W. J. Mc Cormack

1947- [William John McCormack; latterly Mc Cormack; issues poetry as “Hugh Maxton”, pseud.; fam. “Bill”]; b. 15 Sept.; nr. Aughrim, Co. Monaghan, the only son of Charles Elliott McCormack in his second marriage, with Irene [née King]; suffered death of his father from heart-attack in childhood (aetat. 13), his mother being very much younger, went to work; ed. Rathgar (Methodist) National School; won scholarship to Wesley College Dublin, 1959-65; lived at Kenilworth Park, Dublin; proceeded to TCD, grad. BA 1971, MA 1974; completed D.Phil. at New University of Ulster, 1974; lectured at Magee College; m. Sheelagh Grayson 1971, with whom one son, Simon Charles;
fnd. Atlantis (1970-74), with others incl. Derek Mahon, Seamus Deane, and Augustine Martin and printed by Dolmen Press; Antwerp (Fall 1987), lecturer in English at Leeds Univ., 1974-1982; his The Noise of the Fields (1976) becomes Poetry Society Choice, 1976; publishes Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (OUP 1980); instrumental in revival of interest in Francis Stuart; visiting Prof. Clemson Univ., S. Carolina, 1984; issued Ascendancy and Tradition in Anglo-Irish History 1789-1939 (1985; reiss. as From Burke to Beckett [ … &c.] 1994), arguing that the concept helped the colonist community to enshroud its parvenu status in the appearance of nobility;
lecturer at UCD, Dublin, during and following a period of free-lance writing; elected to Aosdána as Hugh Maxton, 1986; close associate of Anthony Farrell, fnd.-ed. Lilliput Press; ed. LIPS series of pamphlets; issued highly-polemic Battle of the Books (1986); contrib. to Across the Roaring Hill (ed. Longley and Dawe) but shortly afterwards accuses the editors of setting up a ‘sectarian sociology of art’; served as Founding Director of Jonathan Swift Seminar, Celbridge, 1990-92; offered post of Chair of English Maynooth (NUI) after interview, but subsequently denied it by reason of intra-departmental sentiments; issued Dissolute Characters: Irish Literary History through Balzac, Sheridan Le Fanu, Yeats and Bowen (1993);
appt. to a personal chair in Literary History at Goldsmith College, University of London, 1995, acting as Head of School, and pronounced that ‘Irish studies suffers from an excess of positivism’ in jos inaugural lecture; sep. from Sheelagh, 1996; called halt to attempted censure of Francis Stuart for wartime anti-semitism on the grounds of insufficient evidence, Nov. 1997; ed. Blackwell Companion to Irish Culture (1998) and a critical anthology of Anglo-Irish poetry from Swift to Yeats as Ferocious Humanism (1998); issues Fool of the Famlly: A Life of J. M. Synge (2000); issues satirical poems as Gubu Roi (2000); resigns from Goldsmiths College, 2001, and moves back to Co. Monaghan; issued The Silence of Barbara Synge (2003);
delivered annual Jonathan Swift address in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Oct. 2004; appt. Director of the Worth Library (Dr Steeven’s Hospital, Dublin), remaining Senior Research Fellow of Institute of English Studies (Goldsmith/London U.); issued Blood Kindred: The Politics of W. B. Yeats and His Death (2005), professing to find him ‘fascist on (for me) too many occasions’; co-edits Metre poetry magazine with David Wheatley and Justin Quinn; issued a novel, 2016 Vision (2009), as Hugh Maxton; issued “We Irish” in Europe: Yeats, Berkeley and Joseph Hone (2010), launched on 8 June 2010 by NUI Chancellor Maurice Manning;
issued life of the Ulster poet, John Hewit (OUP 2015); issued Dublin 1916: The French Connection (2012) - arguing that the Rising was motivated by the example of French Catholic nationalism after the Dreyfus affair rather than the republican ideology of the French Revolution and owes more to Maurice Barrès than Wolfe Tone; issued  Happen [as Hugh Maxton], a second novel (2015) which was launched by Eimear O’Connor in the Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinehely, Co Wicklow, 29 March 2015; elected the Szechenyi Academy, Budapest, Nov. 2015. DIW DIL OCIL
See McCormack webpage - online; accessed 05.06.2107.

