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Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement$
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Helen O'Connell

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199286461

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199286461.001.0001

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The Aesthetics of Excess: Improvement and Revivalism

The Aesthetics of Excess: Improvement and Revivalism

(p.165) 5 The Aesthetics of Excess: Improvement and Revivalism
Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement

Helen O’connell

Oxford University Press

Young Ireland rhetoric dominated Irish cultural institutions from the 1840s through to the Revival period. In the early 1890s, a young William Butler Yeats was embarking on his project to instil aesthetic revivalism in Ireland, a project that was, in part, a response to the rationalizing ideologies of improvement modernization. For Yeats, those ideologies were literary as well as social and political in nature, achieving their most coherent expression in the 19th-century tradition of English realism. This chapter explores how Yeats's Revival was directed against those discourses of progress, counteracting realist assertions of linearity and causality with supernaturalism and ‘orality’. It is thus unsurprising that Yeats was to find himself at odds with the Young Ireland orthodoxies of the period. This chapter speculates that the Revival writings of Yeats, Douglas Hyde, and J.M. Synge were a product of the inevitable failures of both improvement discourse and Young Ireland nationalism.

Keywords:   Irish literature, improvement fiction, William Butler Yeats, Young Ireland, aesthetics, revivalism, Charles Gavan Duffy, nationalism, New Irish Library

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