Writer Profile: Jonathan Swift
Writer Profiles / 18/09/2018

Dates: b. 1667, d. 1745 Literary Movement: Satire Famous Works: A Modest Proposal, A Tale of a Tub, Gulliver’s Travels   Profile: Jonathan Swift is regarded as the foremost prose satirist in the English language. During his life, he worked as an Anglo-Irish satirist, an essayist, and a political pamphleteer—for both the Whigs and the Tories. He was a poet, a cleric, and a startlingly prolific writer. Much of his work was originally published under one of his many pseudonyms: Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M.B. Drapier, and Simon Wagstaff, Esq. A master of both Horatian and Juvenalian satire, Swift was known for his deadpan, ironic writing style.   Swift was born in Dublin in 1667. He learned to read the Bible at an early age and was cared for primarily by his nurse and uncle. He attended Dublin University in 1682, and his four-year course follow a curriculum largely set in the Middle Ages. Lectures were dominated by Aristotelian logic and philosophy. Debate was a basic skill taught to all students, and they were expected to be able to argue both sides of any argument or topic. Swift himself was an above-average student, but he was not exceptional. He was…

Writer Profile: Oscar Wilde
Writer Profiles / 29/06/2018

Dates: b. 1854, d. 1900 Literary Movement: Victorian aestheticism Famous Works: The Importance of Being Earnest   Profile: Born Oscar Fingal O’Hahertie Wils Wilde, Oscar Wild was an Irish poet and playwright. He was born in Dublin, Ireland to Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde and baptized as an infant in St. Mark’s Church. Until he was nine, Oscar Wilde was educated at home—a French bonne and a German governess taught him their languages. He then attended Portora Royal School, summering in Cong, County Mayo. Wilde left Portora to study classics at Trinity College, Dublin under a royal scholarship. Here, he became interested in Greek literature, working with J.P. Mahaffy on the book Social Life in Greece. Wilde also became an established member of the University Philosophical Society, where he discussed contemporary topics like Rossetti and Swinburne.   Wilde then left for Magdalen College at Oxford, where he became known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He decorated his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, and blue china, wearing his hair long and openly scorning what he believed to be “manly” sports. Wilde centered his philosophy and aesthetics on the ideas and teaching of John Ruskin and…

Writer Profile: Seamus Heaney
Writer Profiles / 22/06/2018

Dates: b. 1939, d. 2013 Literary Movement: Modernism Famous Works: Death of a Naturalist, North, Field Work, The Spirit Level   Profile: A native of Northern Ireland, Seamus Heaney was raised in County Derry, Ireland. His family moved to Bellaghy, where he attended Anahorish Primary School. At age twelve, Heaney won a scholarship to St. Columb’s College, a Roman Catholic boarding school in Derry. Heaney’s younger brother, Christopher, was killed in an accident while Heaney was studying at St. Columb’s; the death greatly affected the young man.   In 1957, Heaney enrolled at Queen’s University Belfast to study English Literature and Language. Here, he found a copy of Ted Hughes’s Lupercal, which inspired him to try his hand at poetry. After graduating in 1961 with honors, he went on to St. Thomas’ secondary Intermediate School. Here, Heaney was introduced to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh, and with the help of school headmaster Michael McLaverty, he began to publish his own work. In 1966, Heaney published his first major volume of poetry, entitled Death of a Naturalist. The collection was met with critical acclaim and won several awards. It remains Heaney’s most popular publication.   As a poety from Northern Ireland,…

Writer Profile: William Butler Yeats
Writer Profiles / 26/05/2018

Dates: b. 1865, d. 1939 Literary Movement: Late Victorian, Early Modernism Famous Works: The Tower, The Green Helmet, The Winding Stair   Profile: William Butler Yeats was born at Sandymount in County Dublin, Ireland to John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Yeats was raised as a member of the Protestant Ascendancy in a time when Ireland was experiencing a nationalist revival; this informed Yeats’ outlook on his heritage for most of his life. Shortly after his birth, the Yeats family moved to England, yet Pollexfen read and told Irish folktales to Yeats and his siblings for the duration of their childhood. In 1877, Yeats enrolled in the Godolphin school but did not distinguish himself academically. He was, apparently, a very poor speller. Yeats later returned to Ireland, enrolling in Dublin’s Erasmus Smith High School. Yeats began writing poetry, and, in 1885, the Dublin University Review published his first poems. William then attended the Metropolitan School of Art.   Yeats’ early work drew heavily on English Romanticism—particularly the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley—and the 16th century poet and writer Edmund Spenser. Yeats then turned to Irish mythology and folklore, then to the bombastic writing of William Blake. This was likely…

