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Words alone - R. F. Foster

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Words alone - Yeats and his inheritances
R. F. Foster
Oxford University Press
UK Publication Date

W. B. Yeats is usually seen as a great innovator who put his stamp so decisively on modern Irish literature that most of his successors worked in his shadow. R. F. Foster's eloquent and authoritative book weaves together literature and history to present an alternative perspective. By returning to the rich seed-bed of nineteenth-century Irish writing, Words Alone charts some of the influences, including romantic 'national tales' in post-Union Ireland, thepoetry and polemic of the Young Ireland movement, the occult and supernatural novels of Sheridan LeFanu, William Carleton's 'peasant fictions', and fairy-lore and folktale collectors that created the unique and powerful Yeatsian voice of the decade from 1885 to 1895.
As well as placing these literary movementsin a vivid contemporary context of politics, polemic and social tension, Foster discusses recent critical and interpretive approaches to these phenomena. He shows that the use Yeats made of his predecessors during his apprenticeship, and the part that a self-conscious use of Irish literary tradition played in the construction of his path-breaking early work as he attempted to 'hammer his thoughts into a unity' made him an inheritor as much as an inventor.

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R. F. Foster was born in Waterford and educated in both Ireland and the United States.
A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, he subsequently became Professor of Modern British History at Birkbeck College, University of London and in 1991 the first Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford and a Fellow of Hertford College.
He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1989, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1986, a Fellow of the RoyalSociety of Literature in 1992, an honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2010. His books include The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (2001), which won the 2003 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism, W.B. Yeats, A Life. I: The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 (1997) whichwon the 1998 James Tait Black Prize for biography, and Volume II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939 (2003). He is also a well-known critic and broadcaster.

Foster is a historian in the way that Joyce was a novelist
Nicholas Allen, Irish Times,

A brilliant re-examination of W.B. Yeat's place in literature and history
Robert Gerwarth, Irish Times Books of the Year 2011

Helen Vendler, New Republic

A superbly original analysis of what his nineteenth-century Irish inheritance meant to Yeats.
Colm Toibin, Irish Times Books of the Year 2011

this richly atmospheric book both complicates and enhances our view of history and Yeats's place in it. By the simple virtue of its own excellence, it deserves a wide readership.
Adam O'Riordian, The Independent

[Foster's] Yeatsian backward look proves irresistible.
Times Literary Supplement

Great achievement.
Irish Times

Keyword Index
English literature - Irish authors - History and criticism.
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