The Ireland of Yeats and Joyce July 9-14, 2017
James Joyce - Credit: Bernice Abbott
At the turn of the last century, Irish culture underwent a renaissance often referred to as "the Irish Revival." After centuries of colonial oppression by Great Britain, Ireland regained a sense of its heroic and legendary past, saw anew the value of its language and its landscape, and began to create some of the greatest literature in modern European history. At the same time, Ireland's political struggle against Great Britain intensified, climaxing in the War of Independence that resulted in Ireland's limited freedom from British rule, as well as the tragic civil war that followed. The result was the creation of the Irish Free State, as well as the long century of strife in Northern Ireland.
William Butler Yeats
This was the era of James Joyce and William Butler Yeats, the two titans of Irish (and world) literature. Born into the late 19th century, each emerged as dominant figures of the Ireland of the 20th. Yeats became the great leader of the Celtic Twilight movement that was the forerunner of the Irish Revival. He then became the key figure behind the Abbey Theatre, Ireland's national theater founded in 1903, and eventually the great modern poet who would ultimately win the Nobel Prize and become a senator in the new Irish Free State. Joyce, by contrast, felt he had to leave Ireland in order to write truthfully about Ireland. In 1904 he departed for the continent and a life of self-exile. Yet in the two works that we will read, "Dubliners" (1914) and "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (1916), as well as his later works, Joyce wrote constantly about the land he had left behind and created a penetrating, evocative, and ultimately beautiful portrait of his native land.
Yeats and Joyce authored works of literature that transformed our understanding not just of Ireland but of the very meanings of human consciousness itself. Bold and innovative in their styles, each wrote in ways that helped even the most common reader understand the world anew. Helping us with that understanding will be Marc Conner, provost, Ballengee Professor of English, and author of books on Joyce and Irish film, as well as the Great Courses lecture series "The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature," and James Pethica, author of numerous studies of Yeats, Lady Gregory, and other great Irish writers.
Above: image by Amy-Leigh Laverick.