Literary Works of Jack B. Yeats. Savage, Maryland: Barnes and Noble, 1991. 234 pp. No price given.

It is coincidental that the order in which these four books are listed above reflects their likely relative interest to most readers as well as my own order of preference. Hyland and Sammells's collection presents useful studies of the politics of such major modernist and postmodernist writers as Joyce, Yeats, and Beckett; the two collections on the important yet largely neglected subject of the Big House naturally invite comparison and are both of varied quality, but Rauchbauer's is generally significantly better than Genet's; and Purser's book is a poor one that most likely will be consulted only by the scholar of W. B. Yeats who is curious enough to want to find about his brother's writings, but will find Purser inadequate to his task.

Irish Writing: Exile and Subversion includes perceptive examinations of the politics of such writers as Joyce and Beckett, traditionally assumed to be "apolitical." Exile is a well-worn theme, virtually a cliché, in Irish writing, but the nature of Irish writers' "subversion" has been much less considered and understood. In this [End Page 966] collection of essays mostly by Eagletonian English scholars and largely about poets and dramatists, the two essays on Joyce are likely to be of most immediate interest to students of modern fiction. Yet the three essays on nonfictional political prose and several others on such subjects as Beckett's Endgame as a political play (by Charles R. Lyons) and recent northern Irish poets (by Neil Corcoran) remind us how interdisciplinary Irish studies should be and are therefore also valuable in this context. Keith Williams's "Joyce's 'Chinese alphabet': Ulysses and the Proletarians" joins the fairly recent series of Marxist appreciations of Joyce. Like Jeremy Hawthorn, who published an essay ten years ago (which Williams does not cite) in which he showed that early Marxist critics such as Lukács and Radek claimed that Joyce was politically "escapist" only because they did not understand his mode of writing, Williams demonstrates that later socialists developed a new appreciation of the very detailed ways in which Joyce recorded social realities and oppression. More original is Williams's treatment of the influence of Ulysses during the 1930s on such leftist and proletarian English writers as George Orwell and John Sommerfield. In terms of gender politics, the leading U. S. feminist Joycean, Bonnie Kime Scott, adds to her two earlier books on the subject an essay entitled "James Joyce: A Subversive Geography of Gender." More generous to Joyce than some feminists, Scott reads Joyce and Stephen as moving gradually toward androgyny, and explores Joycean "geography"—particularly the sympathetic linkage of "the West" and women in "The Dead."

The cross-generic and historical range of this collection is underscored by Margaret O'Brien's essay on the "Lough Derg" theme in William Carleton; she reminds us that the nineteenth-century fiction writer's subject was subsequently taken up as a motif by such twentieth-century poets as Yeats and Heaney. David Seed highlights how J. P. Donleavy, as an American exiled to Ireland, reverses the more common pattern of exile among Irish writers. Stephen H. Daniels's "The Subversive Philosophy of John Toland," Alan Booth's "Irish Exiles, Revolution and Writing in England in the 1790s," Graham Davis's "Making History: John Mitchel and the Great Famine," and C. L. Innes's essay on the first three Irish feminist newspapers at the turn of this century all...


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