R. F. Foster (1949- )


Life
[Robert Fitzroy; fam. & usu. Roy]; b. 16 Jan. 1949, Waterford, son and second child of Church of Ireland parents Betty and Frederick Ernest Foster (“Fef”), headmaster of Newtown School, Waterford - both of whom taught Irish in school; gs. of farming family in Co. Cavan with a mat. gf. in the RIC; ed. Newtown School, Waterford; takes up Ford Scholarship to St Andrew’s School, Middletown, Delaware; enters Trinity College, Dublin [Dublin Univ.], 1968; studies History under T. W. Moody; successfully took Foundation Scholarship, 1969, with rooms at No. 3 (Front Sq.); grad. BA Hons., 1971; m. Aisling [Foster], 1972, with whom children Phineas and Nora afterwards; completes PhD on Charles Stewart Parnell and his family, TCD, 1974; appt. lect. at Birbeck College, University of London, 1974-91, and later elected Chair of Modern British History;
 
briefly teaches at Princeton Univ., before appointment as first Carroll Professor of Irish History, 1991, seated at John’s College, Oxford; serves as reviews editor for History and frequently contribs. to Times Literary Supplement, the object of his review incl. Charles Stewart Parnell, the Man and His Family (1976); appt. Reader, 1983; Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life (1981); Political Novels and 19th Century History (1982); issues Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988), urging in conclusion a ‘more relaxed and inclusive definition of Irishnesses’; also ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern Ireland (1989); issues Paddy & Mr Punch (1993), essays on Irish fortunes in England; takes on authorised biography of W. B. Yeats on death of F. S. L. Lyons (d.1983), who had assumed responsibility after Denis Donoghue withdrew on failing to gain exclusive publication rights to the Yeats papers;
 
issues first vol. of his life of Yeats as The Apprentice Mage, 1865-1914 (March 1997), extracts being serialised in The Irish Times, March 1997; winner of the Prix de Rome; issues The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (2001), in which he explores the proper balance between history and memory taking issue with a conception of the historian’s task as ‘a duty to reinforce the self-understanding of a people, no matter how it relates to the historical record’ while equating the ‘industry of commemoration’ with historical marketing’; issues W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. II: The Arch-Poet (2003); gives the Wiles Lectures (QUB), May 2004;
 

becomes the object of pamphleting attacks from Aubane Society (Belfast); gives the 5th Fennell Lecture, 17 Nov. 2005, Oxford Univ. (‘‘The Mob at the Door”: W.B. Yeats and the Course of Irish Politics’); gives keynote lectures at Yeats International Summer School (‘Yeats and Death’;), and Parnell Summer School, both Aug. 2007; issues Luck of the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000 (October 2007); gives Clark Lectures at Cambridge (‘‘Words Alone are Certain Good”: Literature, Nationalism and Politics in nineteenth-century Ireland’, later issued as a book); research fellowship at UCD, Winter 2009; wrote positive review of the RIA Dictionary of Biography in TLS, 3 Feb. 2010; his study of the Easter Rising came out as Vivid Faces in 2016; collaborated with Bob Geldof on a documentary about W. B. Yeats with emphasis on the 1916 Rising (A Fanatic Heart, March 2016); also appeared in Michael Portillo’s account of the rising as The Enemy Files (21 March 2016); lectured on Heaney's ‘Visions and Revisions’ in Seeing Things at the Clifden Arts Festival, 16 Sept. 2017. DIW OCIL DIL2 FDA

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[ ‘Foster is a historian in the way that Joyce was a novelist’ - Nicholas Allen (Irish Times, 2012). ]

See Roy Foster and Colm Tóibín in dialogue with Fintan O’Toole on at Heyman Centre of Stanford University - 9 April 2015 [online].

 

Works
Biography
  • Charles Stewart Parnell: The Man and His Family (Hassock, Sussex: Harvester Wheatsheaf 1976; NJ: Humanities Press 1979), xx, 403pp., ill. [gen. table, map, ports.; Bibl., p.326-28];
  • Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life (Oxford: OUP 1981), 448pp.;
  • W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage, 1865-1914 (OUP 1997), xxxi, 640pp. [32pp. pls.];
  • W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. II: The Arch-Poet 1915-1939 (Oxford: OUP 2003), 798pp. [see under Yeats, infra] - available at Google Books online; 02.10.2010].
History
  • ‘To The Northern Counties Station: Lord Randolph Churchill and the Prelude to the Orange Card’, in Ireland Under the Union: Varieties of Tension: Essays in Honour of T. W. Moody, ed. F. S. L. Lyons & R. A. J. Hawkins (Oxford Clarendon Press 1980);
  • Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Allen Lane; NY Viking/Penguin 1988), 688pp. [with introductory essay on ‘Varieties of Irishness’, pp.3-14];
  • ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern Ireland (OUP 1989 [with appendix on ‘Literature’ by Declan Kiberd], and Do. [rev. edn. as] The Oxford History of Ireland (OUP 1992), 346pp.;
  • ed., Hubert Butler, The Sub-Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1990; rep. London: Penguin 1992), 368pp., and Do., in French trans. as L’Envahisseur est venu en pantoufles (1995).
  • Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890–1923 (NY: Norton 2016),  464pp.
Essays (collections)
  • Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History (London: Allen Lane/Penguin 1993; rep. 1995) [see contents];
  • The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 2001), xx, 281pp. [see contents];
  • Luck of the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000 (October 2007), 240pp. [see contents].
  • R. F. Foster, Words Alone: Yeats and His Inheritances [Clark Lectures, Cambridge 2009] (Oxford: OUP 2011), 256pp.
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Miscellaneous
  • Political Novels and Nineteenth-Century History [Contexts and Connections: Winchester Research Papers in the Humanities, 10] (Winchester: King Alfred’s College 1981);
  • ‘Varieties of Irishness’ [Cultural Traditions Group inaugural lecture], in Varieties of Irishness, ed. Maurna Crozier (QUB/IIS 1989);
  • ‘History and the Irish Question’, in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society [5th Ser.], 33 (1983), rep. in Interpreting Irish History: The Debate on Historical Revisionism 1938-1994, ed. Ciaran Brady (Dublin: IAP 1994), pp.121-45;
  • The Story of Ireland: an Inaugural Lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 1 Dec. 1994, by R. F. Foster, Carroll Professor of History (Clarendon Press 1995), 31pp. [pamph.; prev. printed in Times Literary Supplement as ‘The Magic of Its Lovely Dawn, Reading Irish History as Story’ (TLS, 16 Dec. 1993), pp.4-6 [see extract];
  • ‘Something to Hate: Intimate Enmities in Irish History’, in The Irish Review, 30, 1 [Nov.] (Spring-Summer 2003), pp.1-12 [see extract];
  • ‘Forward to Methusalah: The Progress of Irish Nationalism’, in Ireland’s Polemical Past: Views of Irish History in Honour of R. V. Comerford, ed. Terence Dooley (UCD Press [q.d.]), [Chap. 8; q.pp.].
  • ‘Yeats at War: Poetic Strategies and Political Reconstruction from the Easter Rising to the Free State’ [The Prothero Lecture], in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Ser., Vol. 11 (2001), pp.125-45.
Also contrib. to Trinity Tales: Trinity College Dublin in the Sixties (2008).
Journalism (sel. reviews.)
  • ‘By mask and by magic’, review of Frank Tuohy, Yeats (Macmillan 1976), in Times Literary Supplement (29 Oct. 1976);
  • ‘More Maudit Than Most’ [review of Brian Moore, The Mangan Inheritance], in Times Literary Supplement (23 November 1979);
  • ‘Master of Exceptions’, review of Eric Hobsbawn, Workers: Worlds of Labor, in The New York Review of Books (5 Dec. 1985) [q.pp.];
  • ‘Moral Dilemmas and the Sins of Omission’, in Sunday Times [during 1990], H7;
  • ‘In Ireland’s Green and Pleasant Land’, Independent [UK] (10 Sept. 1994) [on nostalgia in stories of Gerry Adams];
  • ‘Remembrance or Imagination: The McCourt Phenomenon’, in The Irish Review, 25, 1 (Winter-Spring 1999/2000), pp.137-44;
  • ‘A Troubled House’ in The Guardian (Wed., 4 Feb. 2004) [on Abbey Theatre Centenary];
  • review of William Trevor, Cheating at Canasta, in The Irish Times (4 Aug. 2007), Weekend;
  • ‘Partnership of Loss’, review of The Politics of Enmity 1789-2006, by Paul Bew, in London Review of Books (13 Dec. 2007), pp.21-23 - available online or attached.]
  • […].
  • review of Trinity Tales: Trinity College Dublin in the Seventies, ed. Kathy Gilfillan (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2011), 296pp. [available online].

