Irish Classics

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Overview

A celebration of the tenacious life of the enduring Irish classics, this book by one of Irish writing's most eloquent readers offers a brilliant and accessible survey of the greatest works since 1600 in Gaelic and English, which together have shaped one of the world's most original literary cultures.

In the course of his discussion of the great seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Gaelic poems of dispossession, and of later work in that language that refuses to die, Declan Kiberd provides vivid and idiomatic translations that bring the Irish texts alive for the English-speaking reader.

Extending from the Irish poets who confronted modernity as a cataclysm, and who responded by using traditional forms in novel and radical ways, to the great modern practitioners of such paradoxically conservative and revolutionary writing, Kiberd's work embraces three sorts of Irish classics: those of awesome beauty and internal rigor, such as works by the Gaelic bards, Yeats, Synge, Beckett, and Joyce; those that generate a myth so powerful as to obscure the individual writer and unleash an almost superhuman force, such as the Cuchulain story, the lament for Art O'Laoghaire, and even Dracula; and those whose power exerts a palpable influence on the course of human action, such as Swift's Drapier's Letters, the speeches of Edmund Burke, or the autobiography of Wolfe Tone. The book closes with a moving and daring coda on the Anglo-Irish agreement, claiming that the seeds of such a settlement were sown in the works of Irish literature.

A delight to read throughout, Irish Classics is a fitting tribute to the works it reads so well and inspires us to read, and read again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishing News
An ambitious study of enduring Irish Classics, discussing the influence of the Irish and English languages, and demonstrating their effect and reliance upon one another. Kiberd provides vivid and idiomatic translations that bring the Irish texts alive for the English-speaking reader.
Scotland on Sunday

Irish Classics is a magisterial, yet passionate, evocative and wonderfully accessible journey through the literary masterpieces in both Irish and English from the 16th century to the present...It is a tale of constant decline, fall and rebirth; of a country with a persistent talent for reinvention that, amid waves of cultural waves, informs and drives the vitality of Irish Literature—a blend of the conservative and revolutionary...Alongside the flowering of the Anglo-Irish tradition with the radical pastoral Goldsmith and the subversion of Sheridan are Irish language classics that seize and often brilliantly rework the spirit of early Gaelic poetry, creating, as Kiberd says, a new lyric sequence within an ancient structure...This is a stunning promenade of writers.
— Colin Cardwell

The Tribune
What Kiberd has succeeded in doing so remarkably is to draw together the writers in the two languages and in diverse cultural traditions within the same critical-historical framework...[His] critical sophistication is connected seamlessly to the masterly and thought-provoking introductory essays on his 30-plus authors and texts. Kiberd's critical language is wonderfully malleable and versatile...Criticism of Irish literature is often dispiriting because of the way it works over the old material again, with more or less ingenuity. What makes Kiberd's so sparkling is his readiness--and of course competence--to move into less raked over areas...His redrawing of Irish traditions...is certain to become a classic of that literature in its own right.
The Independent

Occasionally one comes across a book capable of producing intense feelings of dismay; then joy: dismay on having revealed to oneself an unexpected deficit in one's knowledge, and joy at the author's scholarly relief of it. This is such a book...I shall treasure Kiberd's insights into a formidable range of writers, among them, Wolfe Tone, Maria Edgeworth, William Carleton, George Moore, Wilde, Shaw, Synge, Joyce, Beckett, O'Casey, O'Flaherty, and MacNeice.
— Cal McCrystal

The Guardian

[Kiberd] has the talent for popularizing the public intellectual. Witty, astute and compulsively readable, he knows how to shape a critical narrative, and where to slide in a comic aside. This extravagantly ambitious book takes us all the way from the decline of the Irish bards in the 17th century to the Belfast Agreement of 1998...Like all Kiberd's writing, Irish Classics has an infectious verve about it...The book tracks the course of Irish writing with brilliant lucidity and unflagging energy hard to match on the current Irish-studies scene. It is the prose of a brilliant teacher, whose powers to expound, amuse and exhilarate are second to none.
— Terry Eagleton