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Poetry [as Hugh Maxton]
  • Stones (Dublin: Allen Figgis 1970), 27pp.
  • The Noise of the Fields (Dublin: Dolmen 1976).
  • Jubilee for Renegades, Poems 1976-1980 (Dublin: Dolmen 1982).
  • 6 Snapdragons (Clemson, S. Carolina: H. Maxton 1985), [12]pp. [400 copies].
  • Passage (with surviving poems) (Bradford on Avon: q. pub. [1985]), [30]pp.
  • At the Protestant Museum (Dublin: Dolmen 1986), 53pp.
  • The Puzzle Tree Ascendant (Dublin: Dedalus 1988).
  • trans., Between: Selected Poems of Ágnes Nemes Nagy (Dublin: Dedalus Press; Budapest: Corvina [1988]), 93pp.
  • The Engraved Passion: New and Selected Poems 1970-1991 (Dublin: Dedalus 1992), 116pp.
  • Swift Mail (1992)
  • Gubu Roi: Poems and Satires (Belfast: Lagan Press 2000), 90pp.;
  • Same Bridge Perhaps, and Other Fugitive Poems, with a postface by Eiléan ní Chuilleanáin (Dublin: Duras Press 2013).
  • Poems 2000-2005 (Dublin: Carysfort Press 2005).
  • 20/16 Vision ([Dublin:] Duras 2009), 287pp.
  • [as Hugh Maxton] Happen (Dublin: Duras Press 2015).
Criticism & Commentary [as W. J. McCormack]
  • Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (OUP 1980).
  • Ascendancy and Tradition in Anglo-Irish History 1789-1939 (OUP 1985).
  • The Battle of the Books (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1986) [see extract].
  • Dissolute Characters: Irish Literary History through Balzac, Sheridan Le Fanu, Yeats and Bowen (Manchester UP 1993), 260[360]pp.
  • The Dublin Paper War of 1786-88 (IAP 1993), 160pp. [development of ideological concept in 18th-c. Dublin booktrade].
  • From Burke to Beckett: Ascendancy, Tradition, and Betrayal in Literary History (Cork UP 1994), 470pp. [reprint of Ascendancy (... &c.); incls. Chap. 7: ‘Varieties of Celticism’].
  • The Debate on the Union between Great Britain and Ireland 1797-1800 (Blackrock IAP 1995), 176pp. [catalogue and commentary on c.300 pamphlets and their archival locations].
  • Fool of the Family: A Life of J. M. Synge (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2000), 499pp.
  • The Silence of Barbara Synge (Manchester UP 2003), 318pp. [see note].
  • Blood Kindred: The Politics of W. B. Yeats and his Death (London: Pimlico 2005), 224pp.
  • “We Irish” in Europe: Yeats, Berkeley and Joseph Hone (UCD Press 2010), 221pp.
  • Dublin 1916: The French Connection [in memory of Justin Keating] (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 2012), q.pp. [see extract].
  • W J. McCormack, Northman: John Hewitt (1907-1987): An Irish Writer, His World and His Times (Oxford: OUP 2015) [see contents under Hewitt - supra];
  • Enigmas of Sacrifice: A Critique of Joseph M. Plunkett and the Dublin Insurrection of 1916 (Michigan State UP 2016), 400pp.
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Journals [contribs. incl.]
  • [as Hugh Maxton], ‘A Wash of Words’, in Threshold, 32 [ed. Seamus Deane] (Winter 1982), p.88.
  • Afterword to Daniil Kharms, The Plummeting Old Women, intro. & trans. by Neil Cornwell [Essays and texts in Cultural History] (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1989), 101pp., ill.
  • ‘J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Richard Marston” (1848)’, in 1848: The Sociology of Literature, ed. F. Barker (Univ. of Essex 1978), pp.107-25.
  • ‘Irish Gothic and After, 1825-1945’, in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day Co. 1991), Vol. 1, pp.831-54 [editorial essay; see other such contributions, infra].
  • [as Hugh Maxton] ed., Austin Clarke, Selected Poems (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1991), 280pp. index, with prefatory essay, ‘“Beyond the Pale”, Introducing Austin Clarke 1896-1974’,[q.p.].
  • obit. on Mary Lavin, in Independent [UK] (26 March 1996), p.12.
  • intro. to Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope, ed. Hugh Osborne [Everyman Library] (London: Dent 1997), pp.[i-]xxxv
  • ‘Irish Gothic’, in The Handbook to Gothic Literature, ed. Marie Mulvey-Roberts (London: Macmillan, 1998), p. 135.
  • ‘The ‘Plymouth’ Brethren? Prolegomena to the Re-writing of J. M. Synge’s Biography’, in Religion and Literature [Irish Issue, ed. Willa Murphy; University of Notre Dame] (Summer 1998), q.pp.
  • ‘“Fallings from us, vanishings” (Wordsworth), or, How I Didn’t Get to Where I am Today: An Inaugural Lecture given by Bill McCormack‘ [Inaugural Lects. ser.] (London: Goldsmiths’ College, UL [1999], 17pp.
  • ‘T. C. Croker’ [biog. entry], in Dictionary of National Biography (OUP 2004).
Edited works
  • ed., Festschrift for Francis Stuart on his 70th Birthday (Dublin: Dolmen 1972), 62pp. [Introduction, pp.9-17, signed Derry 1972].
  • with Kim Walker, eds., Maria Edgeworth, The Absentee [World Classics] (OUP 1987).
  • ed., In the Prison of His Days, Miscellany of Writings Presented to Nelson Mandela on his 70th Birthday (1988).
  • ed. [as Hugh Maxton], Selected Poems of Austin Clarke (1991), 288pp., index, [prefatory essay, ‘“Beyond the Pale”: Introducing Austin Clarke 1896-1974’].
  • ed. & intro., La Vendée by Anthony Trollope [World’s classics] (Oxford: OUP 1994), with a gazetteer prepared by Selina Guinness.
  • ed., The Blackwell Companion to Irish Culture, assisted by Patrick Gillan (Oxford: Blackwell 1999, rev edn. 2000), 703pp. [Selected Bibliography of Recent Publications, p.645ff; Index, p.647ff.].
  • ed., Ferocious Humanism: An Anthology of Irish Poetry from before Swift to Yeats and After (London: Dent 2000), 355pp., and Do. [in US as] Irish Poetry: An Interpretive Anthology from before Swift to Yeats and After (NY: New York UP 2000), xxvi, 355pp.
  • ed. Memories of West Wicklow, 1813-1939 by William & Mary Hanbridge (UCD Press 2004), 144pp..
  • ed., intro. & anot., The Eustace Diamonds [1873], Anthony Trollope [Oxford world’s classics] (Oxford: OUP 2008), xliv, 414pp., ill. [by Blair Hughes-Stanton].
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Articles & papers [sel.]
  • ‘A Manuscript letter from Michael Banim (1874)’, in Hermathena, CXVII (Summer 1974), pp.37-38.
  • ‘Sheridan Le Fanu and the Authorship of anonymous Fiction in the Dublin University Magazine’, in Long Room [TCD], 14-15 (Autumn 1976-Spring/Summer 1977), pp.32-36.
  • ‘Nightmares of History: James Joyce and the Phenomenon of Anglo-Irish Literature’, in James Joyce and Modern Literature, ed. McCormack & Alistair Stead (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982), pp.77-107.
  • ‘Anglo-Irish Literature from Coleridge to Mann’, in Across the Roaring Hill, ed. Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff 1975) [q.pp.].
  • Finnegans Wake and Irish Literary History’, in History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature, ed., Joris Duyteschaver and Geert Lernout (Amsterdam: Rodopi ?1983), pp.111-35.
  • ‘Seeing Darkly: Notes on T. W. Adorno and Samuel Beckett’ in Hermathena 141 (1986), pp.22-44.
  • ‘French Revolution ... Anglo-Irish literature ... beginnings?: The Case of Maria Edgeworth’, in Ireland and the French Revolution, ed. Hugh Gough & David Dickson (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 1990), pp.229-4.
  • [verse epigrams] in Krino, ‘The State of Poetry’ [Special Issue], ed. Gerald Dawe & Jonathan Williams (Winter 1993), pp.38-41.
  • The Cult of the Contemporary in Ireland (Budapest: Argumentum [1994]), pp.203-211 [Offprint of article in Literature and its cults: an anthropological approach, edited by Péter Dávidházi & Judit Karafiáth].
  • ‘Convergent Criticism: The Biographia Literaria of Vivian Mercier and the State of Irish Literary History’, in Bullán, 2, 1 (Summer 1995), pp.45-60.
  • ‘Austin Clarke: The Poet as Scapegoat of Modernism’, in Modernism in Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s, ed. Patricia Coughlan and Alex Davis (Cork UP 1995), pp.75-102.
  • [as Hugh Maxton,] Waking: An Irish Protestant Upbringing (Belfast: Lagan Press 1998), 221pp.