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Bibliographical details
Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History (London: Allen Lane/Penguin 1993), CONTENTS: Acknowledgements [ix]; Introduction [xi]; Chap. 1: History and the Irish Question [1]; Chap 2: Varieties of Irishness: Cultures and Anarchy in Ireland [21]; Chap. 3: Interpretations of Parnell: The Importance of Locale [40]; Chap. 4: Parnell and His People: The Ascendancy and Home Rule [62]; Chap. 5: Knowing Your Place: Words and Boundaries in Anglo-Irish Relations [78]; Chap. 6: The Irishness of Elizabeth Bowen [102]; Chap. 7: Love, Politics and Textual Corruption: Mrs O’Shea’s Parnell [123]; Chap. 8: ‘Fatal Drollery’: Parliamentary Novels, Outsiders and Victorian Political History [139]; Chap. 9: Paddy and Mr Punch [171]; Chap. 10: Good Behaviour: Yeats, Synge and Anglo-Irish Etiquette [195]; Chap. 11: Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History [212; see note]; Chap. 12: To the Northern Counties Station: Lord Randolph Churchill and the Orange Card [233]; Chap. 13: Thinking from Hand to Mouth: Anglo-Irish Literature, Gaelic Nationalism and Irish Politics in the I890s [262]; Chap. 14: Marginal Men and Micks on the Make: The Uses of Irish Exile, c.1840-1922 [281]. Notes 306. Index 373. Note:

Note: ‘Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’ was formerly published in Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. 75 (1989), and latterly reprinted in Jonathan Allison, ed., Yeats’s Political Identities (Michigan UP 1996), pp.83-105 [see extracts].

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The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London: Penguin 2001, 2002), 282pp. CONTENTS: Acknowledgements ix; Introduction xi. 1] The Story of Ireland [1]; 2: Theme-parks and Histories [23]; 3: “Colliding Cultures”: Leland Lyons and the Reinterpretation of Irish History [37]; 4: Yeats at War: Poetic Strategies and Political Reconstruction [58]; 5: “When the Newspapers Have Forgotten Me”: Yeats, Obituarists and Irishness [80]; 6: The Normal and the National: Yeats and the Boundaries of Irish Writing [95]; 7: Square-built Power and Fiery Shorthand: Yeats, Carleton and the Irish Nineteenth Century [113]; 8: Stopping the Hunt: Trollope and the Memory of Ireland [127]; 9: Prints on the Scene: Elizabeth Bowen and the Landscape of Childhood [148]; 10: Selling Irish Childhoods: Frank McCourt and Gerry Adams [164]; 11: The Salamander and the Slap: Hubert Butler and His Century [187]; 12: Remembering 1798 [211]; Notes 235; Index 267.

Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000 (London: Allen Lane: 2007), 227pp. [ Notes, 191ff; Index, 215ff; ded. Thaddeus O’Sullivan]. CONTENTS: Preface [ix]; Introduction: Culture and Anarchy in Ireland c.1970-2000 [1]; The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes [7]; How the Catholics Became Protestants [37]; “The Party Fight and Funeral”: Fianna Fail and Irish Politics in the late Twentieth Century [67]; “Big, mad Children”: The South and the North [99]; How the Short Story Became Novels [147]; Conclusion: The Strange Death of Romantic Ireland [184]; Notes [191]; Index [215].

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Criticism
  • Conor Cruise O’Brien, ‘The Idea of a post-Catholic Ireland, review of Paddy and Mr Punch, in Times Literary Supplement (16 Dec. 1993);
  • Andrew Brown, ‘Interpreter of myths’ [interview-article on Roy Foster], in The Guardian (13 Sept. 2003);
  • Patrick Crotty [review article], ‘The Rich Confusion of Experience: Foster’s Years’, in The Irish Review, Vol. 32 [Thinking in Public] (Autumn - Winter 2004), pp.90-97 [go to JSTOR online];
  • Nicholas Allen, review of Words Alone: Yeats and His Inheritances, in The Irish Times (30 April 2011), Weekend, p.10.
  • Denis Donoghue, review of Vivid Faces, in New York Review of Books (7 April 2016) - as attached.

See also critiques issued by the Aubane Society (Belfast) - viz., Aubane Versus Oxford: A Response to Professor Roy Foster and Bernard O’Donoghue (Aubane Hist. Soc. 2002), 40pp.; Brendan Clifford & Julianne Herlihy, Envoi: Taking Leave of Roy Foster Reviews of His Made Up Irish Story (Belfast: Aubane Hist. Soc. 2006), 204pp.

—See various remarks under Commentary [infra].

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W. B. Yeats: The Apprentice Mage (1997) - some reviews:
  • John Kelly, The Irish Times (8 [April] 1997) [‘magnificent biography’];
  • Katie O’Donovan, ‘Putting Father into History’ [interview with Ann and Michael Yeats], in The Irish Times (26 March 1997);
  • Seamus Deane, ‘Magus of the Mask’, in Guardian Weekly [orig. in Guardian] (30 March 1997) [‘amazing work of scholarship, vitalised by affinities between Foster and WBY, fastidiously controlled, wonderfully illuminating’];
  • Mick Imlah, ‘A Genius, A Fool’, in Times Literary Supplement (11 April 1997);
  • Terry Eagleton, ‘Song at Twlight’, in The Independent (UK), Weekend [front page] (8 March 1997) [‘Terry Eagleton treads softly on an Irish bard’s dreams’];
  • John Carey, feature review-article, in Sunday Times, ‘Books’ (9 March 1997)
  • […]

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Commentary
Terry Eagleton, ‘A Postmodernist Punch’, Irish Studies Review, No. 6, pp.2-3 [‘it is saddening to see such a brilliant intellect so obdurately self-confined’; and also ‘Eagleton Rebuffed’, in Irish Studies Review, No.7, being answers by Bruce Stewart (pp.31-35; attached) and Austen Morgan (pp.36-38; attached).

Seamus Deane ‘Wherever Green is Read’, in Revising the Rising, eds. Máirín Ní Donnchadha & Theo Dorgan (1991), offers a unshackled critique of Foster’s Modern Ireland, remarking inter al.: ‘Revisionists are [unionist] despite themselves; by refusing to be Irish nationalists, they simply become defenders of Ulster or British nationalism, thereby switching sides … .’ (p,102.)

Thomas Hofheinz, Joyce and the Invention of Irish History (Cambridge UP 1995): ‘Foster does not lack compassion - his survey [in Modern Ireland] deepens and complicates [62] previous perceptions of Ireland’s many struggles. On the other hand, the effect of his analysis of the famine dissolves its real and enduring trauma and terror by diminishing the crimes and sufferings endured by the Irish during that period. He achieves this diminution by rationalising the famine through recourse to his preferred realm of transcendent historical value, the free markert. In the process, he seems to exonerate figures like Charles Trevelyan […] who believed that the disaster was the providential act of a supply-side god. Foster’s impassive treatment of Charles Trevelyan casts some light on the reasons for the “revisionist“ historians’ bad press in Ireland. Their generosity towards colonising agents in Irish history has certainly seemed to originate in a reflexive riding of ideological curves: they further they draw from Irish nationalism, the closer they come to embracing the transcendental rationalism of English liberal thought. English liberalism and its concomitant complacency about the hegemonic effect of transnational market forces is an especially tempting ideological option for modern Irish historians, since liberalism’s ubiquitous entrenchment in British culture has given it a slippery but real cultural footing everywhere in Ireland. / Moody and his followers came to bear the public stigma of crypto-colonialists who attacked the mental means by which the Irish defined themselves as post-colonial [… &c.]’ (p.63.)

P. J. Kavanagh, ‘O all the instruments agree’, review of Apprentice Mage, in Spectator (15 March 1997), notes ‘the brilliance with which [Foster] handles his material and […] the extraordinary depth of Yeats’s involvement in the social history of his island and his time.’

Luke Gibbons, ‘‘Some Hysterical Hatred’;: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, Irish University Review (Spring/Summer 1997), pp.7-23; p.18: “Mystery is the shadow of guilt”, wrote the Gothic novelist Sheridan Le Fanu, and, as Roy Foster has argued, the line of Protestant supernatural fiction which links Yeats to other Dublin Protestant writers such as Bram Stoker, Le Fanu and Charles Maturin, is haunted by spectres from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Ref., ‘Protestant Magic’, Paddy and Mr Punch […, &c.] (London: Allen Lane, Penguin 1993; n.p. [recte p.220]) Foster, however, sees the supernatural as a form of escapism, an imaginary refuge from the beleaguered condition of nineteenth-century Protestant Ireland, but it may well be that the ghosts of the past were not so enchanting and were rather what the Irish gothic was trying to escape from. Foster cites the exemplary trope in Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) where the memory of a centuries-old corrupt bargain condemns its beneficiary to wander the world, but does not mention that the Faustian pact in question originated in the Melmoth family’s involvement in Cromwellian confiscations. [Ftn: ‘The first of the Melmoths’, recounts a ‘witch-like’ Biddy Brannigan, who administers her folk medicine at the death bed of young John Melmoth’s uncle, ‘who settled in Ireland, was an officer in Cromwell’s army, who obtained a grant of lands, the confiscated property of an Irish family attached to the royal cause.’ (Melmoth the Wanderer; Penguin Edn., p.64.)] According to George Sigerson, moreover, the reason the “curse of Cromwell” haunted successive generations had less to do with supernatural solicitings than with the fact that it was continually revisited on the Catholic population, under the civilising mask of legislation buttressing the rule of landlordism. […&c.].

Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland (1995), characterises Foster as ‘a patriotic Irishman who believe that the most useful service he can perform for his people is the devaluation of a nationalism, some of whose disciples are willing to kill and be killed in its defence.’ (p.643.)

Colm Tóibín, ‘New Ways to Kill Your Father: Historical Revisionism’, in Karl-Heinz Westarp and Michael Böss, eds., Ireland: Towards New Identities? (Aarhus UP 1998), pp.28-36, conducts a measured critique of Foster’s Modern Ireland, espec. pp.31ff. [See under Tóibin, infra.]

Terry Eagleton, review of R. F. Foster, The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland, in Guardian Weekly (8-14 Nov. 2001, writes: ‘Foster shares the prejudices of his class as well [as nationalists he asperses]. In an image quite as sentimental as anything from Angela’s Ashes, he writes of the patrician Hubert Butler’s house “commanding” the surrounding countryside, but ‘in its gentle way’. The fact [that] he does not see what many would find darkly amusing about that image is revealing. If the Anglo-Irish liberals bravely championed the people, they were also a patronising elite intent on spreading their own brand of enlightenment among the obtusely mythological masses. / Foster, the great demythologiser of Ireland, perpetuates this practice, though like most demythologisers he remains ensnared in a few myths of his own. He cannot, for example, free himself of the old-fashioned liberal prejudice that political commitment is inevitably reductive. Though The Irish Story is needlingly partisan, its author tends to believe that partisanship, like halitosis, is what the other fellow has.’ Further: ‘Foster assumes in a rather jeering tone that any of his compatriots who feel serious hostility to the British state are simply the deluded victims of demonology. […] Foster is a supremely talented analyst of Ireland, and an impeccable establishment figure: one who tells the chattering classes just what they want to hear about the place.’ [End] (p.15.)

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Fintan O’Toole, reviewing of The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland (Allen Lane), 282pp., writes: ‘The desire that underlies these essays is that our own time might be another such period in which the willingness to be open about the past is itself an opening out of the present. “We can“, he writes, “makes history by re-reading it, and by realising and accepting the fractured, divergent realities, and the complications and nuances behind the various Stories.“ Foster’s tough-minded grace and clear-headed appreciation of nuances are themselves an important part of that process.’ (The Irish Times [Weekend], 10 Nov. 2001, p.8.)

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Christopher Shea, ‘An Irish historian exposes his country’s mythmaking from the Great Potato Famine to Angela’s Ashes’, interview-article, in Boston Globe, E1 (15 Sept. 2002), reports Foster as saying that there’s something unique about the Irish Story, something at once distinctly self-abasing and self-promoting, and quotes: ‘The new modernised, liberated Irish consciousness feels a sneaking nostalgia for the verities of the old victim-culture […] which was also, in its way, a culture of superiority.’ Further, ‘The concept of a perennial victim produces a very emotionally powerful and emotionally coherent story [but] it also leads to a kind of denial that any other elements in the Irish Story have any part to play.’It would be pointless not to say that I was educated in the liberal humanist protestant - small p - tradition, and that that must have left its mark […] But I would think it’s the liberalism and the humanism that are transmitted in the way I write - the protestantism not being relevant to the intellectual way I conceive things.’ (The interview was conducted by telephone.)

Adrian Frazier, ‘On Automatic’, review of W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. 2: ‘The Arch-Poet’;, in NY Times Book Review (9 Nov. 2003), writes of the treatment the automatic-writing episodes between WBY and George: ‘[…] Foster’s treatment is superior to anything we have had before on the subject’; of Yeats’s senate speech against divorce: ‘Yeats’s senates speeches [‘We to whom you have done this thing ..’;.] have often been taken to be ridiculously extreme, if not extremely ridiculous. Placed by Foster next to frequent quotations from the frenzied bigots writing for the Catholic Bulletin, Yeats’s bellicosity looks like good sense. It helps that the country has recently come round to thinking ashe did then, as shown in the plebiscites that legalised divorce and contraception.’ Concludes: Mostly what Yeaets was, however, and this great biography manifesets it on page after page, was a truly alarming genius who hunted revelation until the end. During some inspired periods one immortal poem led to another “as if I were smoking cigaretes & lit them frm each other.” Days before he died, he [Yeats] found the sentence he was looking for: “Man can embody truth but he cannot know it” - as good a defense of biography as was ever made. […] the book deserves to be a classic.’ (p.9.)

Frank Kermode, review of W. B. Yeats - A Life: Vol. 2: ‘The Arch-Poet’;, in Los Angeles Times (23 Nov. 2003): ‘To show how radically this man was involved in the history of his country was a formidable undertaking for a biographer. / Foster has achieved it, and although Yeats scholarship goes on apace, it is reasonably safe to say that much of his work is definitive. Foster is Irish, a professor of Irish history at Oxford. He handles with great skill and authority aspects of the poet’s life and times that might simply bewilder the uninstructed reader. In this second volume, he has to deal with the last quarter-century of Yeats’ life, a period crammed with interests of many kinds - political, biographical, erotic. But it was above all the period when Yeats wrote most of the poetry that won him the accolade of the greatest poet of his age. In his first volume, Foster was avowedly more at ease with the life and the politics than with the poems, which he expressly undertook to treat ‘in their immediate historical context.’; And for all that one greatly admired in that volume, it seemed possible that the extraordinary masterpieces of Yeats’ later years might be a problem for him. / The worry was unnecessary. Foster nearly always has something enhancing to say about the poems, as he does about every aspect of the poet’s amazingly full life. This second volume is equal to its great subject. It represents, among other things, a triumph of tone, which may be illustrated by his treatment of the automatic writings of Yeats’ wife, George. […] Such a life, such an extraordinary old age called for a great book. To write it called for exceptional powers. It was not just that an enormous amount of material had to be controlled and digested - that might have been done by uninspired diligence. The bedrock of this enormous volume is not just Foster’s intimate and consolidated knowledge but his deep and loving respect for Yeats - and also his care to deal justly with the poet’s family, friends, business associates, mistresses and fellow-poets from whom he learned and whom he taught. I have never read a biography of any poet that has conveyed so clearly the genius of its subject and the talent of its author.’

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Denis Donoghue, ‘What Was Lost: Can a biography of W. B. Yeats rely on historical facts alone?’, in Harper’s Magazine (Dec. 2003), pp.95-102: Donoghue ultimately finds a contradiction between Yeats’s antipathy to ‘Enlightenment values’ and the ‘measured style’ of the biographer (pp.101-02), with particular emphasis on the treatment of A Vision. He opens with an account of Foster the revisionist vis-a-vis the version of Irish history that Donoghue learnt from the Christian Brothers at Newry and adds that some readers complain that, ‘in dispelling the falsse glamour of Ireland, Foster has also removed the true’ (p.95); cites Foster’s adumbration of the kind of factual biography Samuel Beckett called for [presum. in communication with James Knowlson], and remarks: ‘the trouble with this genial program is that Yeats had lttle interest in straws and flotsam [Beckett’s phrase]; he did not submit to the tyranny of events. […] Yeats looked at objects not to verify their existence but to appreciate their symbolic value.’ p.96.) (p.98; see further on Yeats under Donoghue, supra.) ‘Having told with honourable patience and immense distinction the story of Yeats’s dealings withthe occult, Foster comes to a Vision and his patience breaks down. He has not time for the book, in either of its versions, as a philosophical system: it is by defeated by “the completely internalised arguements and intentional obscurity.” I am surprised at his severity. ther is much to be said for A vision, not as a systematic philosophy but as an aesthetic, a poetics, a defense of poetry, a theory of imagination, a treatise of human nature predicated on the freedom of one’s imagination within the conditions of time, space, and history. It is also a study of psychological types, rejecting the ideology of progress and the Enlightenment [99] by invoking the anima mundi as a treasury of images, perennial, invulnerable to rationalist theory. I don’t doubt thta writing the book helped Yeats, as he claimed, to “hold in a single thought reality and justice.”’ (pp.99-100.) Concludes: ‘The problem for Foster was this: How to tell Yeats’s story, much of which Yeats has already told in prejudicial, theatrical terms, mythologising his life while living it’ - recommending as a ‘the most resolute device’ displacing attention away from Yeats as Anne Saddlemyer did in The Life of Mrs W. B. Yeats (2002), and complains that ‘Foster’s method of separating himself from Yeats’s rhetoric is by disowning his [Yeats’s] style’ - a procedure that is ‘with ‘no operatic climaxes.’ (…; &c., p.102.)

