Literature Review

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.


Textualities 15′ – Experiencing the MA Mini-Conference


A case of the jitters, sweaty palms, anxiety, palpitations and panic – a brief summary of the physical and mental traumas prior to facing an audience at the MA Texualities 15’ Mini-Conference. Of course I am embellishing a little here, but I am not too far from the truth either. Before reflecting on my own presentation, I would first like to congratulate every one of my peers, not only for their work on the day, but for the immeasurable work and dedication in organising the event. The day’s event was a success and apart from one minor glitch, everyone was ecstatic.

On my arrival in the morning, I felt quite at ease. It was, perhaps strangely, a very relaxed atmosphere; although we each felt pangs of anticipation, it is safe to say that our thoughts were not in isolation. Looking around the room, I tried to grasp the realisation that these were my friends; however panic supersedes any rational thoughts. Public speaking was always a forte of mine growing up, acting and debating and previous minor presentations, and I still relish having my voice heard when among family and friends; but on an academic level, my confidence has certainly waned.

My presentation focused on “Analogues and Allusions in Harry Potter”. I had a good knowledge of my material, but unfortunately I could not raise my eyes from the sheets. I had been practising my presentation on Emaze, a website specifically for presentations; while the practice sessions had been successful, when I needed it to work,it failed me and, because I could not peel my eyes away from my notes, I did not notice the error and the different pace of the slides. I felt happy regarding the questions which followed my presentations and fortunately this picked up my spirits. I later took a chair position presenting the fifth group of the day. As chair, I had much more confidence. I was comfortable in my role and felt as if I was chatting with my peers. It was a much more enjoyable experience.

The presentations produced by the other MA students were fantastic. The images, media and invention behind the presentations were very well prepared and organised. The sense of relief and exultation when the final speech was made swept the room and we all came together and rejoiced!

This presentation, although I had hoped it had gone better, has taught me a lot. I now know the challenges I need to face up to for future public speaking; I will obviously keep a closer eye on the presentation of my slides! It felt great to feel secure in the lovely group of people I had the pleasure of sharing this day with. Everybody was very considerate and comforting towards each other, and I feel lucky and privileged to belong to such a group.

Textualities 15′. What an experience.

Motherhood – A Female Enslavement?

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From the opening chapters of Simone De Beauvoir’s enlightening yet controversial text The Second Sex, her attitude towards women as pro-creators, the bearers of the future generations, is severe, critical and undermines the notion of motherhood. For most women in the Western world, pregnancy and motherhood have always been beautiful experiences and not burdens. In my own experience as an Aunty, the unlimited and unconditional love I feel for my nieces and nephew is so powerful, I cannot even begin to comprehend the love their mothers feel towards their children. One of the first feminists, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote of her eagerness at arrival of her child in a letter to her husband William Godwin, “I begin to love this little creature, and to anticipate his birth as a fresh twist to a knot which I do not wish to untie” (Locke 130). De Beauvoir herself never experienced pregnancy or motherhood, and her writing was based on intellectual and person observation.

According to Lazaro, from her reading of The Second Sex, De Beauvoir claims “female reproductive capacities are – partially, at least – the cause of patriarchal oppression” (87). In The Second Sex, De Beauvoir states “if she [woman] produces harvests and children, it is not by an act of her will”, she is “an object charged with fluids” (196). De Beauvoir uses dark imagery to convey her feelings concerning the female reproductive system in which she asserts “that females are biologically doomed” (Lazaro 88). De Beauvoir perceives the process of the period of pregnancy as “demanding heavy sacrifices”. In another bleak interpretation of “conception and reproduction her language also portrays the female as attacked and invaded by a hostile other” (Scarth 140). De Beauvoir also believes following the process of childbirth, a woman “weighed down by maternities… loses her erotic attraction… woman is repellent” (The Second Sex 192). Considering that her theories as expounded in The Second Sex are based on the notion that woman is “The Other”, and that man is the “The One”, it is perhaps not surprising that her stance on pregnancy is conveyed in terms of aggression and invasion.