See also ...
  • Acorn: A Literary Magazine, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-17 [Londonderry: English Department of Magee University College] (Magee 1961-72), 21.5cm.; [var. freq.; printers incl.: Londonderry: Derry Standard, 1961. Lurgan: L. M. Press, 1966-68; Londonderry: Derry Journal, 1971-72.
  • Chronological List on Cards of Novels of Irish Interest 1744-1835 - either by Irish authors, or simply novels printed in Ireland (largely Dublin), with references given for source of information and some locations in BM, NLI and TCD.
  • ‘J. Sheridan Le Fanu: letters to William Blackwood and John Forster: Three ... letters ... preserved in the Forster Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum [&c.]’, in Long Room: Bulletin of the Friends of the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, VIII (Autumn-Winter 1973) [8pp. offprint].
—All cited in COPAC

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The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day Co.; London: Faber 1991), incls. editorial contributions by McCormack - Vol 1: ‘Irish Gothic and After, 1825-1945’, pp.831-54; ‘Maria Edgeworth’, pp.1011-1052; ‘Language, Class and Genre 1780-1830’ (pp.1070-1172); ‘The Intellectual Revival of the 1830s and ’40s’ (pp.1173-1300). Vol. 2: ‘Irish Gothicism, Its Finer Legacy, 1920-1945’ (pp.831-949). [ top ]

Bibliographical details
The Battle of the Books: Two Decades of Irish Cultural Debate (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1986), 94pp.; Contents, Preface’ [7]; ‘Remembering Atlantis (1970-1974)’ [9]; ‘The Mystery of the Clarity of Conor Cruise O’Brien’ [19]; ‘Seamus Heaney’s Preoccupations’ [31]; ‘Terence Brown and the Historians’ [40]; ‘The Crane Bag (1977-1985)’ [48]; ‘Having a Field Day’ [53]; ‘Edna Longley and the Reaction from Ulster: Fighting or Writing?’ [61]; ‘Waiting for the End (or a Beginning?)’ [72]; ‘Select Bibliography’ [87]; ‘Index’ [91].

[ being a copy of the list at www.billmccormack.ie; at 19.10.2006 ]

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Book Notes

Simplified histories: In Dissolute Characters, Irish Literary History Through Balzac [ ...&c] (1993), McCormack writes of conventional Irish literary histories as ‘simplified chronicles’ [that exhibit] ‘doggedly chronological methods ... An Irish literary history which attempts comparative work at length is at present inconceivable’ (p.3).

Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (OUP 1980) remains without question the fullest account of Victorian literature in Ireland and particularly the tangled relations between nationalist and unionist elements of the period [BS 2004].

Gubu Roi (2000), a collection of satirical poems, takes the acronymic version of the Irish premier Charles Haughey’s exclamation ‘Grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented’ in response to the arrest of the homocide MacArthur in the home of the Attorney General in 1982. Besides Haughey, McCormack’s whipping posts are the Irish Prime Minister, the Ireland he created and not least Northern Ireland of the big woes and savage endurance; characterises the founder of Aosdana as Antonio Cronino [Anthony Cronin], amid a standing army of poets and their Al Capone patron, CJH; depicts Michael Smurfit purchasing a Jack B. Yeats painting. (See Books Ireland, Sept. 2000).