Denis Donoghue, review of Vivid Faces, in New York Review of Books (7 April 2016): ‘[..] Foster’s aim in Vivid Faces, as I interpret it, is to remove the halo of the sublime from the martyred Pearse and his friends, and to present ‘the revolutionary generation’ as a generation like any other: just like the American, the French, the Russian, Paris in 1968, Berkeley, any rising you care to name. He recognizes that a sense of the sublime is not subject to criticism: there is no point in assuring a victim or an adept of the sublime that he has nothing to fear; he has plenty to fear, to begin with, and he must tense his nerves and feel satisfaction in doing so. / Foster wants to restore the martyrs to the ordinariness from which they came, those men and women with small jobs or minor professions in Dublin; he must undo Yeats’s poem, delete the terrible beauty. That will not be easy, because empirical considerations are likely to be ineffective in such a case. It will not make any difference to John MacBride’s martyrdom if you keep saying that he was a drunk and that he abused Maud Gonne’s daughter Iseult. Yeats knew this, and it made no difference; that is what his poem is about. / Foster is likely to meet a similar difficulty when he says, as he keeps saying in this book, that the Rising was a function of its generation, the youngsters fighting their parents. He first proposed this theme, ‘the clash of generations,’ in his Modern Ireland, 1600–1972 (1988). It is true that John Redmond and the IPP seemed to have been over there in Westminster forever, but Sinn Fein ousted them not because they were old but because they did not do what Charles Stewart Parnell, the head of the IPP, left undone when he died in 1891.’(See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or as attached.)

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Terry Eagleton, ‘Mystic Poet’, review of W. B. Yeats - A Life: Vol. 2: ‘The Arch-Poet’, in The Nation, 277, 19 (2003): ‘Foster is himself an offspring of Protestant Anglo-Ireland, and does not intend to be too rude about his eminent predecessors. It is not at all that he is out to whitewash Yeats; he pulls no punches over the poet’s flirtations with Irish fascism (another word the great man couldn’t spell), his fascination with violence, his sympathies for Mussolini’s Italy or his unpleasant eugenic obsessions with stopping the poor from breeding. As with many a Modernist writer, Yeats’s politics were as appalling as his writing was superb, though Foster is not the kind of thinker to whom it would occur to investigate the relationship between these facts. But he is also well aware that Yeats remains a political hot potato in Ireland today, censured by some Gaelic nationalists and wielded as a cultural totem by some of their opponents. Foster naturally wishes to tell the truth as he sees it, but he does not want to provide Yeats’s critics with too much ammunition in the process. / In fact, Foster has scrupulously concealed beneath the suavities of his coruscating prose style an enormous chip on his shoulder. Like the members of many an ousted governing caste, from Malaysia to Zimbabwe, he harbors a smoldering resentment of the native anticolonial movement. Republicanism in his view is less a logical extension of Enlightenment democracy than a bigoted ethnic conspiracy to sideline posh Prods like himself. When an argument touches on this sore point, as Irish arguments often do, he finds it hard to keep his scholarly cool. / There is, for example, a notable difference in tone between his dispassionate treatment of Yeats’s autocratic ideas and ridiculous posturings, and the sneery sardonicism that lurks just beneath the surface when he describes a Gaelic congress or festival. If Gerry Adams had written for himself the kind of breathtakingly arrogant epitaph that Yeats did, one suspects that Foster’s response to it would not be quite so kid-gloved. He writes occasionally of ‘extreme’; politics, meaning those who threaten his own interests. Yeats’s own far-right views are not granted such an epithet.’

Further (Eagleton): ‘If Foster’s project is vastly ambitious, it is in another sense too modest for its own good. Like a well-groomed BBC reporter, Foster confines himself for the most part to documenting his author’s daily life with a minimum of critical commentary. Like many a biographer, he fails, or deliberately refuses, to step back from the trees to survey the woods. This self-denial is a major loss. Because of it, one’s judgment on the whole heroic enterprise must inevitably be ambiguous: C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas necessaire. This, however, will not be the general judgment of the critics, who will lavish praise on the book not only because it richly deserves it but because its author is incapable of entertaining an opinion that falls outside their own cozy liberal consensus.’ (Ibid.; q.p.)

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Barry Ó Séaghdha, ‘Shell-shocked Culture’, in Magill (June 2003), pp.46-47: ‘[Irish critical] culture has failed to recover from the damage inflicted on it by the failure of so many leading figures of the 70s, 80s and 90s to engage in comprehensive analysis of the forces at work in the country. / Understandably shocked by the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 60s, many of those who had seen that decade as inaugurating a new era of secular enlightenment concluded that only by escaping from history and the national past could change occur. This reflex was reinforced by the economic failure of the 1980s. / The attempt to stop history rather than to engage critically with inherited traditions, the belief that the problem with Ireland was its failure to conform to an abstract model of liberal enlightenment, a failure to engage critically with the unionist and British dimensions of Irish history, a failure to look outside this corner of Europe for comparison - together these form the underlying structure of southern Irish culture through the Troubles. / That structure can be seen in Roy Foster’s attempted dissolution of Irish narrative history, in his disingenuous astonishment at the flourishing of the Irish story in the years before the War of Independence, in his failure to remind his British audience of Britain’s indifference to Irish democratic wishes from Daniel O’Connell to the 1918 election and beyond. / It can be seen in later historians, from Brian Girvin to Dermot Keogh; in the archaeological, object-centred, mummifying philosophy behind the revamped National Museum; in the music history of Joseph Ryan and Harry White and of their acolytes; in the journalism of Colm Tóibin and Fintan O’Toole; in the failures of RTÉ. / With the Troubles coming to some kind of end, with European and global power structures being redefined and with governments ceding territory to corporate power or to unaccountable institutions, a critical and dynamic public culture is essential. / The habit of selective analysis that we developed in response to one crisis may have seriously damaged our ability to deal with the exciting but also dangerous challenges ahead.’ (p.47.)

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Jarleth Killeen, Irish Gothic: A Theoretical Introduction, in Irish Gothic Horror Journal (Oct. 2006): ‘What remains for cultural historians is to expand on and explain the cultural significance of such connections between the Irish writers of Gothic fiction, and also to explain why Ireland should have produced a remarkably large number of writers who were so attracted to Gothic conventions. In perhaps the first substantial article on these matters, Roy Foster’s study of Irish “Protestant Magic” usefully linked the writing of Gothic fiction, an interest in the occult and spiritualism, a general superstitiousness, membership of the Freemasons and other arcane societies, as all aspects of what is really the same Irish phenomenon, a phenomenon he identified as peculiarly Protestant in provenance. In a response to a reading of W. B. Yeats as having “remembered” his Protestantism only in the 1920s when he tried to implicate himself in a liberal Irish Protestant tradition of Edmund Burke, Jonathan Swift, George Berkley and Henry Grattan, Foster argued, persuasively, that Irish Protestantism had been an aspect of Yeats’ identity from the very beginning. Foster reminded the reader that, although Irish Protestantism has a proud tradition of rational philosophising and healthy scepticism, another, darker, side to the Protestant character has always existed and found expression in an obsession with the occult and the Gothic. He linked this attraction to occult process and marginal states of being to a realisation by Irish Protestants of their increasing marginalisation in the new Ireland that was emerging throughout the nineteenth century. As the Catholic middle class grew and began to occupy traditionally Protestant positions in municipal government and local structures of power, Protestants compensated for their loss of power in the real world by re-investing their energies in another, more obscure, and yet more powerful domain. He argued that all the major Irish Gothicists were marginalised figures “whose occult preoccupations surely mirror a sense of displacement, a loss of social and psychological integration, and an escapism motivated by the threat of a takeover by the Catholic middle classes”. (Foster, Paddy and Mr. Punch: Connections in Irish and English History, 1995, p. 220.) Foster traced a connection between the neo-classical castellation of Ascendancy houses in the eighteenth century and the Gothicising of Protestant fiction in the nineteenth century. In both cases the cultural fashion was protective: by investing in the neo-classical Protestant Ireland laid claim to a superior intellect beyond the vicissitudes of political reality; the Gothic enclosed the Ascendancy in a highly codified and stratified world requiring rites of initiation, secret knowledge, and a sense of esoteric entitlement. Moreover, both modes stretched into the distant past and thus pre-empted the emergence of Catholicism, thus rooting Irish Protestants in a history longer than their political rivals. (Foster, Ibid., p.219.) / Roy Foster’s explanation of the Irish Gothic persuasively links politics, religion and culture, and his depiction of the Protestant Irish as a cultural group obsessed with their own impending extermination and determined to find methodologies by which to circumvent such an annihilation by escape into other realms of power is certainly convincing. Yet, we should not push this explanation too far [...]’. Cites Jonathan Moynahan's remarks, ‘The Gothic seems to flourish in disrupted, oppressed, or underdeveloped societies, to give a voice to the powerless and unenfranchised, and even, at times, to subvert the official best intentions of its creators’ [Moynahan, ‘The Politics of Anglo-Irish Gothic: Charles Robert Maturin, Sheridan LeFanu, and the Return of the Repressed’, in Anglo-Irish: The Literary Imagination of a Hyphenated Culture, 1994, p. 111] - and calls it ‘a rather forced version of Foster’s argument.’

