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77ns Is (Not) A Canon: Staking out the Tradition in Recent Anthologies of Irish Writing Seamus Deane, ed. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. Three Volumes. 4,044 pp. New York: WW. Norton, 1991. ISBN 0-393-03046-6 (d); $150. Ailbhe Smyth, ed. Wildish Things: An Anthology of New Irish Women's Writing. Dublin: Attic, 1989.229 pp. ISBN 0-946211-74-4 (d); 0-94621173 -6 (pb); £15.95 (d); £7.99 (pb). Ann Owens Weekes, ed. Unveiling Treasures: The Attic Guide to the Published Works of Irish Women Literary Writers. Dublin: Attic, 1993.368 pp. ISBN 1-85594-072-8 (d); 1-85594-067-1 (pb); £28.99 (d); £15.99 (pb). JuUa McElhattan Williams The work of the editor is, in the words of Elizabeth Bowen, "not so simple. Choice, for instance, involves judgment; judgment requires a long perspective."1 Choice, judgment, and critical perspective: these elements , I beUeve, pose the greatest chaUenge to any editor. She shoulders the responsibility for making good critical choices on the basis of sound Uterary judgments, but she must always acknowledge the limits of her own subjectivity and her own time, recognizing that the selections she makes today may not appear appropriate or even wise to tomorrow's readers. There is perhaps no greater test of the talents of an editor than the construction of a Uterary anthology. The anthology of Irish titerature is not, of course, a recent invention in the publishing industry. As early as 1879, Charles A. Read edited The Cabinet of Irish Literature, a four-volume anthology that remained popular enough to warrant a subsequent edition, "revised and greatly extended" by Katharine Tynan Hinkson, in 1909.2 In 1911, Justin McCarthy's ten-volume anthology, simply entitled Irish Literature , provided an even more exhaustive collection of texts.3 These two anthologies, handsomdy bound in green and gilt covers (suitable for the tibrary shelves of genteel bibliophiles), produced by editorial boards composed of Irish scholars, critics, and authors of reputation (in the case of The Cabinet, Read and Tynan, and in the case of Irish Literature, authors such as Lady Augusta Gregory and George RusseU, "A.E."), stand as twin icons of the canon of Irish titerature. Texts that Ue between those green covers have, in effed, been guaranteed genuinely "Irish," like exported wool jumpers, while texts forced to remain outside lack the mark of authority. Such is the power of Uterary anthologies. © 1995 Journal of Women-s History, Vol 6 No. 4/Vol. 7 No. 1 (Winter/Spring) 228 Journal of Women's History Winter/Spring More recently, books that anthologize some genre of Irish titerature— poetry most often—have appeared with increasing frequency.4 From this fad, we may draw one condusion: Irish titerature, it appears, is more widely read than it has been in the past. The composition of this readership , however, is less obvious. An editor agrees to produce an anthology only because she beUeves in the existence of a potential market that will purchase the book. But whereas the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century editors may have imagined their potential market among a general reading pubtic, contemporary editors may exped to seU their books to a particular, albdt captive, audience: university students who enroU for a course in Irish titerature.5 The number of published anthologies also suggests an important coroUary, that editors have attempted to bring texts within the pale that once were exiled beyond the limits of the canon of Irish Uterature, while at the same time relegating texts that once enjoyed critical popularity to obscurity.6 Consequently, increased production of Irish Uterary anthologies suggests, not that the popularity of Irish Uterature is increasing, but that those who are reading are doing so under the auspices of English departments that are themselves accepting texts that once lay outside the boundaries of the traditional Irish Uterary canon.7 This analysis of the pubücation of Irish Uterary anthologies, though cursory, ülustrates the two forces that influence the production and consumption of these volumes: the institutional context of the coUege classroom and the theoretical context of contemporary debates on the ideological nature of the literary canon. Marks of this influence are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 227-235
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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