The Silence of Barbara Synge (2003): The family of playwright J. M. Synge (1871-1909) had a long pedigree in Ireland. Taking the alleged death in 1767 of Mrs John Hatch (née Synge) as his focal point, Bill McCormack explores the varied strands and stresses of two family histories in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A suicide in 1769, echoed in an early play by Synge, is carefully documented. Among the Hatch family, sometime MP John Hatch (d.1797) emerges as an unlikely ancestor for the playwright, while the behaviour of Francis Synge at the time of the Union come under revealing scrutiny. The religious and educational concerns of John “Pestalozzi” Synge (1788-1845) worked as expiation of earlier offences and anxieties, but the Wicklow properties which the Synges inherited from John Hatch could not survive the Famine without grievous loss. Paradoxically, Synge’s attachment to local values is traced from that disaster right into composition of The Playboy of the Western World.’ (1907).

[Silence of Barbara Synge - See COPAC - online; accessed 27.03.2011; and cf. book notice in Read Ireland, Issue 257 - online; accessed 22.11.2012) [Parially available at Google Books - online; accessed 05.06.2017.]

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  • Roy Foster, ‘The Anglo-Irish in Retreat’, review of Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, in Times Literary Supplement (May 1980), [q.p.].
  • Kevin Sullivan, review of Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 36, 2 (Sept. 1981), pp.244-46 [extract].
  • [Ciaran Carson?], review of Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill, in Irish News (20 August 1985), p.67.
  • Douglas Sealy, review of Austin Clarke, Selected Poems, in Irish Times (9 Nov. 1991), [extract].
  • Maurice Harmon, review of Austin Clarke: Selected Poems, in Books Ireland (May 1993), [extract].
  • Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, review of The Dublin Paper Wars of 1786-1788: A Bibliographical and Critical Enquiry, including an account of the origins of Protestant Ascendancy and its “Baptism” in 1792, in Books Ireland (Sept. 1994), p.205 [extract].
  • Patrick Kelly, review of The Debate on the Union between Great Britain and Ireland 1797-1800, in Irish Historical Studies, XXXI, 122 (November 1998) [q.pp.].
  • Douglas Sealy, ‘One soul’s fair seed-time’, review of Waking: An Irish Protestant Upbringing, in The Irish Times (10 Jan. 1998) [extract].
  • Terence Killeen, review of Ferocious Humanism, in The Irish Times (8 April 2000) [extract].
  • James J. McAuley, review of Gubu Roi: Poems & Satires, in The Irish Times (27 Jan. 2001) [extract].
  • David Edgar, ‘What’s Coming’, review of Fool of the Family: A Life of J. M. Synge, in London Review of Books (22 March 2001), pp.34-35 [extract].
  • Clare O’Connell, ‘A Library of Worth’, in The Irish Times (1 July 2008), p.15 [interview with McCormack as Director of Edward Worth Library, Dr. Steeven’s Hosp., Dublin; with port.]
See also
  • Alex Davis, ‘The Irish Modernists and Their Legacy’, in The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry, ed. Matthew Campbell (Cambridge UP 2003), pp.76-93, espec. p.86ff.
  • Jarlath Killeen, ‘Irish Gothic: A Theoretical Introduction’, in The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, 1 (Oct. 2006) [available online].
  • Danielle Westerhof, The Alchemy of Medicine and Print: The Edward Worth Library, Dublin [Dr Steeven’s Hospital] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2010), 224pp.

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Kevin Sullivan
, review of Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 36, 2 (Sept. 1981), pp.244-46: departs from comparison with monographs by Nelson Browne (1951), and Michael Begnal (1971) that Anglo-Irish: A Review of Research (1976) ‘characterised as [“]in every way reliable and eminently useful[”], but in reality were inaccurate and unreliable; but all is changed’ [… &c.; see further under Le Fanu.]

Douglas Sealy, review of Austin Clarke, Selected Poems (Lilliput Press 1991), 280pp. index, with prefatory essay, in Irish Times (9 Nov. 1991), [q.p.]: underscores Maxton’s remark: ‘again and again the speakers in these poems confront their own inability to believe, and in doing so also their inability to disbelieve.’

Terence Brown, review of Dissolute Characters: Irish Literary History through Balzac, Sheridan Le Fanu, Yeats and Bowen (1993), in ‘New Literary Histories’, Irish Historical Studies 30: 119 (May 1997): ‘[I]t is none of McCormack’s purpose ... to suggest the kinds of continuities, influences, rewritings, and critical engagements that are the stuff of less forensically sceptical literary history. Literary history in McCormack’s quizzically interrogative mind is by contrast, a contested, troublingly uncertain activity which can only be awarded respect when it respects the weird contingencies of the human variable and the negotiations that occur in all writing between the world as text and the world as social and political construction. His version of a literary history is really a kind of anti-history which is arranged in terms of fissures and discontinuities.’ (pp.468-69; quoted in Jarleth Killeen, ‘Irish Gothic: A Theoretical Introduction’, in Irish Gothic Horror Journal, Oct. 2006 - online.)

Gerald Dawe, in How’s The Poetry Going (Belfast: Lagan Press 1991), rebutts McCormack’s charges against Across the Roaring Hill (ed. Dawe & Edna Longley, 1985), and remarks on ‘the ideological smoke of The Battle of the Books’, adding: ‘The central task of the critic has got lost in recent years . [... &c.; in as infra].

