Lasting words in a time of upheaval

September 18, 2008

Twentieth-Century Irish Literature

Author: Aaron Kelly

Edition: First

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Pages: 216

Price: £45.00 and £14.99

ISBN 9780230517189 and 7196

Ireland's literary output during the 20th century reflected the social and political upheaval that occurred during that time. Aaron Kelly's guide takes the reader on a thought-provoking journey through the topics and issues that arose during the nation's 20th-century development, concluding with a study of present-day Irish literature and culture in a globalised world.

This concise overview covers a wide range of critical voices from Matthew Arnold to W. B. Yeats.

The guide begins by introducing the reader to the social and political change as a preface to the literary conditions heading into the revival period. The opening chapter deals with the output during the revival - in particular Yeats' contribution - and differing ideals of Ireland such as D. P. Moran's Irish Ireland philosophy.

The impact of partition on literature is dealt with in the following chapter, leading into the development of academic Irish studies and its key debates on revisionism and post-colonialism.

The book then moves to assess and critique attitudes towards the Northern Irish and Irish Republic States, referencing the likes of Sean O'Casey and Samuel Beckett. It explores the politics of gender in Irish literature and, owing to the controversy that surrounded such subjects, is at its most engaging and informative when doing so.

The arguments surrounding J. M. Synge's and O'Casey's work are dealt with in great detail, with the feminine Irish personification also under discussion.

The final chapter concerns the contemporary state of the Irish Republic and Northern Irish literature, their nationalistic and revisionist perspectives, while highlighting the social challenges faced by Irish culture owing to the political conflict in the North. The guide concludes with debates around pluralism and multiculturalism.

This critique encapsulates the ever-changing literary horizon of Ireland and condenses the key arguments and viewpoints into a clear, comprehensible framework. The contrasting theories surrounding the major topics are divided into straightforward arguments.

Despite the guide's initial appearance as an overwhelmingly exhaustive record of literary claim and counter-argument (the final 30 pages are dedicated to notes, bibliographies and suggested primary reading), its style offers a very accessible overview of 20th-century Irish literature and its development.

Who is it for? Any student interested in the implications of social and political change.

Presentation: Simple layout, subdivisions in chapters to focus on specific areas of discussion and a comprehensive contents page.

Would you recommend it? It is absolutely ideal for anyone who is interested in the interplay between culture and literature in Ireland, whether as part of academic study or to satisfy curiosity.

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