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Rory Brennan, review of The Luck of the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000, in Books Ireland (Nov. 2008): ‘In his conclusion Foster reluctantly declares himself a Booster (it is "hard not to") but of course he is a Begrudger and an A1 one at the. He consistently manifests the prime characteristic of the hardened begrudger (small b), a reluctance or refusal to give credit where credit is due.’ (p.259.) Elsewhere defines Begrudgers as the denouncers of globalisation and neo-liberalism holding the view that the Irish could not have got rich without luck. Argues that the same rigour is not applied to the flat-earth mentality of Ulster unionism as to the pieties and anomalies of traditional nationalism.

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Kevin Kiely, ‘The IT Gang’, in The Village ( 13 Feb. 2015) - a scathing attack on the so-called literary cabal which makes national and international reputations for Irish writers who share the liberal and purportedly anti-Irish outlook of The Irish Times: ‘[...] Fintan O’Toole, Colm Tóibín, Roy Foster, Diarmaid Ferriter, Joseph O’Connor are princes at Ireland’s tentacular literary court. [...] Roy Foster is perhaps the most coruscatingly tribal (or more properly anti-tribal) of the cabal. Professor Foster effects a repressive historical revisionism in particular. So Brendan Bradshaw, Director of History Studies at Cambridge, for example accuses him of a “natural anti-Irish bias”. / Amplifying suspicions that Foster elevates ‘the Ascendancy mind’ over that of the common or garden Celt, in Modern Ireland 1600-1972, the Young Ireland Movement as defined by him had “an insurrectionary ethic founded in an almost psychotic Anglophobia”. And for Foster the revolutionaries of 1916 are rebels with “atavistic Anglophobia” (as opposed to the “atavistic Anglophilia” of others). Ramming it home, he castigates the Irish as part of “a competitive victimhood in the history of colonised nations”. This is wilfully cruel. / Foster’s history is best digested in Oxford with tea and cake as the punts flow past with their enviable youthful cargos.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Quotations
Ascendancy Ireland (in Modern Ireland, 1988): The mix within [18th century] Ascendancy society was exemplified by that quintessential Ascendancy institution, Trinity College: defined by Anglicanism but containing sons of peers, of shoemakers, of distillers, of butchers, of surgeons, and of builders. Arthur Young could not understand why many of the students were receiving a useless and inappropriate higher education instead of being put to a trade. Institutions like Trinity, and the fluidity within the Ascendancy dispensation, created an esprit de corps that gave the life of the privileged a particularly memorable flavour. / This was further amplified by their complex relationship to English - stemming from their position of conscious but resented dependence. Increasingly, the Ascendancy were prey to fears that England would let them down by breaking their monopoly: resentment of English pressure towards liberalising the laws against Catholics and Dissenters remained a constant irritant, and would eventually work with other pressures to create polarisation in the 1790s. Recurrent political crises were sparked off by the defensiveness and over-sensitivity that remained the keynotes of the Ascendancy political consciousness: ‘uneasy arrogance, suspicion of ‘destructive’ British measures, and the claim to speak on behalf of the ‘country’ characterised the political profile of the class’ [quoting A. P. W. Malcomson, John Foster, Oxford 1978].’ (p.173.)

Racial stereotypes? ‘it remains doubtful whether the generalisations of simple racial prejudice against the Irish really apply […] Class and religion were more general preoccupations in constructing an alien identity for the Irish.’ (Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History, London: Allen Lane 1993, p.192; quoted in Loredana Salis, ‘“So Greek with Consequence“: Classical Tragedy in Contemporary Irish Drama’, PhD Diss., UUC, 2005.)

Irish famine & British government: taking a moderate line on the British response to the famine (‘Government policies were by no means passive, and certainly not careless, ‘but they were generally ill-founded.’ (Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Allen Lane 1988, q.p.; quoted in Christopher Shea, ‘An Irish historian exposes his country’s mythmaking […], in Boston Globe, E1, 15 Sept. 2002.)

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Yeats’s progress from the twilight of the Ascendancy to the new nation’, in Time Literary Supplement [Irish Literature issue] (27 Sept. 1996), p.9-10; based on Introduction to the authorised life of Yeats as The Apprentice Mage, 1865-1914 [to be published in March 1997]. Comments on the biographical tradition in Yeats studies: ‘Shortly after he died, Joseph Hone produced his official life; a literary biography followed from A. Norman Jeffares, and then the luminous works by Richard Ellmann, which still hold the critical field. Many other biographical studies were still to come, and more are being written at this moment; but they all tend to follow Ellmann’s dazzling structure. Faced with the multifarious activities, the feints and turns, the wildly differing worlds which WBY embraced, Ellmann followed his subject’s example in dealing with his life thematically. Yeats’s Autobiographies dictate an arrangement for his life, and it is a thematic one; this is hard not to follow, even if it looks like the way of a chameleon. the natural reaction is to shadow him for young Celtic Revivalist to theatrical manager; to accept his Autobiographies as straightforward records rather than to seem them in terms of the time they were composed; and to deal with periods of frantic and diverse involvements, as in the early 1900, be separating out the strands of occultism, drama and love, and addressing them individually. the result, in Ellmann’s work, was a masterpiece of intellectual analysis and psychological penetration, to which all Yeatsians are for ever indebted. However, we do not, alas, live our lives in themes, but day by day; and Yeats, giant though he was, is no exception.’ (p.9.)

Yeats’s progress [...]’ (1996) - cont.: ‘Simple-minded as it may seem, the conjunctions of chronology cast light on the gestation not only of public poems … but of ‘private’ ones … There is also the question of his eternal urge to revise and rewrite, rearranging early work into the image of his painfully achieved “permanent self”. To recapture immediacy, it helps to read a poem in the first version Yeats released to the world … The high polish of the canonical version may be lost, but a more vivid colour sometimes comes through, with rougher texture. At the same time, the historical biography may contain less about poetry and its making than might be expected. Without endorsing Russell’s’ comment that the boy portrayed in Yeats’s first autobiography could as easily have become a grocer, it remains true that in his early life numerous commitments and interests competed for his attention, and writing poetry was not always at the forefront. … By restoring the texture of contingency to the great epic of Yeats’s life, the light might fall differently on the way he lived it: and on the works through which it lives for us.’ (Ibid., p.19.)

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Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’ [1990], rep. in Yeats’s Political Identities, ed. Jonathan Allison (Michigan UP 1996), pp.83-105: ‘[…] Over forty years ago, V. S. Pritchett acutely characterized Le Fanu’s ghosts as frightening because ‘they can be justified: blobs of the unconscious that have floated up to the surface of the mind … not irresponsible and perambulatory figments of family history, moaning and clanking about in fancy dress’. This is true of more Irish ghost stories than Le Fanu’s; and, particularizing further, the line of Irish Protestant supernatural fiction is an obvious one, though it has not been analysed as such. It leads from Maturin and Le Fanu to Bram Stoker and Elizabeth Bowen and Yeats - marginalized Irish Protestants all, often living in England but regretting Ireland, stemming from families with strong clerical and professional colourations, whose occult preoccupations surely mirror a sense of displacement, a loss of social and psychological integration, and an escapism motivated by the threat of a takeover by the Catholic middle classes - a threat all the more inexorable because it is being accomplished by peaceful means and with the free [90] legal aid of British governments. The supernatural theme of a corrupt bargain recurs again.’ (pp.90-91.) ‘Indeed, a strong theme in Protestant Gothic is a mingled repulsion and envy where Catholic magic is concerned. Notwithstanding, Yeats’s continuing preoccupation with the occult did enable him to lay a claim upon Irishness, while retaining a hold upon his own marginalized tradition. His own occult short stories, like "Rosa Alchemica", aren’t often enough seen as contributions to the Protestant Gothic tradition, continuing the Maturin-Le Fanu-Stoker theme of occultism as a strategy to compete with Catholicism, and to deal with the hauntings of Irish history (including spectres from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries).’ (p.101.)

Protestant Magic’, in Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and History [Chap. 11] (London: Allen Lane/Penguin 1993), pp.212-32 [Extract]: ‘This was the point to which the once-triumphant Ascendancy was declining through Yeats’s youth. But in terms of intellectual history, a process of marginalization and psychological insecurity is traceable from the early nineteenth century. As the Ascendancy took to castellating their houses, they gothicised their fiction, possibly for similar reasons. The condition of the embattled Irish Protestant from the early nineteenth century was epitomised by figures like Charles Maturin, an eccentric but acute Dublin cleric and author, or another Huguenot-descended Irish intellectual, Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu was a non-practising lawyer, conservative journalist and congenital depressive, who lived a reclusive life in Merrion Square, absorbed in Swedenborg and fears for Protestant Ascendancy. And what he and Maturin had in common is striking: both, in their successive generations, pioneered the nineteenth-century tradition of Irish supernatural fiction. / Maturin created Melmoth the Wanderer, published in 1820, a figure who echoes Faust and prefigures Count Dracula: the undead, wandering the world to claim the issue of a corrupt bargain. Le Fanu wrote numerous classic ghost stories and one authentic masterpiece, Uncle Silas (1864); though ostensibly set in Derbyshire, it was long ago spotted by Elizabeth Bowen as an Irish story in disguise, dealing with exploitation, imprisonment, fractured identity and hauntings. He was a devoted reader of Swedenborg, as was Yeats. Le Fanu is also responsible for a prototype lesbian vampire story, Carmilla. And this topic would later be carried on by yet another respectable Dublin Protestant, Abraham - Bram - Stoker. Over forty years ago V. S. Pritchett acutely characterised Le Fanu’s ghosts as frightening because “they can be justified: blobs of the unconscious that have floated up to the surface of the mind .. not irresponsible and perambulatory figments of family history, moaning and clanking about in fancy dress.”’ (The Living Novel, 1946, p.96.). [Cont.]