Boston Globe

When a book titled Irish Classics opens with quotes from Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it announces its ambition to be more than a narrow, nationalism text. Declan Kiberd's latest cultural and literary investigation is strikingly cosmopolitan...In Anglo-Irish or Hiberno-English culture, hyphenation is one mark of that modernity. Kiberd convincingly presents the hyphen as a cultural bridge profitably traversed by writers who fertilize each tradition with every crossing.
— Anna Mundow

Sunday Business Post

Written with the skill of a good novelist, this wide-ranging and ambitious book could, in time, itself become a classic. In addition to reporting back from the war-zones of scholarship with discernment and wit and zest about the exciting "news that stays news," Kiberd has also, probably inadvertently, written one of the most fascinating, enjoyable and original histories of Ireland.
— John McGahern

BBC

A work of literature in its own right.
— Laura Cumming

Magill Magazine

Kiberd is arguably Ireland's greatest literary critic. Irish Classics is a labor of love and a book with ultimate faith in the power of the artist's imagination. A staggering achievement in criticism.
— Ian Kilroy

Irish Times

By bringing his critical intelligence to bear upon the liminal spaces between Ireland's two literary cultures, Declan Kiberd has immensely enriched our knowledge and understanding of their fertile confluence. This is literary criticism of the best kind: enlightening and entertaining, authoritative and accessible, committed and inspiring.
— Liam Harte

Glasgow Herald

A beautifully crafted survey of inextinguishable classics from the bardic era to modern times.
— Kenneth Wright

Irish Independent

Provocative and illuminating...[Kiberd] makes his case convincingly and often brilliantly.
— John Boland

London Independent

A powerful and vibrant undertaking. The bilingual approach is one of its strengths.
— Patricia Craig

Choice

If this reviewer were to select (perhaps arbitrarily) a single theme that unites all of the writers discussed here, it would be one Kiberd articulates in his discussion of George Moore: "This was the tragic flaw of the Anglo-Irish: to have lived without any sense of connection to the surrounding people." Combining close analysis and a wide range of authors (including Gaelic), Kiberddemonstrates that scholarship can be interesting.
— F. L. Ryan

New Republic

A continual flirtation with extinction, indeed, is one of the sources of the vitality of Irish literature. A recurring theme of Declan Kiberd's witty, accessible, and often brilliantly written book is that, in the way the country has been imagined by its writers, "Ireland was forever dying and getting born again"...Kiberd is a joy to read. The other side of his insistence on a "national culture" is that he is genuinely interested in being read by the nation, and not just by the academy. Never patronizing or simplistic, he is not ashamed of being lucid, engaging, and witty. He has the courage to ignore the deconstructionist strictures on relating writers to writing, history to literature, and human dilemmas to texts. Always interesting and usually illuminating, the individual essays are never so consumed by their own cleverness that they forget to communicate the pleasure of reading. If, stirred by Kiberd's energy and intelligence, the reader goes back to the texts and finds them far too slippery to be comfortably classical, so much the better.
— Fintan O'Toole