Maurice Harmon, review of Austin Clarke: Selected Poems, in Books Ireland (May 1993), [q.p.]: regards the sectioning as unworkable and dismisses the commentary and annotations as ‘shoddy’.

Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, review of The Dublin Paper Wars of 1786-1788: A Bibliographical and Critical Enquiry, in Books Ireland (Sept. 1994), p.205: emphasising central role of references to Richard Woodward, Bishop of Cloyne’s off-reprinted The present State of the Church of Ireland, ‘the particular formation which ... Woodworad helped to launch into the vocabulary of reactive politics [vix “ascendancy”] conceded a related limit - to be in the ascendant implicates the future when one will not be in the ascendant.’

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Terence Brown, ‘New Literary Histories’, Irish Historical Studies 30: 119 (May 1997): ‘[I]t is none of McCormack’s purpose ... to suggest the kinds of continuities, influences, rewritings, and critical engagements that are the stuff of less forensically sceptical literary history. Literary history in McCormack’s quizzically interrogative mind is by contrast, a contested, troublingly uncertain activity which can only be awarded respect when it respects the weird contingencies of the human variable and the negotiations that occur in all writing between the world as text and the world as social and political construction. His version of a literary history is really a kind of anti-history which is arranged in terms of fissures and discontinuities. (pp.468-69; quoted in Jarlath Killeen, ‘Irish Gothic: A Theoretical Introduction’, in The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, 1 (Oct. 2006) [online; 21.11.2007].

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Douglas Sealy, ‘One soul’s fair seed-time’, review of Waking: An Irish Protestant Upbringing, in The Irish Times (10 Jan. 1998): The observant youngster amasses a wealth of detail from these early years, but he doesn’t trust it completely. “Nothing is remembered as it was”, observes Maxton, “the process of memory corrodes or it enhances.” He remembers Carty’s Corner at Cronemore but can no longer identify it with precision, and in any case, as he states in one of the many aphorisms that stud the book: “Knowledge is only a limited form of truth.” / [...] but it is not the Protestant upbringing as such that makes the book so absorbing, nor the establishing of Carty’s Corner and Kenilworth Park as shifting literary landmarks, but the continual tension between the dilemmas and confusions of the young McCormack and the cool, analytical intelligence of Maxton, united in a tone that is simultaneously confessional and sceptical. The writing is totally without sentimentality and enlivened with dry humour and provocative asides. / f his two names he has this to say: “The two lives I have - Maxton and McCormack - do not constitute a division but rather define a problem. The problem revolves round a general Irish division according to which truth and beauty must ever beat odds. Look around - what passes for intelligence is philistine, and good taste is stridently anti-intellectual.” That should stir the dove-cots.’ Also quotes Maxton’s remarks on the death of his father: ‘The moment when such news breaks does not constitute a moment. All time, before and after, is altered in its order and its texture.’

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Patrick Crotty, review of W. J. McCormack, ed., Ferocious Humanism: An Anthology of Irish Poetry from before Swift to Yeats and After, in Times Literary Supplement, 2 June 2000, pp.4-5; considers McCormack difficult to place in terms of traditional coat-trailing binarisms of Irish critical debate noting that he enveighs against ‘ingenious pairings’ in the introduction to the anthology; remarks, ‘Though he can perhaps ultimately be described as a romantic nationalist, McCormack’s antipathy to all expisting expressions of Irish nationalism, and his complex, tormented loyalty to his own southern Protestant heredity, lend a uniquely non-aligned character to his critical identity.’ Further, ‘By insisting on the culturally symptomatic status of Swift’s idiosyncrasies, however, McCormack damagingly over-extends his argument about the nature of Irish poetry.’ Crotty considers the anthology ‘at its most puzzling in its treatment of poetry in Irish’ and corrects the ascription Dáithí [sic] Ó Bruadair to Dáibhí Ó Bruadair. Further, ‘In general McCormack seems attracted by swank rather than formal continence, by promise rather than performance’, instancing his selection of Montague’s A New Seige, a public poem written in response to the Battle of the Bogside; also includes sonnets of Lady Gregory formerly ascribed to Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (Love Lyrics and Songs of Proteus, 1892). A weak lyric of Nora Hopper anticipates the eponymous title of Yeats’s The Wind Among the Reeds. Crotty remarks, ‘The eccentricity of these choices seems a function of McCormack’s desperate desire to make Irish poetry a sufficiently interesting focus for his restless, immoderate intelligence. The texts in Ferocious Humanism are less objects of aesthetic interest than elements in a brilliant, perverse, wildly unbalanced argument, and hence not to be recommended as ‘a guide to three centuries of Irish poetry.’

Terence Killeen, review of Ferocious Humanism, in The Irish Times (8 April 2000) [Weekend]: ‘[...] W. J. McCormack wants to disrupt or interrupt that narrative, not in the direction of “pure” literature or aesthetic wholeness, but rather towards a fragmentary, dissenting tradition in Irish poetry, poems and poets that do not lend themselves so readily to “a bogus cultural unity”. / For him, it seems, ferocious dissent is almost a good in itself; importantly, though, it is qualified by the humanism also mentioned in his oxymoronic title. The poems he values, as he puts it himself, are those that “shun the middle ground of conformity while putting humanity ... at the centre of their vision” / Whatever about the merits of this as a vision of Irish literary history, its practical outcome is a very stimulating and interesting anthology, which has all the qualities of such an individual and original approach. [...] A particular merit is the equal treatment accorded to Irish language poetry, some in the original, with translation, some in translation only. [...] One valuable aspect of the work is that the anthologist is not afraid of longer poems: as well as those mentioned above, The Great Hunger and The Ballad of Reading Gaol are given in their entirety, to name but two. This is part of a general thrust in the anthology away from the lyric note with which Irish poetry, and poetry in general, is associated in many minds. McCormack prefers, in general, poetry that is less inward, harsher, more argumentative.’