Protestant Magic’ (1993) - cont. ‘This is true of more Irish ghost [219] stories than Le Fanu’s; and, particularizing further, the line of Irish Protestant supernatural fiction is an obvious one, though it has not been analysed as such. It leads from Maturin and Le Fanu to Bram Stoker and Elizabeth Bowen and Yeats - marginalised Irish Protestants all, often living in England but regretting Ireland, stemming from families with strong clerical and professional colorations, whose occult preoccupations surely mirror a sense of displacement, a loss of social and psychological integration, and an escapism motivated by the threat of a takeover by the Catholic middle classes - a threat all the more inexorable because it is being accomplished by peaceful means and with the free legal aid of British governments. The supernatural theme of a corrupt bargain recurs again. / Indeed, a strong theme in Protestant gothic is a mingled repulsion and envy where Catholic magic is concerned. The Jesuit order in Melmoth manipulates darker forces than the eponymous hero. In Dracula, Van Helsing is a Dutch Catholic who brings the Host, with a papal dispensation, to combat the undead at Whitby. Yeats, who read about vampires in Joseph Ennemoser’s The History of Magic (1854), wrote in The Land of Heart’s Desire about demon children who flinch from the crucifix; the undead in The Shadowy Waters cast no shadows; his fairies cannot be watched eating and are invisible in mirrors. For those who have accompanied Jonathan Harker through Dracula’s castle, none of this is new. Yeats knew Stoker; he inscribed a copy of The Countess Cathleen to him in 1892, read Dracula with Ezra Pound, and was only put off a proposed visit to Dracula’s original castle (though Yeats thought it was in Austria, - not Transylvania) by the outbreak of a world war in 1914. / Equally Stokerish is Yeats’s interest in Catholic versus Protestant magic. He wrote to Lionel Johnson in 1893: ‘My own position is that an idealism or spiritualism which denies magic, and evil spirits even, and sneers at magicians and even mediums (the few honest ones) is an academical imposture. Your Church has in this matter been far more thorough than the Protestant. It has never denied Ars Magica, though it has denounced it.’ (After 13 Jan. 1893; Kelly, ed., Letters, Vol. 1, pp.355-56). By 1909, however, he had decided that the Protestant mind was readier to accept magic. The pedantry of Irish Catholic education, he wrote in his journal, ‘comes from intellectual timidity, from the dread of leaving the mind alone among impressions where all seems heretical, and from the habit of political and religious apologetics. This pedantry destroys religion as it destroys poetry, for it destroys all direct knowledge. We taste and feel and see the truth. [220] We do not reason ourselves into it.’ (Memoirs, ed. Donoghue, p.195-96). [Cont.]

Protestant Magic’ (1993) - cont. ‘This theme appears in the stories he published as The Secret Rose, where magical insight is defined against unthinking Catholicism. Here too there are echoes of Melmoth: the invented text, the esoteric book, the idea of esotericism as aristocratic domination, perhaps - for an Irish Protestant - the reclamation of an elite authority. ‘The dead,’ he once wrote, ‘remain a portion of the living.’ A critic as imaginative as Terry Eagleton might see the crowds of dead people whom Yeats or Elizabeth Bowen discern walking the roads of Ireland as the souls of dispossessed tenants. I do not; but, while accepting the Neo-Platonic and Swedenborgian pedigree of ideas about the dead partaking in the life of the living, the particular appeal of the supernatural for Irish Protestants deserves decoding. / Yeats was a man of his late nineteenth-century time in being influenced by the general occult revival of the late 1880s, unequalled until the 1960s. Eliphas Levi’s Mysteries of Magic had been translated in 1886, Cornelius Agrippa’s Natural Magic a few years later. An explosion of public interest in Rosicrucianism had affected Europe. MacGregor Mathers’s Kabbalah Unveiled and A.P. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism were sacred books for a certain element of the avant-garde. (Sinnett’s book was presented to Yeats by a Sligo Protestant aunt.) There was a belief in a coming dawn of wisdom which would rout eighteenth-century rationalism and nineteenth-century materialism. But Yeats already had his reasons for repudiating these beliefs: they had helped bring about the decline of the Protestant Ascendancy. And he had access to his own occult tradition too. / Irish occultism was often identified by Yeats, for public purposes, as part of the Celtic mind-set; but the superstitiousness of Irish Protestants was legendary. A fear of three candles buming together, or the unlucky colour green, or a hotel bedroom numbered 13, governed the private life of Charles Stewart Parnell. Roger Casement’s father dabbled in spiritualism at Ballymena. Elizabeth Yeats would never allow her publishing company to begin printing a book on a Friday. In the house of Yeats’s Pollexfen relations at Sligo, a long-dead great-grandfather and his four-year-old daughter, victims of the cholera, walked in the garden of an evening, and the dogs ran to greet them. The Dublin Protestant middle class had frequent recourse to fortune-tellers and wise women, long before AE and Yeats tried to bring them Theosophy, seances and astral travel in the [221] 1880s. And Yeats early fellow occultist and schoolfriend, Charles Johnston, came from the last redoubt of protestant extremism, a Northern Irish Orange stronghold called Ballykilbeg: where, Yeats noted, ‘everything was a matter of belief’ in Protestant salvation and Catholic damnation.’ (Autobiographies, 1955, p.91.) / It does not seem frivilous or irrelevant to locate Yeats in this context - Protestant marginalisation - as much as in the world of international occultism … [&c.]; the supernatural dimension of the Irish Protestant subculture provided a further impulse - less personally, more historically derived [and] which he shared with several similarly marginalised members of his increasingly marginalised class and caste.’ (pp.219-222.) [See riposte by Luke Gibbons, supra.]

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Protestant Historian: ‘What a Protestant historian brings to recording Yeats’s life’, interview with Eileen Battersby (Irish Times, Weekend, 3 March 1997) - remarks: ‘I think you could also say you don’t need to be a poet to read poetry. The ability to read and interpret poetry does not depend on being a member of a university English department.’ On being asked how significant is being Protestant to a cultural understanding of Yeats: ‘If you had asked me that a few years ago I would have said it didn’t matter. Now I think it does. I’m now able to be annoyed at the inference that you somehow have to prove your Irishness if you are not Catholic.’ Yeats devoted a great deal of time ‘to establishing that you could be Protestant and fully Irish while disagreeing with many - indeed most - of the ruling Irish pieties.’ ‘I don’t like intrusively speculative biography based on paperback Freudianism.’ ‘When I began I half expected to find that Yeats deliberately cast himself as the sorrowing lover to Gonne’s romantic La Belle Dame Sans Merci as a vehicle for his poetry. I thought there might be a certain writerly calculation in it. But after reading his letters, his occult divinings, his notebooks, his unfinished drafts, it was clear that this was a great passion which could not be easily manipulated.’ ‘Unlike Parnell, Yeats left a huge and now scattered archive of letters currently being worked on by a team of brilliant literary scholars.’ ‘I deliberately avoided digression. I knew I had to keep in a straight line and not go off into tangents.’ ‘My mother read the poetry to us. I also began reading history when I was quite young.’ ‘I very much wanted to follow the imaginative child, the intellectually omnivorous and passionately engaged young man travelling through the disillusionment of middle age, who became the great poet.’ See also lengthy interview article, Valerie Grove, ‘Writing Poetry into Ireland’s History’, in The Times (21.3.1997).

Maud Gonne: ‘A New Woman among the Nationalists’, review of Samuel Levenson, Maud Gonne: A Biography of Yeats’s Beloved (London: Cassell 1976), 436pp., in Times Literary Supplement, 30.10.1977; and note that Foster cites Sean O’Casey’s ‘scorching passage’ in Inisfallen, Fare Thee Well, in which she was described as ‘the Colonel’s daughter still’, the phrase having been cited in Frank Tuohy’s Yeats (p.128), which Foster reviewed in the preceeding year. Foster here stresses the reliance on Gonne’s autobiography, Servant of the Queen, with the consequence that her chronological inaccuracies are repeated; questions if the manuscript sequel has been used; notes abounding solecisms of expression and misorthography (‘Crumliff’), and reports that the beauteousness of Maud Gonne is central to the narration. ‘This imagery is what primarily comes down to us, though Maud Gonne would probably have been rightly impatient […] For this, she has Yeats to blame - whom, - in spite of her rather casual affection - she probably considered in private something of a fool. Yet she represented something more; and even if it sometimes seems to be the most visionary and unproductive typee of adopted Irish nationalism, it is not fair to forget the poor children and the evicted tenants. The broader angle does not really come through in this book […].’

