Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6] (Derry: Field Day 1984).

The English did not invade Ireland - rather, they seized a neighbouring island and invented the idea of Ireland. The notion of “Ireland” is largely a fiction created by the rulers of England in response to specific needs at a precise moment in British history. [...] the corollary of this is also true. The Irish notion of “England” is a fiction created and inhabited by the Irish for their own pragmatic purposes. (5);

‘Wilde’s is an art of inversion where each side exemplifies qualities which we would normally expect in its opposite, as every dichotomy dichotomises. [...] The inversion of expectations of the audience may also be found in the play’s [Importance] depiction of sexuality. So it is the women who read heavy works of German philosophy and attend university courses, while the men lounge elegantly on sofas. The men are filled with romantic impetuosity and breathless surges of emotion, but it is the women who cynically discuss the finer points of male physique [...] In all these scenes Wilde is applying this doctrine of the androgyny of the healthy personality. [...]

Antithesis was the master key of the entire Victorian cast of mind [...] Wilde saw that by this mechanism the English male could attribute to the Irish all those traits of poetry, emotion and soft charms which a stern Victorian code [7] had forced him to deny to himself’ but he knew from experience that the two peoples are a lot more alike than they care to admit - that the Irish can as often be cold, polite, and calculating as the English can be sentimental, emotional and violent. [...] Wild is interested in the moment of modernism when the ancient antithesis dissolves to reveal an underlying unity. Like Yeats, he could see that talent perceives differences, but only genius perceives unity./This same inversion of conventional expectations would explain the pose adopted by Wilde in England. All the norms of his childhood were now to be reversed. (pp.7-8);

[...] Wilde is one of the first modernist writers to take for subject not the knowledge of good and evil, but what Lionel Trilling was later to call the knowledge of good-and-evil. he insists that men and women know themselves in all their aspects and that they cease to suppress those attributes which they may find painful or unflattering.’ (p.9)

George Bernard Shaw was another writer who treated England as a laboratory in which he could define what it meant to be an Irishman. [...] John Bull’s Other Island is Shaw’s attempt to show how the peoples of the two islands spend most of their time acting an approved part before their neighbour’s eyes and the assigned parts are seen as impositions by the other side rather than opportunities for true self-expression.’ (p.10; there follows an analysis of the play and its characters; pp.10-13.)

Shaw’s play, like Wilde’s career, is a radical critique of the Anglo-Irish antithesis so beloved of the Victorians, and, it must be stressed, of that last Victorian W. B. Yeats. By the simple expedient of presenting a romantic Englishman and an empirical Irishman[,] John Bull’s Other Island mocks the ancient stereotype. Of course, that is not the end of the story, for, by his performance of absurd sentimentality, Broadbent effectively takes over the entire village on the terms most favourable to himself, while Larry Doyle loses his cynical self-composure in the face of the ruin of his people. [...] in the end the Anglo-Irish antithesis is questioned, but only to be reasserted in a slightly modified form. It is left to the prophetic Peter Keegan to [12] explain Broadbent’s efficient victory: “let not the right side of your brain know what the left side doeth. I learnt at Oxford that this is the secret of the Englishman’s power of making the best of both worlds.” By mastering the stereotype, by pretending to be a stage fool, Broadbent has eaten up all the real fools, just as Larry predicted. Ireland has on this occasion been a useful laboratory for another English experiment. (pp.12-13).

Yeats’s solution to this dilemma [of anglo-Irish antithesis] was to gather a native Irish audience and create a native Irish theatre in Dublin - to express Ireland to herself rather than exploit her for the foreigner. He accepted the Anglo-Irish antithesis, but only on the condition that he was allowed to reinterpret it in a more flattering light. Whereas the English called the Irish backward, superstitious and uncivilised, the Gaelic revivalists created an [13] idealised counter-image which saw her as pastoral, mystical, admirably primitive. Yet such a counter-image was false, if only because it elevated a single aspect of Ireland into a type of the whole. “Connaught for me is Ireland”, said Yeats; but Ireland is not Connaught - rather she is a patchwork quilt of cultures, as she was before the Normans invaded. [...] the folklorism of Yeats confirmed the traditional image of the Irish as subservient and menial - only now they were deemed menial and colourful in interesting ways. “The cracked looking-glass of a servant” is how Joyce’s hero Stephen described such an art. It is an apt image, not just of Yeats hopeless rehabilitation of the modes of deference but also of Joyce’s own escape into modernism, for what a cracked looking-glass really shows is not a single but a multiple self. (p.14)

Behan is covertly repeating Patrick Kavanagh’s suggestion that the so-called Irish Revival, like the actual Irish repression, is a plot by disaffected public-schoolboys.