Motherhood, as portrayed in The Second Sex is, similar to pregnancy, a controlled environment for all women, where expectations are pre-ordained and the woman is seen as the “natural” mother. One of De Beauvoir’s endeavours is to de-mystify motherhood and to show that “a mother should not be confined to a life entirely within the household” not only because “in their frustration, could be damaging to their children” but because “they are unable to achieve through activities in the world” (Scarth 147). Motherhood was to De Beauvoir a “strange mixture of narcissism, altruism, idle daydreaming, bad faith, devotion and cynicism” (Irish Independent). Rather than focusing on new life and fresh beginnings, De Beauvoir’s attentions are diverted to death; “The Mother dooms her son to death in giving him life; the loved one lures her lover on to renounce life and abandon himself to the last sleep”, (De Beauvoir 197).

Bearing in mind that De Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex soon after World War II, at a time when women essentially had no rights, is it perhaps understandable that she projected such negative theories; it is harder for women to accept maternity and motherhood, when their choice is eliminated, it is their only destiny.

Works Cited:

De Beauvoir, S. “Introduction” and “Dreams, Fears and Idols.” The Second Sex. Ed. Parshley, H.M. London: Vintage, 1997. 192,196 &197.

Lazaro, R. “Feminism and Motherhood: O’ Brien vs. Beauvoir.” Hypatia. Vol.1. No.2. 1986. 87-88

Locke, D. A Fantasy of Reason: The Life and Thought of William Godwin. Oxon: Routeledge. 2010. 130.

Scarth, F. The Other Within: Ethics, Politics, and the Body in Simone De Beauvoir. Maryland: Rowan & Littlefield. 2004.

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Robert Burns: A Celebration of “Times Gone Past”

Robert Burns

The 25th of January is a day when lovers of literature, particularly those lovers of the famous bard Robert Burns, from all corners of the world, whether of Scots origin or not, emerge from the shadows to celebrate the life and the works of this great Scots writer (1759-1796). For many the name Robbie Burns is synonymous with the famous New Years Day anthem “Auld Lang Syne” and for his writing of great Scottish poetry. In the course of his short life, he wrote hundreds of poems and songs, often adapting pieces which he fell in love with on his travels, making them over in his original style. Robbie Burns, nicknamed “The Ploughman”, was born into the lower ranks of society to a peasant farmer who was “worn down by authority, and worn out by labour” (Paterson, D).It was not surprising therefore that, when Burns finally left home at the age of seventeen, he rebelled and, like Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, Burns became infamous for his rowdy and wild lifestyle. However, the influence of Robbie Burns has many deeper and greater resonances.

Amongst those who read and were influenced by his work were his English peers, the great Romantic poets such as Lord Byron, Keats, Wordsworth and Shelley. Robbie Burns was considered “a pioneer of the Romantic movement” (Simpson, R) and according to Don Paterson “Burns’ central insight is that the spiritual, the social, the sexual, the natural, the political and the humorous are overlapping human realms, not separate or competing ones”. Although Burns “was not like Shakespeare in his range of genius” (Paterson), he “wrote on subjects much inferior to the author’s ability” (Sampson 16). Ralph Waldo Emerson saw Burns “as a “poet of the poor” and “of the middle class” who could “express their feelings so very well because he was one of them and had experienced their successes and failures”, (Anonymous,The Morning Star).

The works of Robert Burns have not only impacted on writers and artists in the centuries since his death, they continue to influence and inspire artists and writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. J.D Salinger’s title for Catcher in the Rye is derived from Burns’ poem “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye, while Ernest Hemingway’s novel Of Mice and Men in inspired by Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley”. Another well-loved contemporary artist who was influenced by Robert Burns is Bob Dylan. Dylan “named his own greatest inspiration as the poet Robert Burns” (Simpson). Burns’ poem “A Red, Red Rose” Dylan stated, “is the lyric or verse which has had the biggest effect on his life”. Through quaint sayings, music and studied novels such as Catcher in the Rye, the work of Robert Burns will continue to live on and influence our literature and our lives.

