After Yeats and Joyce: Reading Modern Irish Literature

By Neil Corcoran | Go to book overview

2
A Slight Inflection: Representations of the Big House

It has set, simply, its pattern of trees and avenues on the virgin, anonymous countryside. Like Flaubert's ideal book about nothing, it sustains itself on itself by the inner force of its style.

( Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen's Court)

In most cases these houses maintained no culture worth speaking of -- nothing but an absolute bravado, an insidious bonhomie and a way with horses.

( Louis MacNeice, The Poetry of W. B. Yeats)


I. Pathos and Pollution: W. B. Yeats

The literature of the Irish ' Big House' -- of, that is, the social and cultural organization of the Anglo-Irish or Protestant Ascendancy class in their houses and on their estates or 'demesnes' -- extends from Maria Edgeworth Castle Rackrent, published in 1800, to contemporary fictions such as those of Jennifer Johnston and John Banville. 1 A significant sub-genre in Irish writing, it is predominantly a novelistic tradition. However, one of its most important manifestations in the modern period, to which other texts make reference, is the poetry of Yeats. He engages with themes, motifs, or images drawn from the Big House throughout his career; and, in a range of work including "Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation" in The Green Helmet ( 1910), "Ancestral Houses'" in The Tower ( 1928), the twinned "Coole Park", 1929 and "Coole and Ballylee", 1931 in The Winding Stair ( 1933), and the deeply problematic and embittered late play Purgatory ( 1939), it becomes a dominant and

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After Yeats and Joyce: Reading Modern Irish Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents *
  • 1 - Translations 1
  • 2 - A Slight Inflection: Representations of the Big House 32
  • 3 - Lyrical Fields and Featherbeds: Representations of the Rural and the Provincial 57
  • 4 - Vews of Dublin 100
  • 5 - Ulsters of the Mind: The Writing of Northern Ireland 131
  • Notes 175
  • Further Reading 183
  • Index 187
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