‘MacDonagh has shown just how many features of the current crisis are re-runs of an earlier historical reel’ (p.15.) Further, cites MacDonagh’s judgement that the Ulster situation has been re-categorised from ‘serious but not desperate’ to ‘desperate but not serious’. (p.16). Commenting on MacDonagh’s reinteration of the idea that the English are empiricists with a developmental view of history while the Irish are moral absolutists, for whom history is never really history unless it exactly repeats itself, dramatising their longstanding moral [16] claim in each generation. MacDonagh addds such polish to the familiar clichés that the Irish are prisoners of their own past. But his final chapter explodes this opening thesis by proving that it is the English who force such dreary repetitions on the Irish./MacDonagh might have been nearer the truth had be suggested that it is the Engish who are obsessed with their past, while the Irish are futurologists of necessity. Certainly eavesdroppers on Thatcher’s England and Fitzgerald’s Ireland could not think otherwise.’ (p.17)

Like all colonised peoples whose history is a nightmare, the Irish have no choice but to live in the foreglow of a golden future. For them history is a form of science fiction, by which their scribes must rediscover in the endlessly malleable past whatever it is they are hoping for in an ideal future. (p.17.)

Dr. O’Brien’s contribution to the rewriting of history has one great value. It has exploded the myth of the bellicose Paddy and demonstrated that the besettng Irish condition is not pugnacity but paralysis, nbot idealism but pragmatisim, not passion but cunning. (p.17).

Almost sixty years before [Conor Cruise] O’Brien, Synge had shocked his countrymen by revealing to them the ambiguity in their attitude to violence. Synge saw that the heroic myth of Cuchulain, perpetuated by Yeats and [17] Pearse, was an attempt to gratify the self-esteem of Irishmen at home, but that it did this only at the expense of feeding the ancient lie about the “fighting Irish” abroad. Joyce also often spoke against the common misconception of the Irish as quarrelsome, asserting that they were on the contrary gentle and passive like the Jews. (p.18)

The story of 1916 is not so much the story of the Rising as of the Executions [...] the key to the rise of Sinn Féin in subsequent years lies not so much in the Irish love of violence but in a principled recoil from it. (p.18.)

Kiberd notes that ‘[the English] gave the Irish a reputation for colourful speech which did not always square with the facts, a reputation so powerful that it still clings to those Irish writers who have done most to repudiate it.’ Goes on to remark on the ‘scrupulous meanness’ of Joyce’s stories, the attack on ‘poetry talk’ as a substitute for action in plays of Synge, Kavanagh’s flirtation with poetry that almost becomes prose, and Beckett’s ‘san style’ - all betokening a critique of Irish wit and wordplay.

The forces which neutralise the subversive paradoxes of Wilde and Shaw are no less potent in the 1980s than they were in the 1880s. The attempt to explain Ireland to the English is scarcely more advanced. (p.21.)

Kiberd cites a leading passage from F. S. L. Lyons’s Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939 (1979), and comments: ‘As a contribution to cultural history, his book stops quite reasonably at 1939 with the outbreak of world war and the death of Yeats. But, as an attempt to explain the current conflict, this work is seriously marred by that terminal date. A great deal has happened in the intervening decades [...] ’ (p.22); lists events such as the overthrown of O’Neill, then Faulkner, and the proletarianisation of Unionist leadership, as well as the emergence of civil rights through the workings of the welfare state; ‘Professor Lyons, in his anxiety to prove that culture makes things happen, chose to end his book with a date which allowed him to neglect these salient points. [...] Is it really true that the difference between Glenn Barr and John Hume is attributable to a clash of cultures?’ (p.23); further, cites from Lyons’s account ( ‘of rare descriptive power’) the saw about the Lambeg drum being beaten “until the knuckles of the drummers ran with blood” (p.22); notes also that Lyons quotes Yeats’s lines about that play of his [Cathleen Ni Houlihan] which ‘sent out certain men the English shot’.

[...] could it be that Ireland is still deemed ‘interesting and different’, a place where the unexpected always happens, where men kill and die for abstract images and evocative symbols? This reading of the Irish as martyrs to abstraction - a reading sponsored most notoriously in the poetry of Yeats - is the greatest single obstacle to a full understanding of the situation inIreland today. It bedevils attempts by students, both native and foreing, to understand the masterpieces of Irish literature; but it bedevils also the attempts by British well-wishers to understand John Bull’s Other Island./In the coming years British liberals must study Ulster Unionism and spell out to the English public the implications of its continuing support for such a régime [...] for fifty years one of the most civilised peoples in Europe maintained a one party state on its own doorstep. (p.24.)

Since the time of Matthew Arnold, they [English liberals] have offered countless mythological analyses of the culture which England is nominally opposing. It is now time for them to conduct a pragmatic analysis of the Unionist culture which England is actually supporting. (p.27.)

Note also quotation from Anglo-Irish Attitudes in Seamus Heaney, The Redress of Poetry, as noticed in Kiberd, Declan [RX].

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