Story of Ireland: ‘The tradition of writing the ‘story of Ireland’; as a morality tale, invented around the seventeenth century and retained (often with the roles of hero and villain reversed) has been abandoned over the last generation.’ (Modern Ireland, 1988, p.ix; quoted in Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Irish Nationalism, London: Routledge 1995, p.20.)

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The Magic of Its Lovely Dawn: Reading Irish history as Story’ [Carroll Inaugural Lecture], printed in times Literary Supplement (16 Dec. 1993), pp.4-6: ‘Again and again in Irish history, one is struck by the importance of the narrative mode: the idea that Irish history is a “story”, and the implications that this carries about it of a beginning, a middle, and the sense of an ending. Not to mention heroes, villains, donors, guests, plots, revelations, and all other elements of the story form. And the formal modes of Bildungsroman, ghost story, deliverance-tale, family romance, all of which have lent motifs to the ways Irish history has been told. / Even to use the CD-ROM riches of the Bodleian to isolate books with the title The Story of Ireland nets a rich trawl of authors, taking in novelists like Emily Lawless, politicians like A. M. Sullivan and Justin MacCarthy [sic], prophets like Standish O’Grady - right down to twentieth century commentators such as Seán O’Faoláin and Brian Inglis. The compelling logic of the Story of Ireland with its plot, narrative logic and desired outcome, reached its apogee in the nineteenth century; the historiography thus created in intimately connected with the discovery of folktale, myth and saga as indices of national experience; the development of Irish nationalism is strongly influence by the transference of these forms into the narrative of nationality; and many of the fin-de-siècle literary generations who were mediators and brokers in this proces live to query the validity of the powerful determinist vision which they have given to “the nation”. [… &c.’; the ensuing analysis concentrates on the example of A. M. Sullivan, who ‘constructed (often by careful exclusion) the accepted national memory’.

Note: this paragraph is quoted in part in Luke Gibbons, Transformations in Irish Culture, Field Day/Cork UP 1996, Introduction, pp.14-15 - disputing the supposition that all successive Irish national historians ‘conformed’ to the narrative stereotype.

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Varieties of Irishness’, in Cultural Traditions in Northern Ireland: Varieties of Irishness [Proceedings of the Cultural Traditions Group Conference] ed. Maurna Crozier (Belfast: IIS 1989): ‘Gaelic sympathies, Celtic researches, irritation with many of the actions of English government, and Anglicised educations could all coexist, and often did, among the Irish Victorian middle-class intelligentsia. (Yeats, pioneer of Irish folklore and Celtic legends, was first influenced by Scott and Macaulay). The great antiquarian, George Petrie, was also to be the great artistic memorialist of the early nineteenth century Irish landscape, and he derived his highly personalised approach to his native countryside from Wordsworth. The personification and highly-charged nature of the Irish response to the land of Ireland is, of course, a tradition in Gaelic literature too; and it can, poetically speaking, be used to express conflicting and aggressive claims to the land, as in the ‘aisling’ poetry, or in Seamus Heaney’s Act of Union. But it does not only belong to that tradition. The Irish identification with the land, its unique appearance, its light and shade, also owes much to English-derived romanticism (a sensation which one paradoxically receives even through tests like Ernie O’Malley’s lyrical descriptions of bivouacs in the Tipperary mountains in On Another Man’s Wound). It has inspired masterpieces by Lloyd Praeger and Estyn Evans. And this might indicate that such perceptions can be reconciling and unifying too. I remember Professor J. C. Beckett, in a keynote address for the first Conference of Irish Historians in Britain, talking about those who live outside Ireland, and recalling a meeting with a fellow Ulsterman, a student, on - I think - a long-distance bus journey in Canada. They talked, as he remembered, enthusiastically about the Irish land; the uniquely varied landscape of this province; and its super-charged quality of beauty. It never, as he thought afterwards, occurred to either of them to consider, let alone investigate, what background or which ‘tradition’ each came from. Though historic claims to ‘the land’ might have separated them within Ulster, when they went abroad their common identification with it acted as a uniting factor. I’m sure many of us have had a similar experience. It was a resonant story, and I’ve often thought of it since.’ (pp.10-11.) [Cont.]

Varieties of Irishness’ (1989) - further: ‘[…] In the last generation, pathbreaking work like that of Theo Hoppen, Tom Garvin, Vincent Comerford, David Fitzpatrick and many others has delineated a political map far less neatly demarcated than the landlord-versus-tenant, orange-versus-green patterns of the old textbooks (now adhered to only by wishful-thinking English and American observers). But “revisionism“ may be the wrong term here, because contemporary fiction indicated a similarly varied universe at the time: witness the surreal view of Dublin’s middle-class and Bohemian worlds after the Union in forgotten novels by John Banim, Gerald Griffin, and even Isaac Butt, or the surprisingly subtle social gradations and interconnections in Trollope’s The Kellys and the O’Kellys, or the variations of rural Galway Catholics in George Moore’s Drama in Muslin, or the anatomy of Protestant County Cork in Somerville and Ross’s The Real Charlotte. Can it be a coincidence that all these texts were banished from the supposedly authentic canon of Irish literature by the exclusivist version of Irish culture peddled by Daniel Corkery? But their credentials as Irish literature have now been reasserted and so must the Irishness of the kind of sub-cultures they portray.’ (ibid., p.12.)

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Young Ireland’s ideology bore a superficial resemblance ot European romantic nationalism […] Irish circumstances made adoption of European-style nationalism impossible: for one thing, Young Ireland could not define their Irishness linguistically, though Davis tried.’ Further ‘Young Ireland’s series of popular history published in “The Library of Ireland”, stressed the romance of violent resistance to English oppression, so long as it was safely in the past. Along with the example of William Tell and the “men of ’82”, “the sword” was deified in Davis’s ballads and the rhetoric of T. G. Meagher.’ (Quoted in Carla King, review of Glenn Hopper, & Leon Litvak, eds., Ireland in the Nineteenth Century: Regional Identity (2000), in Books Ireland, Sept. 2000, p.228.)

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Nuance: review of Robert Tracy, The Unappeasable Host (1998), in Times Literary Supplement (q.d.), notes the dearth of influence from critical writings after 1960 such as those by Seamus Deane, David Lloyd and Declan Kiberd and cites a sentence from ‘Synge in Aran’ to the effect that ‘the Ascendancy attitude toward Ireland and the Irish was that of an army of occupation until well into the twentieth century’, remarking that ‘material elsewhere in the book shows a far more nuanced understanding.’

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The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland (London 2001): ‘[The Irish] have an idiosyncratic approach to telling stories. A powerful oral culture, a half-lost language, the necessary strategems of irony, collusion and misdirection … the deliberate gap in the narrative, [and] story within story [are all elements that] give a distinctive twist to the way the Irish account for themselves.’ ( p.3; quoted in Rolf Loeber & Magda Loeber, A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006 [Intro.], p.l.)

The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland (2001) - ‘Stopping the Hunt: Trollope and the Memory of Ireland’ [Chap.]: ‘The potato blight was first noticed in 1845, and returned year after year to create conditions of indescribable horror, starvation and disease (which killed far more).’ (p.132.) ‘The failure of the potato crop in Ireland produced an unparalleled and apocalyptic catastrophe; that much is clear. How far it could have been prophesied is controversial; but certainly in all the great weight of economic analysis brought to bear on “the Irish question” since rural prosperity began failing after the Napoleonic Wars, a warning note is often sounded. Nutritious, easily cultivated, well suited to Irish conditions, highly compatible with the pig-rearing ecology of smallholding life, the potato was seen as interacting with a population explosion and an unsatisfactory laryd-tenure system to create a potential disaster. Which did, of course, happen. And when this staple failed, what could be done about it? / At first, the Conservative government under Peel did what it could, interfering with the market by stealth, and relaxing several orthodoxies in order to distribute food at cost price. But when Peel was succeeded by the inflexible laissez-faire doctrinaire free marketeers of Russell’s Whig government, they relied entirely on a “free” market, an inappropriate Poor Law on the English model and expectations that the local landlord class would do their duty in terms of supporting relief work through the rates and through running local relief committees. The government might facilitate but could not intervene. This was contemporary orthodoxy, but in Irish conditions it did not answer. As the disaster escalated from year to year, some voices were heard to argue that the government had failed terribly in its moral and social duty to feed the starving. These voices tended to come from radical philanthropists, or from paternalist Tories who never subscribed to Adam Smith economics, or from Irish nationalist revolutionaries. [.]’ (p.133.)