David Edgar, ‘What’s Coming’, reviewing Fool of the Family: A Life of J. M. Synge, in London Review of Books (22 March 2001): ‘[...] W. J. McCormack’s biography claims to place Synge in the context of turn of the century modernity, but he chooses a pretty perverse point of comparison. His association of Synge with Ibsen (whom Synge himself rejected as one of those “analysts with their problems, and teachers with their systems” whose work would not last) is not the only perversity of this frustrating book. McCormack’s case rests on a convoluted claim that Synge’s abandoned first play, When the Moon Has Set, was a rewrite of Ghosts (even though “no explicit mention of Ghosts can be traced”). Specific points of contact between Synge’s country-house drama and Ibsen’s tale of congenital syphilis include a concern for the past, suppressed incest and mention of the sun: “at a level of a general cultural diagnosis, one can argue that the two divergent perspectives have a point of intersection in the notion of generational anxiety, from which the past (along one line of perspective) appears dubious in the legitimacy it confers, and the future (along the other) depends on a present which is dumbly tense.” Well, sure. / In fact, the notion of a conversation between past, present and future is the key to Synge’s Modernism, but the comparison that makes sense is not with Ibsen but with Chekhov.’ [... &c.] (pp.34-35; here p.34; see full text online; accessed 22.11.2012.)

See Mary King’s letter in response: ‘[...] Edgar claims that Synge should be compared with Chekhov and not, as McCormack does, with Ibsen, although Synge had no recorded or verifiable acquaintance with Chekhov’s work, and each of his plays can be seen as being preoccupied, like Ibsen’s Ghosts, with the impact on the present and future of the past. [...] When the Moon Has Set, as McCormack contends, takes the transgenerational guilt of Ghosts and nervously, with telling excess of explanation, seeks to explain away the particular nightmare that was history for him and his class. / Fool of the Family is a carefully researched antidote to the noxious and still prevalent virus of peasant protégé Syngeitis, initially incubated by Yeats. One of the greatest merits of McCormack’s biography is precisely what Edgar censures: its insistence on what cannot be known, on what is difficult to date, on what conclusions cannot (and should not) be drawn and, thanks partly to Yeats’s propensity for mythmaking and partly to family meddling, on what cannot now be challenged.’ (Letters, LRB, 19 April 2001.)

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James J. McAuley, review of Gubu Roi: Poems & Satires, in The Irish Times (27 Jan. 2001): ‘The cover’s punning title and rude Hogarth print provide apt wrapping for this ample portion of Hugh Maxton’s Swiftian Saeva Indignatio. Wielding his satirical implements - puns, rhymes, allusions, ambiguous modifiers, &c. - with mischievous skill, he administers his purges and emetics without fear or favour to every literary institution from the Aosdanach to Yeats. Individuals like “General” Cahill, John Charles McQuaid, the owner of “Innch Mickey” [sic], and a certain “Roman Croesus / With an eagle on his wrist / Posing as a pompulist” [sic] are all brought to the same level by fierce vilification or plain mockery. Others need footnotes for identification, but it’s fun guessing who. With all faults, a substantial addition to the sturdy reputation of Mr Maxton (alias W. J. McCormack, lit. historian).’

John Kenny, review of Twenty16Vision [sic for 20/16 Vision], in The Irish Times (11 July 2009): ‘[...] With Twenty 16 Vision, Hugh Maxton’s first novel, we get all these kinds of difficulty straight in the head (for there is clearly little intention here of engaging the heart). / Maxton, properly identified as the creative nom de guerre of the literary historian WJ McCormack, has published clever but emotionally resistant poetry since the 1970s and is now walking with seven-league boots out onto the rarefied Irish territory of “political science fiction”, a genre that is often cumbersome generally. / Based as it is on the two notional events of the 2016 Easter commemorations and a Nazi landing in Dublin in 1941, this simultaneously frustrating and exciting novel will have you brushing up on your modern Irish history, will have you reconsidering the value of the currently rare phenomenon of patent linguistic and formal experimentation, and, in its swingeing and sometimes hilarious satire, will have you believing that yes, literature can be relevant, can attempt to explain, or at least analyse, the immediate socio-political world. And it will also take you far more time than normal to figure out just what is going on. [...]’ [See full-text version in Library > Criticism > Reviews - via index or as attached. Note: The review is copied at the Duras Press website - online; accessed 19.11.2016.)