Works Cited:

Anonymous. “An Ode to Robbie Burns”. The Morning Star. 22 January 2009. ProQuest Central.

Paterson, Don. “The Romantic Poets: Robert Burns: Foreward” The Guardian.The Guardian. 15 January 2009. Web.

Sampson, David. “Robert Burns: The Revival of Scottish Literature?” The Modern Language Review. 80.1(1985) p.16.

Simpson, Richard. “Bob Dylan names Scottish Poet Robert Burns as his biggest inspiration”. Mail Online. The Mail Online. 5 October 2008. Web.

The Scarlet Letter: Badges of Shame throughout the Ages


Hester Prynne, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, is a character who symbolises the power of the human spirit over the evils of society. This is of course a supreme irony. Hester has broken society’s rules; she has not only committed adultery but has committed the unmitigated folly of falling pregnant with her lover’s child. In her puritanical world she must be punished; she must bear the burden of her guilt and shame not only in her own conscience but publically. Society forces Hester to wear around her neck an embroidered letter A as her badge of shame. The Badge of Shame detached any former personality or personal traits of Hester, and with this badge, she was viewed only as an Adulteress to society. Was this fair, or as Carpeneter asks “was the action symbolized by the scarlet letter wholly sinful?” (173). Hester Pyrnne’s punishment generated curiosity within me to search for the many barbaric Badges of Shame throughout history and the outlandish reasons for such emblems of shame.

Society uses “shame, stigma and disgust as… tools… of social control in a decent, just society”, (Arneson, J. R. 31). Throughout the ages, in various conducts, leaders of society have labelled citizens with Badges of Shame to ostracise and separate the “wrong-doers” from the law-abiding citizens in society. In Fayerman’s, “Display recreates Nazi badges of Shame”, she takes us through the hundreds of years of persecution suffered by the Jews “by racist governments” for their religion. Turkish Jews up to the 15th century were required to wear “mismatched buttons” and “different coloured shoes” as their badge of shame. Egyptian Jews up until the 18th century had to wear “violet coloured clothes” while it was mandatory for Spanish Jews to wear “floor length, grey coats and yellow badges”. In Nazi Germany throughout the concentration camps, Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Star of David to differentiate them from other accepted or tolerated religions. Homosexuals were forced to wear a pink triangle and political prisoners bore a red triangle, while other groups such as the mentally ill, physically disabled, gypsies and other prisoners of war were forced to wear specific associated colours.

Another Badge of Shame serving as punishment is bodily mutilation which has been utilised throughout history. Removing bodily parts such as hands, feet, nose and ears, is to serve as a badge to differentiate those who have committed crimes such as theft and adultery, against those who abide by the rules. In Iraq, the government have “cut off hands and ears of several thousand army deserters and other offenders in order to terrify its people into obeying its commands”, (Cockburn). Saddam Hussein enforced the punishment of “cutting off the hand below the wrist for theft”. If the crime were recommitted, the foot would be taken off by the ankle. Committees were also branded an “X” on their foreheads. Mutilation of bodily parts has been ongoing for centuries also taking place in ancient Egypt as a punishment for Adultery.

The Scarlet Letter sparked an interest in the subject of Badges of Shame and branding to exclude those punishable in society. In many films I have watched, I have found many variations of Badges of Shame. In The Wind that Shakes the Barley, the character Sinead has her hair shaven as a mark of shame. In Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, the swastika is brutally carved into the foreheads of Nazis as a Badge of Shame and in Diamonds of Sierra Leone, the price of theft is a hand. Although these barbaric means of shaming have now ceased in the Western World, many still feel discreet Badges of Shame still exist in society in the forms of school grading, prisoners on probation and Anti-Social Behavioural Orders.

