At this point in my MA in Modernities, it is now time for me to concentrate on my thesis, to begin drawing on the myriad materials that are available and to ultimately fulfil the aims I have set for myself in the course of my studies. My thesis will focus on “Representations of Traditions and Transitions in work of W.B Yeats 1885-1895”. Due to the importance of Yeats and his work, there is already a prolific amount of research completed and texts written covering all stages of his life and literary career. In my thesis I am specifically aiming to establish Yeats’ involvement in the Irish literary revival with specific references to his influence on Irish/Celtic myths and folklore.
The structure my thesis will take will include an introduction, three chapters, a conclusion and my bibliography.
My introduction will inevitably incorporate a brief outline of Yeats’ life leading up to the ten year period I am concentrating on (1885-1895). The sources I will draw upon for this fragment of my introduction are R.F Foster’s W.B Yeats: A Life (Oxford UP 1998) and The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats (Macmillan 1965). This discourse on the early beginnings of Yeats’ life and career will be integrated with the notion of Irish tradition, and the Irish Celtic revival which was influenced by Yeats and his works. I will be referring to chapters one and three in The Irish Renaissance: an Introduction to Anglo-Irish Literature by Richard Fallis (Gill and Macmillan) on this area of my introduction. There are also a number of other secondary sources I am currently contemplating as possible references for this area.
In order to establish my thesis, I will focus in chapter one on the evolution of the Irish Celtic Renaissance. This chapter will open with a brief historical background of colonialism in Ireland and its influence on Irish writers and literature referring to the chapters 2-5 in MacDonagh’s Literature in Ireland (Talbot Press 1996). This will lead to the study of various theories concerning the development of Irish writing including the ‘Celtic Note’ as theorised by Matthew Arnold in his book On the Study of Celtic Literature (Nu Vision Publications 2008), and the ‘Irish Mode’ by Thomas MacDonagh in his book Literature in Ireland focusing on chapter six “The Irish Mode”. Other secondary texts I will also be using in reference to the ‘Celtic Note’ and the ‘Irish Mode’ are, Anne MacCarthy’s Identities in Irish Literature (Netbiblio 2004) focusing on chapter three “The Formation of a Canon in Irish Writing in English” and The Story of Anglo Irish Poetry 1800-1922 (Mercier Press) by Patrick C. Power referring to chapter 2 “Translations” and chapter 6 “Style – Poets of the Revival”. I will conclude this chapter by linking the above premises to Yeats’ work; his use and implementation of, his rejection of and manipulation of these theories in his own writing. I may find it relevant at this point to introduce some of my primary resources, but this is yet to be decided.
Chapter two will focus on the life and works of Yeats in the period 1885-1890. At the beginning of the chapter I will explore Yeats’ interests in folklore, myths and legends. This will include a brief background into his travels and his sourcing of the folk stories and fairy tales which formed the basis of his compilations. I will refer to the text The Cambridge Companion to W.B Yeats edited by Howes and Kelly (Cambridge UP 2006), specifically focusing on chapter 8 “Yeats, Folklore and Irish Legend”. I will also examine Mary Helen Thuente’s W.B Yeats and Irish Folklore concentrating on chapters 1 -4; Yeats’ autobiography will once again be referenced concentrating on chapter 1 “Reveries”. The specific primary sources, I have not yet fully decided on, but they will be taken from the following collections of prose works – “Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888)” from The Book of Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland & Writings on Irish Folklore Legend and Myth. I will choose poems from The Early Poetry (“The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Early Poems to 1895”) (Cornell UP 1994) and from the collection “Crossways” taken from Yeats’s Poetry, Drama and Prose (edited by James Pethica 2000). In this chapter, I will also discuss the natural links between Yeats’ interest in Irish folklore and legend and his interest in the Occult and Theosophy. I will show how these interests have impacted on his writing and have contributed to the development of his theories with regard to the Irish Celtic Renaissance. I will be using Yeats and Anglo-Irish Literature: Critical Essays by Peter Ure (Liverpool UP 1974), concentrating on chapter 1, “W.B Yeats and the growth of a poets mind. There is also a number of other texts I am considering in relation to this aspect.
Chapter three will focus on the years 1890-1895, and will concentrate on the later compilations of Yeats Irish folk stories, myths and legends. Again, I have not yet chosen specific works, but the primary sources used for these latter years are “Irish Fairy Tales” (1892) from The Book of Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland & Writings on Irish Folklore Legend and Myth and tales from “The Celtic Twilight” (1893) taken from Yeats’s Poetry, Drama and Prose (2000). The poetry for this section will be taken from the same primary texts as chapter two, and I will be discussing the writing and re-writing of the collection of poetry incorporated in “The Rose”. I have not yet completed my final plans for chapter three, though it will continue to show the how Yeats’ interest in fairy tale, folklore and mythology impacted on both his works and the Irish Literary Renaissance at this later stage.
In my conclusion I will establish how Yeats was the driving force behind the new Irish literary revival as revealed in both his research, his compilations of Irish stories and in the use of myths, legends and folklore in his poetic works. I will also depict the impact of his work not only on Irish literature, but on literature worldwide. I will finally introduce briefly, the people and events which will see Yeats moving into the next phase of his literary career.
Essentially my thesis will highlight the importance of Yeats’ passion for Irish folklore, myth and legend and how this passion impacted on his own writings and his contribution to the Irish literary Renaissance.