Synopses & Reviews
R. F. Foster's two-volume biography of Yeats was hailed in the New York Review of Books
as "a triumph of scholarship, thought, and empathy such as one would hardly have thought possible in this age of disillusion." Now, Foster turns his focus to the largely unacknowledged influences that shaped the young W. B. Yeats.
So dramatic and revolutionary was Yeats' impact on Irish literature that the writers and traditions that preceded him are often overlooked, just as his successors are often overshadowed by his achievement. In Words Alone, Foster explores the Irish literary traditions that preceded Yeats, including romantic "national tales" in post-Union Ireland and Scotland, the nationalist poetry and polemic of the Young Ireland movement, the occult and supernatural fictions of Sheridan LeFanu, the "peasant fictions" of William Carleton, and the fairy-lore and folktale collections Yeats absorbed. As well as placing these nineteenth-century literary movements in a rich contemporary context of politics, polemic, and social tension, Foster discusses recent critical and interpretive approaches to these phenomena. But the unifying theme throughout the book is the self-conscious use Yeats made of his literary predecessors during his own apprenticeship, particularly in the construction of his path-breaking early work.
W. B. Yeats is usually seen as a great innovator who put his stamp so decisively on modern Irish literature that most of his successors worked in his shadow. R. F. Foster's eloquent and authoritative book weaves together literature and history to present an alternative perspective. By returning to the rich seed-bed of nineteenth-century Irish writing, Words Alone charts some of the influences, including romantic 'national tales' in post-Union Ireland, the poetry and polemic of the Young Ireland movement, the occult and supernatural novels of Sheridan LeFanu, William Carleton's 'peasant fictions', and fairy-lore and folktale collectors that created the unique and powerful Yeatsian voice of the decade from 1885 to 1895. As well as placing these literary movements in a vivid contemporary context of politics, polemic and social tension, Foster discusses recent critical and interpretive approaches to these phenomena. He shows that the use Yeats made of his predecessors during his apprenticeship, and the part that a self-conscious use of Irish literary tradition played in the construction of his path-breaking early work as he attempted to 'hammer his thoughts into a unity' made him an inheritor as much as an inventor.
About the Author
R. F. Foster
was born in Waterford and educated in both Ireland and the United States. A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, he subsequently became Professor of Modern British History at Birkbeck College, University of London and in 1991 the first Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford and a Fellow of Hertford College. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1989, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1986, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1992, an honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2010. His books include The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland
(2001), which won the 2003 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism, W.B. Yeats, A Life. I: The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914
(1997) which won the 1998 James Tait Black Prize for biography, and Volume II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939
(2003). He is also a well-known critic and broadcaster.
Table of Contents
1. National Tales and National Futures in Ireland and Scotland after the Union
2. The First Romantics: Young Irelands between Catholic Emancipation and the Famine
3. Lost in the Big House: Anglo-Irishry and the Uses of the Supernatural
4. Oisin Comes Home: Yeats as Inheritor