Irish Considerations Panel

Irish Considerations Panel

 

‘Yeat’s plasma, nobody else’s’: Female Coterie Culture and the Irish Academy of Letters.[1]

Deirdre Brady (University of Limerick)

There is compelling new evidence to suggest that the establishment of Yeat’s influential Irish Academy of Letters in 1932, divided the literary scene into a distinctive gendered sphere, and was a crucial catalyst for the setting up of the radical literary club, The Women Writer’s Club. Abbey playwrights such as Dorothy Macardle and Teresa Deevy were prominent members of this female-only club, alongside Yeat’s friend and muse, Maud Gonne, and his one-time lover Ethel Mannin. Well-known international writers Kate O’Brien and Elizabeth Bowen were also invited to join the Women Writers’ Club, yet, astonishingly, Yeats failed to nominate them as Academicians to his prestigious Academy. The author Stephen Gwynn drew attention to this in his influential study of Irish literature, Irish Literature and Drama in the English Language: A Short History (1936), when he wrote “ it would be wrong to regard the Academy’s choices as sufficient representation”. The criteria for membership was widely debated amongst the intelligentsia of the period, and initially courted much controversy. This paper teases out the rifts and fissures generated by the setting up of the Irish Academy of Letters, and in particular interrogates Yeat’s oblique relationships with Irish literary women.  It examines the fallout from the division of the literary field, and the recuperation of this relationship through coterie culture. These diverse literary groups had separate didactic aims.  Yet their legacy is seen in their collaborative campaigns against censorship, and their shared aim of promoting the Irish Book;  as well as their united efforts to provide a vital forum for writers and a platform for Irish cultural expression.

 

Yeats’s Magic Nationalism

Daas Fedya (Manouba University)

Central to Yeats’s idea of the past is his lifelong captivation with the idea of the occult, folklore and myth, an idea that enables him to transcend the limitations of the colonial present. In this paper, I argue that Yeats through equating the Irish heritage with mythology, in his early poetry, manages to develop a peculiar notion of magic nationalism that links the mythical world with national pride. In particular, this paper looks at the multi-layered functions of mythology drawing upon the techniques of magic realism and dismissing the prejudice that Yeats’s interest in the occult is a mere crankiness and non-nationalistic. First and foremost, foregrounding Celtic folklore and legends aims at uniting the Irish people despite different political, religious and social affiliations by positing mythology as a common Irish religion. Connecting repressed desire and a call for agency, the realm of myth in Yeats’s verse is the projection of an Irish nexus of the unconscious and nationalism. Mythology helps also promote Yeats’s project of deanglicization that through endowing the English verse with an Irish spirit undermines the English language from within transforming it into a mere vehicle to carry the culture of the other. Renewing contact with the ghosts, fairies and traditions of mythic Ireland challenges the dominance of English cultural supremacy, reaffirms the power of indigenous voices and arms the Irish with resistant narratives that construct their collective memory.

 

The  Mage  and  the  Adept:  The  ‘fractious’  Friendship  between  Yeats  and  AE.

Deirdre Kelly (University of Limerick)

This  paper  will  explore  W.B.  Yeats’s  and  AE’s  contested  friendship  both  from  visual  perspectives  and  oral  testimonies  not  fully  explored.  These  latter  will  focus  on  unpublished  correspondence  between  AE  and  the  Irish  American  patron  to  both  AE  and  Yeats,  John  Quinn  (John  Quinn  Collection,  New  York  Public  Library).  Their  contention  has  been  included  in  studies  by  Peter  Kuch  (1986),  and  R.F.  Foster  (1997)  and  their  letters  published  in  various  edited  versions  such  as  Allan  Wade’s,  Letters  of  Yeats  (1954)  and  Alan  Denson’s,  Letters  from  AE  (1961).  However,  their  relationship  has  never  been  examined  from  the  specific  position  of  AE’s  personal  letters  to  a  third  party,  Quinn,  a  key  figure  and  commentator  in  both  their  lives.  This  exploration  will  cover  such  issues  as  their  dispute  over  The  National  Theatre  Society,  their  patronage  to  younger  writers  and  their  final  reconciliation  before  AE’s  death  in  1935.

George  (AE)  Russell  first  met  Yeats  in  the  Dublin  Metropolitan  School  of  Art  in  1884.  Their  friendship  centred  on  their  interest  in  Ireland’s  pre-Christian  ‘golden  age’  and  its  potential  to  return  a  sense  of  national  pride  and  consciousness.  While  initially  working  together  in  their  quest  for  spiritual  awareness  following  theosophical  philosophy,  they  chose  differing  paths  as  they  became  more  prominent  within  Irish  cultural  life  as  a  whole.  Yeats  chose  the  active  course  of  the  mage  or  magician  to  explore  his  spiritual  philosophy  while  AE,  the  passive  adept,  remained  committed  to  mastering  theosophical  doctrine  and  ideology.

 

 

Cathleen Ni Houlihan and the Disability Aesthetics of Irish National Culture

Marion Quirici (University at Buffalo)

The transformation of the Old Woman at the end of Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) entails a restoration not only of youth, but also of ability. Because the Old Woman, or Cathleen Ni Houlihan, symbolizes Ireland itself, the “walk of a queen” denotes national self-sufficiency as well as personal autonomy. This paper uses a disability studies methodology to situate Cathleen Ni Houlihan in the context of colonial caricatures and political representations of Ireland as disabled and unfit for freedom. I explicate the early nationalist response to Cathleen Ni Houlihan as an intense identification with a narrative of cure or rehabilitation. The uniquely fraught connotations of disability and nationality in turn-of-the-century Ireland gave the play an especial dramatic power and tragic significance. The Old Woman’s transformation from debility to capacity offers a revolutionary symbol of rejuvenation and rehabilitation. But the play itself complicates the narrative of cure even as it presents it: Cathleen’s rehabilitation is achieved through Michael’s willingness to face disablement or death on her behalf. The symbol of a fit and able Ireland is sustained through the violence of rebellion, and its concomitant war injuries, traumas, and scars. In reading the tension between various signifiers of disability in the text—symbolic and literal, physical and mental—I argue that Cathleen Ni Houlihan’s complex engagement with stereotypes of Irish disability allows the play to function as a stimulus for national feeling while remaining, as a literary object, ambivalent.

 


[1] This title is coined from a by Sean O’Faolain’s in his autobiography Viva Moi! An Autobiography. O’Faolain makes the point that the Academy was overseen primarily by Yeats and that George Bernard Shaw only lent his name to the organization.  O’Faolain, Sean. Vive Moi!: An Autobiography, (1993) London: Sinclair-Stephenson. Print.