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Something to Hate: Intimate Enmities in Irish History’, in The Irish Review, 30, 1 [Nov.] (Spring-Summer 2003), pp.1-12. ‘For all the ritual calls for an expansion of the scholarl horizon to take in international parallels, for all the mutual tendency of revisionists and anti-revisionists to accuse each other of Anglocentric obsession, we do keep coming back to this trouble subject. The relation between Britain and Ireland is one of our most intimate enmities. That preoccupation with what happens when English assumptions are translated into Irish experience is not unreasonable, since it fuels some of the bitterest and most contested issues of our history such as the administration of government during the Great Famine, the reaction to the 1916 Rising, the treatment of Irish emigrants in Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And the attempt made by some historians to understand the "governing" or "colonizing" mind in the context of its time can lead to a yawning gap in comprehension, with regard to those who believe that the function of the academy should involve more exposure of guilt, strident assertion of political commitment and rationalization of hatred. There are odd and uncomofrtable juxtapositions between the assertion of national confidence, and the exploitation of past oppression and suffering. [Cites Cormac O Grada, Kevin Whelan, David Lloyd, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Sinead O’Connor, Avril Doyle and Mary Robinson.] Historians, however, will be immediately sympathetic to the point that the very concept of “collective memory”, and still more “collective trauma”, can produce astonishingly crude and airbrushed impressions of our fractured history. It also runs the danger of importing inappropriate and often dubious concepts from psychotherapy and assuming the Recovered Memory Therapy can be projected over a centuries-long gap, and applied to a “people” as well as to an individudal. There is the danger of degeneration of lanuage, and overenthusiastic comparisons, leadin to what one disillusioned Israeli historian (watching the same process at work [5] elsewhere) has called “the Olympics of suffering”. The notion tha tthere has to be an affiinity if identity - ideological, personal, emotions - between the historican and subject is, perhaps, one of the most long-lived inheritances of the age of E. P. Thompson, and it had produced some great work, but it is also responsible for severe limitations of approach in terms of subjects tackled, and a dangerous tendency to self-congratulation in authorial prefaces. This is particularly relevant to Irish history. It would be good to replace this with a more enterprising approach to the subjects which divide us: perhaps, even, with an academic study of hatred.’ (p.5-6.)

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The Golden Bird’, in The Guardian (14 July 2007), “Books”: ‘Yeats begins as a late-Victorian, and the early work carries languorous echoes of Tennyson and Swinburne, as well as Spenser, Shelley and the Young Irelanders Davis and Mangan - not to mention the translations from Irish mythological cycles which shaped his first major publication, The Wanderings of Oisin in 1889. But at the same time that work announced something decisively new, in its visionary conjunctions, its unexpected but firmly controlled metre, its distinctive use of off-rhymes and unexpected assonances. Above all, Yeats implicitly announced an enterprise that he never really abandoned: a determination to exoticise Irishness, to proclaim the essential difference and originality of his country’s culture. This may reflect his own uncertain status - Protestant, slightly déclassé, living between London, Dublin and Sligo at the whim of his splendidly bohemian father. At the beginning of his career he stamped his work by the use of magnificently sonorous Irish names, whether of the Sligo lakes and mountains of his youth or of heroes from the sagas - as well as by a deliberate invocation of the Fenian tradition of sacrificial nationalism. His nationalist fervour cooled notably from the turn of the century, but he would continue to identify Irish cultural individuality by claiming Dublin as the home of a distinctively modern drama, focused on the astonishing plays of J. M. Synge, a constant presence in his elegiac poetry. Later, Yeats’s evocation of the salty wisdoms spoken through the mouths of Irish bawds and beggars differentiates them from English bourgeois niceties; and throughout his life he claimed a place for Ireland in the mainstream of European culture. / The other affirmation of “difference”, and indeed exoticisation, which pulses through his poetry from start to finish is a sense of the supernatural.’ (For full text, see Ricorso Library, ‘Criticism > Reviews’, via index, or direct.)

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State visit seals the end of an era for Ireland’, in The Irish Times (9 April 2014) [on President Michael D. Higgins' state visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland): "After the Treaty of 1921 the Irish poet and mystic George Russell (“AE”) pointed out, with his habitual shrewdness, that the reasons why Ireland had to separate from Britain lay in “the psychological factor” rather than oppressive government – which was, by the time of the revolution, no longer an issue. But history and psychology made the Irish regard any kind of government by the British as “a tyranny inflicted on them by aliens” who were incapable of understanding their aspirations to a less material, complacent world than the model of Anglicisation on offer. / The same message can be read through the Anglophobic reactions of many of the revolutionary generation; independence was necessary, one of them remarked, so the English would have to stop talking down to the Irish with their “damned superior smiles”. The subject of England’s condescension to its Celtic neighbours, currently back in focus as the Scottish referendum approaches, is a rich one. But as regards Ireland, the current state visit by President Michael D Higgins puts the seal on the end of an era." (See full-text version in RICORSO Library > reviews - via index or as attached.)

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References
Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature [rev. 2 vol. edn.] (1996): switches dates 1981 and 1982 between Political Novel and Randolph Churchill, assigning that order; remarks note his co-presence with Hobsbaum, Richard Evans, and David Blackbourne at Birbeck; emphasises ‘his subtle skills of literary appreciation as well as historical knowledge’; the combination of literary and historian’s skills in his books: ‘very sensitive to some of the new trends in British political hisotry, in particular, the “high politics“ approach embodied by A. B Cook and J. R. Vincent (The Governing Passion, 1974).

Further (Hogan, 1996): ‘[Modern Ireland] was widely perceived to be, and in part was, a synthesis of a genration’s work of revisionist scholarship in Irish history. Somehow this notion does not convey the full range and quality of hit stunning work. Written in a flawless style - save perhaps for an addiction to the word “bizarre“ - it engaged the sympathies of intelligent readers in both Ireland and England in a way that no other Irish scholar of his generation could even think of doing’; the supreme stylist of his generation’’ ‘sheer meticulous professionalism of his approach’; ‘penchant for accuracy as well as with that often left his critics floundering’; ‘generalised failure to emote in the approved manner.’ (pp.456-57.)

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Notes
Seamus Heaney diplomatically quotes and endorses Foster’s proposition that ‘we need not give up on our own claims on Irishness in order to conceive of it as a flexible definition’, in ‘Frontiers of Writing’, Oxford Poetry Lecture; reprinted in Bullán, Spring 1994, pp.7-15. p.14.

Standard author: Foster is called the author of a standard work on Bridge in R. B. McDowell, Land & Learning: Two Irish Clubs (Dublin: Lilliput 1993); see review by T. C. Barnard, in Bullán, 1, 1 (Spring 1994), p.138.

Book-choice: Roy Foster selects Anne Enright, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (Cape); Eric Hobsaum, Interesting Times: A twentieth-century Life (Allen Lane), and Tom Paulin, The Invasion Handbook (Faber), in ‘Books of the Year’ [column], Times Literary Supplement (6 Dec. 2002).

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The Wiles Lectures at School of History, Queen’s University Belfast (May 2004), given by Roy Foster FBA, Carroll Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford, speaking on ‘Metamorphoses: The Strange Death of Romantic Ireland, c.1972-2000’; (5.00 p.m., 18-21 May 2004/Room G07, Peter Froggatt Centre, Queen’s University Belfast). Individual titles: ‘Political Metamorphosis: How the Gombeenmen became Playboys’; (18 May); ‘Economic Metamorphosis: How the Minuses became Plusses’; (19 May); ‘Religious Metamorphosis: How the Catholics became Protestants’; (20 May); ‘Cultural Metamorphosis: How the Men became Women’; (21 May). The series, founded by a benefaction of Mrs Janet Boyd, Co. Down, are designed for audiences from the general public as well as academics.

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5th Fennell Lecture, ‘“The Mob at the Door”: W.B. Yeats and the Course of Irish Politics’, David Hume Tower, Oxford University, 17 Nov. 2005 - abstract: ‘Politics were more central to Yeats’s life than to that of any other poet writing in England since Milton. This preoccupation is reflected in his work from the 1880s and 1890s, when he expected ‘philosophy and passion’ to accomplish a cultural revolution in Ireland, through to his disillusionment with democratic politics in his old age. In between he lived through war and revolution in Ireland, and the creation of a new polity which he found in many ways profoundly unattractive. His reactions, and his enduring sense of the European dimension to Irish experience, temporarily brought him close to Fascism and his political stance continues to arouse controversy to this day. Roy Foster’s lecture will explore these connections through Yeats’s life and writing, tracing the implications of his lifelong search for "unity of culture".’ (Univ. of Oxford, News; accessed 13 Aug. 2007 [online].)

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Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha, Narrative History of Ireland/Stair-Sheanchas Éireann (Aubane Hist. Soc. 2005), 277pp. [rep. of school history to 1933], contains prefatory attack on revisionist historians including notably R. F. Foster.

Credo: Anthony Jordan writes in The Yeats Gonne MacBride Triangle, Westport 2000), that the charges of sexual assault on Iseult Gonne laid against John MacBride in the course of his divorce from Maud Gonne are contradicted by the evidence of Eileen Wilson, Gonne's illegitimate half-sister with whom he was also charged with committing and ‘adultery’ [i.e., assault]. In so doing he contests the conclusions shared by such Yeatsian commentators as J. M. Hone, A. N. Jeffares, Keith Aldritt, Brenda Maddox, Terence Brown, and Roy Foster as well as Elizabeth Coxhead and Margaret Ward. In confronting Foster, Jordan was told (as he reports) that ‘W. B. Yeats believed it and so do I’. (See further under Sean MacBride, as infra.)

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