Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?(W. B. Yeats, ‘The Cold Heaven’ (1914))
Throughout the nineteenth century there was a general expansion in Irish fiction titles being published in both Britain and Ireland and this trend continued on into the 1890s and beyond. Indeed, from the 1880s onwards many English publishers such as Longman, Macmillan and T. Fisher Unwin were increasingly eager to publish Irish writing, including the novel. Within Ireland, too, with the emergence of the Talbot Press yet another outlet for Irish fiction writing was established. How is the reader, then, to understand the relationship of what appears to be the healthy state of the Irish novel in this period in relation to the Irish Literary Revival which has subsequently become almost exclusively associated with the emergence of dramatic and poetic art?
This apparent paradox raises many pertinent questions about the study and reception of the Irish novel generally. At this key moment, a nexus of production and critical evaluation of the Irish novel occurs – both at that moment when many writers consciously attempt to position and place Irish fiction and, subsequently, as the Revival becomes the main focus of Irish literary studies. That the Revival period represents a shift in Irish culture and politics is an understatement.