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The Battle of the Books (1986): ‘The present Troubles began very shortly after Seamus Heaney published his first collection of poems, Death of a Naturalist (1966). For several years it was felt that the latest outbreak of political violence was just another periodic and temporary disruption of normality. Not until the end of the 1970s did it really dawn on the plain people of Ireland that this is normality now. For some, the response has been to acknowledge the violence of the present as irrefutable evidence of an inescapable past, a past which determines the present whether through the agency of British policy, republican tactics, or loyalist rhetoric. Not many have considered the possibility that violence in Irish society - in Dublin or Belfast, political in its vocabulary or otherwise - is part of a broader pattern in Western society. The result has been that the debate on Irish affairs is conducted in a remarkably inward fashion - even the term “the Troubles” carries with it a sense of intimate possession. Unlike gangsterism, mugging, or “the consequences of alienation within a decaying urban environment”, your Troubles are your own. Only the Italians with their Cosa Nostra rival the Irish in the possession of their unhappiness. Despite this recent realisation of the likely permanence of violence, most Irish writers continue to regard the Troubles as a distinct and isolatable phenomenon, to be dealt with or otherwise at will. While this may strike readers in more sophisticated (and equally violent) parts of the world as naive, one positive benefit has been the highly explicit discussion of the relation between literature and politics. The paradox then is this: a culture which assumes a simplistic relation between these two artificially isolated areas is nonetheless capable of discussing the relationship itself in a remarkably accessible way. In Great Britain, any similar debate would either be marginalised as a peculiar preoccupation of the Left, or enfolded in archaic and neoplatonic reverence for an England long since disappeared.’ (p.14.)

The Battle of the Books (1986), further [criticising Across the Roaring Hill, the Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland, 1985]: ‘It still seems to me, after months of thought and discussion, a calamitious [sic] error of judgement to have constructed the collection on what can only be regarded as an exclusivist Protestant franchise.’ (p.65). Carson further criticises the omission of numerous Protestant writers together with ‘the wholescale [sic] exclusion of the non-verbal arts’ which ‘can only be explained by reference to the inoperancy of the Catholic/Protestant schema in these areas’ (p.65.) ‘My own contribution to Across a Roaring Hill covered some of these points, but more particularly argued that there is a [66] line of descript[ion] from the anti-revolutionary rhetoric of Protestant Ascendnacy in the 1790s to the intermittent fascist leanings of Yeats and the never-fully-articulated racial exclusivism behind Unionism.’ (The Battle of the Books, 1986 [Chap. 7:] ‘Edna Longley and the Reaction from Ulster’, p.67; quoted in Ciaran Carson, review of Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill, 1985; see Notes, infra.] Further ‘abjuring the abstraction inherent in painting and music, avoiding the dialogism and action of theatre, Across the Roaring Hill longs for an embodiment of the imagination in the self [...] The defence of the Self, of the integral text, is inevitably a political apology for the present.’ (Ibid., p.66; quoted in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation, Crisis and Culture in Ireland, 1969-1992, 2000, p.206.)

Meaning over experience: ‘The priority of meaning over experience for Irish writing is one way of observing a tendency towards allegory in certain large areas of nineteenth-century fiction. The same proposition might be stated conversely as the tendency towards abstract experience in this colonial fiction, a tendency we shall trace in some worm by Maria Edgeworth, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Charles Lever. (Cited in Denis Donoghue, reviewing Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, in The New Republic, 21 Aug. 1995; p.44.)

Scott’s footsteps: ‘In Ireland, novelists following in Scott’s footsteps were unable to impose the master’s distinction between past history and present politics, and as a consequence the gothic mode endured there in a fugitive and discontinuous manner throughout the nineteenth century.’ (The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 1992, p.832; cited in Luke Gibbons, “Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish University Review, Spring/Summer 1997, pp.7-23, p.9.)

Witty admonition?: ‘Inhumanity and prejudice are not susceptible to witty admonition, and have a habit of outliving stylish condemnation.’ (Introduction, Maria Edgeworth, The Absentee (OUP 1988), p.xi.

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Language loss: ‘[T]he linguistic transformation of the nineteenth century inhibited sequential memory’; Victorian puritanism propagated ‘a sectarian [Protestant] schematisation of the emotions which reinforced the sense of history as trauma [in the colonised Irish]’. (Ascendancy and Tradition, 1985, p.263.)

Agenda for Field Day: ‘(a) the Irish language as cultural totem in the nationalist view of things, and as irritant in the Unionist view; (b) the role of the Catholic Church in political and social life north and south of the Border; (c) the whole question of social class as an alternative denomination in describing society; (d) the population explosion in the South, especially among the urban young; (e) nuclear energy, neutrality and US/British defence interests in Ireland. The core of these (as yet) unattended issues is the nature, existence and future viability of the nation-state.’ (Battle of the Books, p.55; quoted in Conor McCarthy, op. cit., 2000, p.227.)

Adversus Clifford: W. J. McCormack (Books Ireland, Dec. 2004) offers a stringent critique of Brendan Clifford’s pamphlets Traitors in the Great War and The Casement Diaries (Belfast Magazine 2003), pointing out that Clifford has no view at all in regard to the Casement diaries and that his pamphlets contain recycled material including the allegation that Britain purposely instigated the German invasion of Poland in 1939. He also cites Clifford’s objections to his own conclusions as to the extent of James Connolly’s influence on Robert Lynd. McCormack ends: ‘The tragedy is that so helpful a project as the Campaign for Equal Citizenship was led by this Commissar from Sliabh Luacra (or Cuchulain of Plazatoro) now harnessing Gerry Adam’s fire. [...] These pamphlets, and their scores of predecessors, lack all sense of proportion, even the proportionality of extremism.’ (p.302f.) But note that the above is criticised by Tim O’Sullivan (Sec. of Roger Casement Foundation), in the grounds that the ‘one of the subjects of a highly critical pamphlet “double jobs” as its reviewer.’ In this account, McCormack is said to be a “Diary Dogmatist” in the Clifford pamphlet, as claiming that the authenticity of the diary has been established through a study overseen by him in 2002 (Books Ireland, March 2005, p.50.)

