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Drawing extensively on archival material, this chapter analyses Seamus Heaney’s involvement with the Field Day Theatre Company through the lens of his long friendships with two of the company’s other directors, Brian Friel (who co-founded Field Day in 1980 with actor Stephen Rea) and Seamus Deane. In addition to serving on Field Day’s board of directors, Heaney wrote two works specifically for the company: the verse pamphlet An Open Letter (1983), which protested the use of the adjective 'British' as applied to himself, and The Cure at Troy (1990), a Hiberno-English version of a late play by Sophocles. Heaney’s membership in the Field Day collective gave him a sense of camaraderie, the opportunity to address himself to his country’s urgent needs at a critical point in its history, and the challenge to do things he would not have done otherwise.
This chapter considers the evolution from the 1940s to 1980 of what was initially constructed by Daniel Corkery and others as ‘Anglo-Irish literature’, and its serial problems of inclusion and definition. In particular, it examines the shifting approaches to literary criticism from Seán O’Faoláin’s articles in The Bell to the Crane Bag and Field Day pieces by Seamus Deane in the 1970s and early 1980s. It opens with a discussion of the criticism which emerged in the 1940s and 1950s from Richard Ellmann and W. Y. Tindall, before discussing contributions made to the magazine Studies by Denis Donoghue, Vivian Mercier and Donald Davie, with varying degrees of attachments to New Criticism. This develops into an analysis of the polemical criticism of the 1960s by those such as Conor Cruise O’Brien, before discussing the foundation of the International Association for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature in 1970, which became a platform for women academics but did not deviate from a general focus on canonical male authors. It concludes by discussing the Troubles-shadowed 1970s criticism of later Field Day critics like Deane and Terence Brown, with the former in particular interrogating literature to reveal its imbrication in what he insisted was a colonial condition.
This chapter offers a study of some key developments in Irish realism from the 1980s to the contemporary moment. The Irish novel in a variety of forms, including the bildungsroman, the family novel, the expatriate novel and political fiction, has developed significantly in this period and its highest achievements are distinguished by memorable characterisation, probing social critique, and lyrical writing. Stressing issues of form, style, and affect as well as content, the study examines a selection of Irish fictions, urban and rural, domestic and overseas, northern and southern, and considers their relationship to wider and ongoing changes in Irish society in recent times.
After free secondary-school education became available for all in Ireland, questions as to the outline and content of a literary curriculum at secondary level became relevant to our understanding of how a contemporary generation of Irish writers responded to, and re-engaged with, their own educational background. This chapter initially offers a brief overview of Irish government policy in education before 1940, before discussing the key curricular developments between 1940 and 1980, bringing to light the political and cultural negotiations that determined how English literature was taught in Irish second-level schools. When free second-level education was introduced in Northern Ireland (1947) and in the Republic of Ireland (1967), it amounted to a widening of social access to education that was of huge personal significance to many Irish writers. The second half of this chapter explores the shaping power of the English literature programme for the Irish literary imagination through a study of how a selection of Irish writers who were students of English during these decades depicted their educational formation; this section focusses on writers such as John McGahern, Seamus Deane, and Paula Meehan, amongst others.
Considering novels, poetry, drama, and non-fictional prose, this chapter examines how writers represented the Troubles and the gradual gains of the peace process between 1980 and 1998. It considers the historical displacements of Brian Friel’s Translations and Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark (1996), the realism of Ciaran Carson’s The Irish For No (1987) and Belfast Confetti (1989), the staging of women’s lives during the Troubles in Anne Devlin’s Ourselves Alone (1985), the phantasmagorias of Paul Muldoon’s poetry and the metaphorisations of war and violence in Medbh McGuckian’s verse, and the Belfast panoramas of Glenn Patterson’s Fat Lad (1992) and Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street (1996). Contemporary Northern writers contextualise the conflict by illuminating the country’s colonial past; they narrate structures of trauma by examining how history invades the present; they present palliative correctives to the vicious linearity of the conflict; and they project possible resolutions to the exhausted (il)logic of sectarian strife.
Mid-century Ireland was a society of surreal contradictions: an island that declared neutrality an emergency, a nation that became a republic by accident. This chapter examines how Irish writers responded to and reimagined the political and ideological contours of both states on the island in the post-war period, and in particular the creation by artists of altered states in which to seek refuge from the foreclosed reality of official Ireland(s). It charts the responses made by a group of writers whose themes ranged from a historical sense of dislocation and the search for a voice and an audience to an openness to vision and a careful attention to the environment. Initially discussing the novels of Elizabeth Bowen, Brian O’Nolan and Edna O’Brien, it outlines how they conceived of their roles within and beyond the nation in this time of change. The chapter then discusses how the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland provided the backdrop and impulse for new collective aesthetic projects in these later decades, such as the Field Day project and Atlantis magazine, that advanced the use of literature to imagine alternate Irelands beyond the pale of state and nation.
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