Scotland on Sunday - Colin Cardwell
Irish Classics is a magisterial, yet passionate, evocative and wonderfully accessible journey through the literary masterpieces in both Irish and English from the 16th century to the present...It is a tale of constant decline, fall and rebirth; of a country with a persistent talent for reinvention that, amid waves of cultural waves, informs and drives the vitality of Irish Literature--a blend of the conservative and revolutionary...Alongside the flowering of the Anglo-Irish tradition with the radical pastoral Goldsmith and the subversion of Sheridan are Irish language classics that seize and often brilliantly rework the spirit of early Gaelic poetry, creating, as Kiberd says, a new lyric sequence within an ancient structure...This is a stunning promenade of writers.
The Independent - Cal McCrystal
Occasionally one comes across a book capable of producing intense feelings of dismay; then joy: dismay on having revealed to oneself an unexpected deficit in one's knowledge, and joy at the author's scholarly relief of it. This is such a book...I shall treasure Kiberd's insights into a formidable range of writers, among them, Wolfe Tone, Maria Edgeworth, William Carleton, George Moore, Wilde, Shaw, Synge, Joyce, Beckett, O'Casey, O'Flaherty, and MacNeice.
Barry Forshaw
The most immediately striking aspect of Kiberd's brave enterprise is the sheer accessibility of the texts selected...In this ambitious survey of the enduring Irish classics, the author's avowed intention of choosing works that challenge each successive generation is effortlessly fulfilled...His enthusiasm for the great Irish writers that is communicated at every opportunity...For most of us, this will be a book with a potential to open many new vistas.
The Guardian - Terry Eagleton
[Kiberd] has the talent for popularizing the public intellectual. Witty, astute and compulsively readable, he knows how to shape a critical narrative, and where to slide in a comic aside. This extravagantly ambitious book takes us all the way from the decline of the Irish bards in the 17th century to the Belfast Agreement of 1998...Like all Kiberd's writing, Irish Classics has an infectious verve about it...The book tracks the course of Irish writing with brilliant lucidity and unflagging energy hard to match on the current Irish-studies scene. It is the prose of a brilliant teacher, whose powers to expound, amuse and exhilarate are second to none.
Boston Globe - Anna Mundow
When a book titled Irish Classics opens with quotes from Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it announces its ambition to be more than a narrow, nationalism text. Declan Kiberd's latest cultural and literary investigation is strikingly cosmopolitan...In Anglo-Irish or Hiberno-English culture, hyphenation is one mark of that modernity. Kiberd convincingly presents the hyphen as a cultural bridge profitably traversed by writers who fertilize each tradition with every crossing.
Sunday Business Post - John McGahern
Written with the skill of a good novelist, this wide-ranging and ambitious book could, in time, itself become a classic. In addition to reporting back from the war-zones of scholarship with discernment and wit and zest about the exciting "news that stays news," Kiberd has also, probably inadvertently, written one of the most fascinating, enjoyable and original histories of Ireland.
BBC - Laura Cumming
A work of literature in its own right.
Magill Magazine - Ian Kilroy
Kiberd is arguably Ireland's greatest literary critic. Irish Classics is a labor of love and a book with ultimate faith in the power of the artist's imagination. A staggering achievement in criticism.
Irish Times - Caroline Walsh
Inimitable readings of seminal texts--an inspired successor to Kiberd's 1995 classic Inventing Ireland.
Glasgow Herald - Kenneth Wright
A beautifully crafted survey of inextinguishable classics from the bardic era to modern times.
Irish Independent - John Boland
Provocative and illuminating...[Kiberd] makes his case convincingly and often brilliantly.
London Independent - Patricia Craig
A powerful and vibrant undertaking. The bilingual approach is one of its strengths.
Irish Times - Liam Harte
By bringing his critical intelligence to bear upon the liminal spaces between Ireland's two literary cultures, Declan Kiberd has immensely enriched our knowledge and understanding of their fertile confluence. This is literary criticism of the best kind: enlightening and entertaining, authoritative and accessible, committed and inspiring.
Choice - F. L. Ryan
If this reviewer were to select (perhaps arbitrarily) a single theme that unites all of the writers discussed here, it would be one Kiberd articulates in his discussion of George Moore: "This was the tragic flaw of the Anglo-Irish: to have lived without any sense of connection to the surrounding people." Combining close analysis and a wide range of authors (including Gaelic), Kiberddemonstrates that scholarship can be interesting.
New Republic - Fintan O'Toole