Ciaran Carson, calls ‘Anglo-Irish Literature from Coleridge to Mann’, McCormack’s chapter in Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill (1985) that collection, entitled a ‘mischievously titled’ contribution [q. source; rep. in How’s The Poetry Going, 1991.]

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Dublin 1916: The French Connection (2012): ‘The first in the scale of unmentionable implications for the future was the strength, including the military strength, of Ulster Unionism. In planning the Easter events, the IRB effectively conceded the partition of Ireland; there was to be no action in Belfast (Connolly knew how promptly civil war would engulf the city’s proletariat); the Belfast man Denis McCullough (1883-1968), who headed up the IRB’s Supreme Council, was therefore kept in the dark about the Dublin plans: as notional President of the Republic he was deceived about its declaration.’ Further: ‘Four important and highly active men, each sidelined by the signatories and their Proclamation, hailed from Ulster – Bulmer Hobson, Roger Casement, Denis McCullough and Eoin MacNeill. In practice, the North would not begin or join in./ Separated in their final action from the United Irish traditions of Antrim and Down, the signatories tilled the ground for a partition rapidly installed in 1920-22. The IRB’s kidnapping of Hobson just before the Insurrection had no local sectarian basis – Hobson came from a Quaker family – and it can hardly have been done to impress the Pope. But it inevitably draws attention to the apparent Catholic monopoly among the leaders of 1916. Fenians though most of them were in strict and sworn fidelity or by intimate association, all these men – including Thomas Ceannt (executed in Cork), and Roger Casement (executed in London) – were Catholics, in stark contrast to the roll-call in Yeats’s “September 1913” – Emmet, Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone.’ (Quoted on Politics.ie [forum] - online; accessed 22.11.2012.)

W. J. Mccormack Website

An October 2015 perspective on some recent and forthcoming work: ‘The completion of Enigmas coincided with the preparation of another book, Northman: John Hewitt (1907-1987); An Irish Writer, His World and His Times (Oxford University Press, 2015). Both deal with Irish poets who adopted distinctive political positions. However, their backgrounds differ in so many interlocking ways that quite different approaches are required in assessing their lives and their writings. The comparison may illuminate both; it would indicate that the approach adopted in Enigmas cannot be transferred at will to other cases. Personally, I have been brought to realize that the bulk of my literary historical work since 1980 has concentrated not on any linear narrative nor on the towering monuments, but on the awkward corners and unexpected turns occurring in Irish cultural history. Perhaps, because one has to slow down to negotiate these hairpin bends and dangerous intersections, one sees more closely and thinks more deliberately into the terrain. Readers are not passive passengers, but may be required to consult the atlas and other travelling aids from time to time.’ (Enigmas of Sacrifice; a Critique of Joseph M. Plunkett and the Dublin Insurrection of 1916, p. 35 - forthcoming from Michigan State University Press. / This line of thought might be continued.

—W. J. Mccormack Website - online; accessed 11.05.2017.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3 [under Maxton], selects ‘Elegy for John Donne by Joseph Brodsky’; from The Protestant Museum, ‘Mount Nebo’ [1401-1403]; Biog. 1435 [as above]; see also extracts under Bram Stoker, q.v.

The Bill Mc Cormack web page lists Biography & Works, &c. - online.

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Casement Diaries: W. J. McCormack announces that ‘at [his] formal request, arrangements are now complete for a comprehensive forensic examination’ of the Casement diaries; also mentions three recent seminars on the subject, the largest at the RIA, and seeks expressions of opinions in letters to the Editor (Irish Times, Letters, 4 Aug. 2001).

Swift in Monaco:In a review of Patrick Fagan, The Second City: Portrait of Dublin 1700-1760 (Branar), Charles Peake, Jonathan Swift and the Art of Raillery […] and Notes on Irish Writings associated with Swift (Colin Smythe), in Books Ireland (Feb. 1987), McCormack writes facetiously about the appearance of the address and opening times of the Library on the dust-jacket [of the last-named]: ‘Monaco is just the place to discuss Swift’s saeve indignatio, of course, and the spare pages of the pamphlet just the place to tuck about twenty-eight very brief “notes on Irish writers associated with Swift”.’

Safe Arbour: McCormack, with his first wife Sheelagh lived at live Rosemount, Arbour Hill, Dublin, contiguous to Anthony Farrell, with whom he shared publishing interests and ventures including a pamphlet series.

Ágnes Nemes Nagy: Nagy is the subject of ‘The Crystal Maze’, an article by George Szirtes in a Guardian newspaper series: ‘The steely manner of Ágnes Nemes Nagy is the door to her vision of a fierce natural order, finds George Szirtes, continuing our series on poets from the new EU’: ‘[...] I had already read some of her work in Hungarian and in English translation by the Irish poet Hugh Maxton. At first reading she seemed clear yet dense. Some of the English translations added to the sense of enigma. I don’t think I had quite grasped her vision and manner, but I felt its power partly through rhythm and natural imagery and tried to convey it. / I started translating some of her poems, the clearer, shorter, more epigrammatic ones first, since they seemed more cloudy in Maxton’s translation than I thought they needed to be. Their ambiguity lay in their apparent clarity. They were rhymed, often in quatrains, with a firm metrical hand and the occasional line left almost orphaned, hanging like a thread into some other darker territory. I was certain the poems’ power lay precisely in their formal structure: in the iron coincidence of rhyme, in the tight-fitting metre. [...]’ (The Guardian, Saturday, 15 May 2004). Nagy died of cancer in 1991.

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