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REVIEWS AND COMMENTARY FROM COLONY TO CANON: MAPPING MODERN IRISH LITERATURE JOYCE FLYNN Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso, 1995); Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995); Julian Moynahan, The Anglo-Irish: The Literary Imagination in a Hyphenated Culture (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995). in this final decade of the twentieth century, the anniversaries of the 1798 United Irish rising and the Great Hunger have combined with scholarly interest in the literature of emerging nations to produce a steady stream of books on Irish culture and its formative conditions. Three broad studies of modern Irish literature in its multiple contexts marked 1995 as something of an annus mirabilis on the eve of the famine commemorations. All three evince awareness of postcolonial approaches and the tension between a postcolonialism associated primarily with Third World cultures, and Irish exceptionalism as a former colony in western Europe. Terry Eagleton, Julian Moynahan, and Declan Kiberd write from different Irish vantage points: Eagleton, a prominent intellectual of the British left, prefaces his book with a note that all four of his grandparents were Irish emigrants to Britain and acknowledges that the work is as much written “out of my affection for Ireland and its people” as from its intellectual motives . In his afterword, Moynahan, an Irish-American scholar and novelist, associates himself with the Anglo-Irish he discusses. Kiberd, a citizen of the Irish republic and now the professor of Anglo-Irish literature at University College, Dublin, dedicates Inventing Ireland to his children “and the comFROM COLONY TO CANON: MAPPING MODERN IRISH LITERATURE 255 ing times.” He views his task, in its attempt to sift the Irish nationalism of the last century for what is positive and can empower humane modernization, as contributing to Ireland’s hybrid present and future. The theoretical and political assumptions underlying the books diverge widely: Eagleton applies Marxist analysis, examining Irish culture for its sites of power and assessing the double effect of colonial and class privilege. Moynahan traces an elite tradition and rejects postcolonial approaches . He counters that because Ireland’s colonial status was dissolved by the 1800 Act of Union, only pre-1800 Irish literature could be termed “colonial” literature. Declan Kiberd embraces Ireland’s parallels with African and Caribbean former colonies, noting that “the introduction of the Irish case to the debate will complicate, extend, and, in some cases, expose the limits of the current models of postcoloniality.” Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, Anglo-Irish, and Inventing Ireland examine nineteenth- and twentieth-century works and authors but are not inclusive surveys of Irish literary history. All three studies share an attempt to go beyond the particular by constructing traditions from recurring patterns in the texts. Sometimes such tradition-building leads to reappropriation for Ireland of major writers such as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett. Elsewhere, all three works suggest new perspectives on the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Irish literary revival and its implications. For Eagleton, the revival functions as an “archaic avant-garde”: for a historical moment culminating in political independence, a privileged Anglo-Irish stratum and an emergent native Catholic middle class combined energies in an active cultural program, employing the past as a harbinger of and means to the future. Eagleton views the role of Ireland’s modernist writers, with their conflicting tendencies for and against social engagement , as achieving, albeit temporarily, the “active relationship with the people” sought by many deracinated artists in the early twentieth century . For Moynahan, the literary revival is no hybrid effort, but the culmination of Anglo-Irish literature. He sees the revival as the swan song of a hyphenated tradition that commences with Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent and ends with the late work of W.B. Yeats. Moynahan labels Yeats’s work after the establishment of the Irish Free State as “commemoration ” of a tradition past, with an eventual “post-mortem” in the careers of Beckett and Elizabeth Bowen. “The year 1927 may just be the year in which Anglo-Irish culture came face-to-face with its own ending.” Where Moynahan reads an ending, Kiberd reads perhaps chapter two FROM...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 255-260
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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