A continual flirtation with extinction, indeed, is one of the sources of the vitality of Irish literature. A recurring theme of Declan Kiberd's witty, accessible, and often brilliantly written book is that, in the way the country has been imagined by its writers, "Ireland was forever dying and getting born again"...Kiberd is a joy to read. The other side of his insistence on a "national culture" is that he is genuinely interested in being read by the nation, and not just by the academy. Never patronizing or simplistic, he is not ashamed of being lucid, engaging, and witty. He has the courage to ignore the deconstructionist strictures on relating writers to writing, history to literature, and human dilemmas to texts. Always interesting and usually illuminating, the individual essays are never so consumed by their own cleverness that they forget to communicate the pleasure of reading. If, stirred by Kiberd's energy and intelligence, the reader goes back to the texts and finds them far too slippery to be comfortably classical, so much the better.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In these 35 exciting essays, Kiberd (Inventing Ireland; etc.), professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at University College, Dublin, covers just about every aspect of Irish literature, its writers and the times in which they lived. Beginning with young Gaelic Ireland, Kiberd rapidly advances straight to Jonathan Swift and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. But the meat of the book starts with the political stirrings of the late 18th century. In the Journal of Wolfe Tone Kiberd exposes the rakish personality behind the rather saintly legend that textbooks have applied to one of the most prominent revolutionaries of 1798. Advancing to the late 19th century, the author notes that Oscar Wilde was the antithesis of John Millington Synge. While Synge studied the Irish poor, Wilde, conversely and perversely, studied the British upper class. Kiberd sees Joyce's Ulysses "as a slow-motion alternative to the daily newspaper of Dublin for 16 June 1904." He sees it as a means for Joyce to trumpet the common man, and also as a way to deflate his hubris. Sean O'Casey and Liam O'Flaherty are coupled as postrevolutionary writers. O'Casey's plays, such as Juno and the Paycock, are an attempt to tackle an "outbreak of middle-class morality," and O'Flaherty's The Informer is an "attempt to wrest the meaning and interpretation of the Jesus story from the priests." The essay on Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds recalls the common joke of mid-20th-century Ireland: "I'm in a terrible state I'm in the Free State!," allowing O'Brien to contrast masturbation with something much worse literary production. There are also essays on Synge, Yeats, Shaw and more. This rich stew is filled with new insights and interpretations, with something for everyone. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Respected critic and historian Kiberd (Anglo-Irish literature, University Coll., Dublin; Inventing Ireland, Harvard, 1995) defines a classic as something "forever young and fresh" that everyone enjoys reading. His title omits the word the since, he contends, every selection of a canon is arbitrary and personal. While the author's earlier study began with the late 19th-century Irish Literary Revival, this volume commences with the early 17th century, when the fabled Flight of the Earls led to the collapse of Gaelic Ireland and the bardic order and continues into the 20th century. Kiberd includes "dead artists whose reputation seems secure" and discusses literature in the context of history and politics, forces inseparable from Irish cultural developments. Central to the study is the issue of language, since Irish literature has been produced in English, Irish, and Hiberno-English; Kiberd also makes clear that there is a distinction between "Irish" and "Gaelic" culture. This well-documented, analytical study is highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Denise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Declan Kiberd is Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at University College Dublin.
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Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1. Gaelic Ireland: Apocalypse Now?
  • 2. Bardic Poetry: The Loss of Aura
  • 3. Saving Civilization: Céitinn and Ó Bruadair
  • 4. Dying Acts: Ó Rathaille and Others
  • 5. Endings and Beginnings: Mac Cuarta and After
  • 6. Jonathan Swift: a Colonial Outsider?
  • 7. Home and Away: Gulliver’s Travels
  • 8. Nostalgia as Protest: Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village”
  • 9. Radical Pastoral: Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer
  • 10. Sheridan and Subversion
  • 11. Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill: The Lament for Art Ó Laoghaire
  • 12. Brian Merriman’s Midnight Court
  • 13. Burke, Ireland and Revolution
  • 14. Republican Self-Fashioning: The Journal of Wolfe Tone
  • I5. Native Informants: Maria Edgeworth and Castle Rackrent
  • 16. Confronting Famine: Carleton’s Peasantry
  • 17. Feudalism Falling: A Drama in Muslin
  • 18. Love Songs of Connacht
  • 19. Anarchist Attitudes: Oscar Wilde
  • 20. George Bernard Shaw: Arms and the Man
  • 21. Somerville and Ross: The Silver Fox
  • 22. Undead in the Nineties: Bram Stoker and Dracula
  • 23. Augusta Gregory’s Cuchulain: The Rebirth of the Hero
  • 24. Synge’s Tristes Tropiques: The Aran Islands
  • 25. W.B. Yeats: Building Amid Ruins
  • 26. Ulysses, Newspapers and Modernism
  • 27. After the Revolution: O’Casey and O’Flaherty
  • 28. Gaelic Absurdism: At Swim-Two-Birds
  • 29. The Blasket Autobiographies
  • 30. Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice
  • 31. Kate O’Brien: The Ante-Room
  • 32. All the Dead Voices: Cré Na Cille
  • 33. Underdeveloped Comedy: Patrick Kavanagh
  • 34. Anglo-Gaelic Literature: Seán Ó Ríordéin
  • 35. Irish Narrative: A Short History
  • Notes
  • Index

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