Works Cited:

Arneson, J. R. “Shame, Stigma and Disgust in the Decent Society”. The Journal of Ethics. Vol.11. No.1. 2007.

Carpeneter, I, F. “Scarlet Minus A”. College English. Vol 5. No. 4. 1944.

Cockburn, P. “Saddam orders mutilations to maintain political control While the UN continues its sanctions on Iraq, President Saddam Hussein’s government has cut off the hands and ears of several thousand army deserters in order to terrify people into obeying its commands”. Irish Times. 1995: 10.

Fayerman, P. “Display recreates Nazi Badges of Shame”. The Vancouver Sun. 1993: B1.

Bill Hicks: “I was born screaming in America”


Sporting his signature black outfit, cigarette in hand, fog billowing from his cynical mouth; theatrical movements, tongue sharp, a dark satirical wit with absolutely no limitations – this is the Bill Hicks I have come to know and love. Bill Hicks died in 1994 at the age of thirty-two, barely in his prime, due to prostate cancer. Twenty years on and his dark comedic intellect still sends shockwaves and tremors throughout the world of stand-up entertainment today.

I was the mere age of two at the time of Bill Hicks’ unfortunate and premature demise, yet I find myself frequently watching repeats of his stand-up live shows and documentaries, while the pages of my copy of his book Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines, are worn from constant re-reading. I am enthralled by the audacity of this man. Brave and bold, Bill Hicks had the courage to stand up and say what many Americans were truly thinking; he “was a ferocious libertarian who railed against politics, religion and, particularly, corporatism”, (Bruce, D.). Truly infuriated by the American government and their corrupt policies, Hicks stated “I hope to overthrow the government and replace it with a freely elected democracy” (Bruce). Impassioned and enthusiastic by the disgraceful behaviour of contemporary America, Hicks endeavoured to peel the layers and reveal America for what is really was. As John Lahr states in his foreward in Love All the People, Hicks is “the antithesis of mob mentality” (9), comparing him to “Shiva the destroyer” who tears down “idols no matter who they are” (10).

“I always wanted to be the cowboy hero, that lone voice in the wilderness fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it. And standing for freedom, truth and justice” (Hicks, B. Revelations ).

Hicks was on an ascent to the top. His home truths about war, the war on drugs, homosexuality and consumerism and his loathing of President Bush were gradually gaining him recognition and appreciation, but the American public were being protected from this as the “government ran the airwaves” (10). Although America was rallied as the land of the free, propaganda was rife. Hicks could see through the blindfold and this infuriated the government.

Discussing Bush he states, “It’s not that I disagree with Bush’s economic policy, or his foreign policy, it’s that I believe he is a child of Satan here to destroy the planet earth” (Hicks Revelations 6:25).

Discussing commercialised musicians he states, “The fact we live in a world where John Lennon was murdered, yet Barry Manilow continues to put out… albums… If you’re gonna kill somebody, have some fucking taste” (Hicks, Love All the People 21).

Hicks became more brazen and daring satirising topics such as pornography and abortion which lead to his professional failure in America. Hicks was finally censured in America, but Ireland and Britain were ready and waiting for his misanthropic humour.

“I was born screaming in America” (Revelations 0:42). This statement is absolute perfection. Bill Hicks was born screaming in America and spent his life screaming about America, and the travesties bestowed upon her. Pessimistic, crude and as bitter as he may have been, this man is a marvel. In a time when America was the absolute in the world order, Hicks wanted to set the record straight.

Works Cited:

Bill Hicks: Revelations. Dir. Chris Bould. 1993. Film.

Dessau, Bruce. “Our wits’ end ; September 11 revitalised political comedy in America. Here, the satire boom of the Sixties remains a muffled echo: [A Edition]”. Evening Standard. (London) 2002: 35

Hicks, B. Love All the People:Letters, Lyrics, Routines. London: Constable, 2005.