Writer Profile: Edna O’Brien
Writer Profiles / 13/05/2018

Dates: b. 1930 Literary Movement: Realism Famous Works: Girl with Green Eyes, August Is a Wicked Month, The Country Girl   Profile: Edna O’Brien is a renowned Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet, and short story writer. She was born in 1930 at Tuamgraney, County Clare, Ireland. O’Brien has described her mother as a strong, controlling woman who emigrated temporarily to America. She worked for some time as a maid in Brooklyn, New York, then returned to Ireland to raise her family. That family was strict, and religious, and Edna O’Brien was the youngest child. She was educated from 1941 to 1946 by the Sisters of Mercy, later describing the experience as “suffocating.”   In 1950, O’Brien achieved her pharmacy license. While working, she read and became obsessed with writers such as Tolstoy, Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Four years later, she married the Irish writer Ernest Gebler, against her parents’ wishes, and moved to London. The couple had two sons, but the marriage was dissolved in 1964. While in London, O’Brien began to read James Joyce, providing herself with a direction if she were to begin writing herself. She began to work for Hutchinson, a local publisher, where she was…

Movement to Know: The Irish Middle Ages
Movement to Know / 29/01/2018

Unlike other contemporary English-speaking countries, Ireland has one of the oldest vernacular literatures in western Europe, following only Greek and Latin. Irish literacy flourished with the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century; before, the Irish had a simple writing system known now as “ogham.” This system was used primarily for inscriptions, but the introduction of Latin led to an adaptation of the Latin alphabet into the Irish language. This catalyzed the rise of a small, literate class during the Irish Middle Ages.   Most early Irish literature consists of lyric poetry and retellings of ancient prose tales. Some of the earliest poetry available, written in the sixth century, portrays an intense religious faith through descriptions of nature. In the ninth century, Ferdomnach of Armagh, a scribe, produced the Book of Armagh—an illuminated manuscript written primarily in Latin but containing early texts relating to St. Patrick. Ferdomnach wrote the first part of the book in 807/8 for Patrick’s heir, Torbach.   A vast range of medieval and Renaissance poetry follows the Old Irish period. Slowly, the Irish created a classical tradition in their own language. Verse remained the primary mode of literary expression; by the 12th century, writers had established…

The Gilbert Schema
Resources / 23/01/2018

Immediately following the publication of Ulysses, James Joyce devised what is now known as the Gilbert Schema. The schema for the novel was intended to help Joyce’s friend, Stuart Gilbert, understand the fundamental structure of the book. Gilbert then published the guide within his James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: A Study in 1930. The original copy of the Gilbert schema is housed at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.   The schema defines each of the eighteen chapters using a set of variables. Each variable—from organ to color—lends a characteristic to the chapter or is prominently featured, such as the case with the art/subject category. We have included it below; if you are undertaking Ulysses, we recommend printing out or copying this schema into the inside cover of your copy:        

Movement to Know: The Irish Literary Revival
Movement to Know / 12/01/2018

Also known as the Irish Literary Renaissance (nicknamed the “Celtic Twilight), this movement marked a flowering of Irish literary talent. The movement is associated with a simultaneous revival of interest in the country’s Gaelic heritage and growth of Irish nationalism in the middle of the 19th century. Early influences include James Clarence Mangan, a poet, and Samuel Ferguson, another poet, and Standish James O’Grady, a journalist and historian. The early literary revival had two geographic centers: Dublin and London.   William Butler Yeats, an esteemed poet and playwright, is credited with developing the movement into a vigorous literary force. Travelling between Dublin and London, he edited and published Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, a collection of short pieces by several 18th and 19th century Irish authors. He founded the National Literary Society; nearly simultaneously, Arthur Griffith and William Rooney, both writers, founded the Irish Fireside Club and Leinster Literary Society. In 1893, Yeats published The Celtic Twilight, another collection of lore and reminiscences of Ireland. In the same year, the Gaelic League was founded to preserve Irish culture, its music, dances, and language.   The Irish Literary Revival spawned countless leagues, organizations, and publications, many of which…