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Envisioning Ireland

W. B. Yeats’s Occult Nationalism


Claire Nally

Although W. B. Yeats is one of the most over-theorised authors in the Irish canon, little attempt has been made to situate his occult works in the political context of early twentieth-century Ireland. By evaluating the two versions of A Vision, published in 1925 and 1937, this book provides a methodology for understanding the political and cultural impulses that informed Yeats’s engagement with the otherworld. The author suggests that the Yeatsian occult operates very firmly within the political parameters of Irish nationalism, often as a critique of the new Free State, or as an alternative way of mythologising and inaugurating a new nation state. The occult, far from being free of all political considerations, registers the poet’s shifting allegiances, from the Celticism of the 1890s to his disenchantment with modern Ireland in the Free State.
Through close readings of Yeats’s manuscripts and his primary and critical works, including a close assessment of the frequently neglected dramatic texts, the author seeks to force a rethinking of the critical reception of the Yeatsian occult through contemporary theoretical developments in postcolonialism, subjectivity, national identity and textual instability.


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Acknowledgements vii


Acknowledgements My sincere thanks go to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the financial support which enabled me to commence this project and to the Yeats International Summer School for providing me with a bursary to undertake a study trip to Sligo in the summer of 2003. I would also like to thank Margaret Mills Harper for advice and suggestions in relation to my work. Thanks also to the staff at the National Library of Ireland, and especially Elizabeth Kirwan, for advice relating to the Yeats papers, as well as A. P. Watt Ltd for permission to reproduce unpublished material from the Yeats Papers in Dublin. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Professor Murray Pittock and Professor Terry Eagleton for their constant support, encouragement and valuable criticism. I would also like to thank Professor Tony Crowley, who has always maintained a rigorously critical but sympathetic approach to my work. Liam Harte and Angela Smith have also contributed a great deal of help and corrective advice. My parents, John and Vivienne, have always given me the love, patience and faith I needed. To both of you, a thousand thank yous. To Ian, thank you for the laughter, and finally to Stephen, with love and gratitude.

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