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“No Country for Old Men”. Yeats: Scorn of Time and Ageing

WB Yeats_signed

“Throughout his life aging was more than a theme in the poetry of W. B. Yeats—it was an obsession”, (Bornstein 46). The progression of thought, ideas, themes and content contained in the prolific body of poetry created by Yeats, clearly alters over the course of time, from his early romance, fantasy and Celticism, to unrequited love and politics. However, it is Yeats’ disconcerting preoccupation with aging, a preoccupation which lasted throughout his life, that I find most intriguing. Many of us struggle to come to terms with the progression of life and aging; I too dwell on the past at times, crying relentlessly each year as my birthday swiftly comes and goes, however Yeats’ abhorrence of time and aging is much more than a passing concern or even a natural fear. Yeats’ anxiety over the process of ageing affected his opinions on his previous work and also moved him to the brink of relinquishing his creative nature. The intense fear of growing old also drove him to detest his physical appearance; such was his hatred of the physical, creative and spiritual consequences of ageing that he tried anything possible to undo its effects.

“The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner” (Pethica 20) from his early collection of poetry The Rose (1892) is a poem of Yeats which depicts his apprehension of time and ageing. As Yeats aged, he began to backtrack his own work and began to doubt it and revise it. Although the original 1895 version discusses the sadness of an old man mourning his physical deterioration and the mourning of familiar faces “look at that old fellow there, and who may he be” (line 3), the 1925 revised version of this poem conveys Yeats’ extreme change and bitterness to time and ageing. The final two lines of each stanza sing a refrain of time “that has transfigured me”. As Yeats’ reminisces old days talking of “love and politics” (line 4) and watches the youth of today “making pikes again” (line 7), he cannot stop returning to thought of time, what it has done to his body and the people time has taken away. The final stanza is the most poignant. In this stanza the resentment of time is truly felt. Yeats states “not a woman turns her face” to look at him. He is an old feeble insubstantial man, “a broken tree” (line 14). Again he returns to his memory to bring back any fondness of the people he has lost. In the final refrain Yeats fiercely spits “into the face of time” (line 17) for the heartbreak, physically and emotionally, it has caused him.

A later poem of Yeats from his collection The Tower (1928) which convey Yeats’ contempt for time and ageing is “Sailing to Byzantium” (80). In this poem, Yeats “addressed the phenomena of old age, death and immortality in relation to his personal status” (Pruitt & Pruitt 5). Ageing hit Yeats’ terribly during composing this collection. Yeats’ desperate to retain onto some physical attributes even went as far as to have a “Steinach Operation” whereby “he sought to replenish the meat of that marrow-bone”, (Pruitt 6). “Sailing to Byzantium” illustrates Yeats’ revulsion against his deteriorating body. “An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick” (line 9). The poet is disgusted with his body and compares it to a scarecrow. In the third stanza he also compares his body to “a dying animal” (line 22). Yeats feels his decrepit body is now useless and he wants to leave it behind. Yeats wants to reincarnated into a timeless work of art that can retain its beauty and forever be admired, “once out of nature I shall never take my bodily form from any natural thing” (line 24).

In one of his last poems “Circus Animals Desertion” (128) Yeats describes himself as “but a broken man” (line 3) who must be satisfied with writing about his heart as all vanity and all illusions have been stripped away by time and what is there left for him to do “but enumerate old themes” (line 90).

Works Cited:
• Bornstein, George. “W.B Yeats’ Poetry of Aging”. Sewanee Review. Vol. 120. 1. 2012: 46.
• Pethica, James. Ed. Yeats’s Poetry, Drama and Prose. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. 1999.
• Pruitt, R. D and Pruitt, V. D. “W.B Yeats on Old Age, Death and Immortality”. Colby Quarterly. Vol. 24. 1. 1988: 5-6.

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