Anglo-Irish Literary Renaissance (Paul-Dubois, 1908)

1.365-66. L. Paul-Dubois, Contemporary Ireland, with an Introduction by T.M. Kettle, M.P. (Dublin: Maunsel and Company, Ltd.; New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1908), pp. 423, 425-26. BL

Extracts from L. Paul-Dubois, Contemporary Ireland (1908), on the Anglo-Irish literary renaissance.

In discussing ‘The Literary Awakening’ in Ireland, Paul-Dubois registers his doubts about identifying the movement as genuinely Irish, implying that the actual audience is rather more likely to be composed of English of the type of Haines:

It cannot be said, indeed, that these writers of the Anglo-Irish literary renaissance — with certain exceptions, notably Sigerson and Hyde — conform invariably to the spirit and form of Celtic literature, or represent the intimate genius of Ireland. Several of them evidently write for the English public. Ireland is for them a subject for study rather than an element of their personality.

Paul-Dubois then returns to this point having first discussed the foundation of the Irish National Theatre and a number of the foremost plays associated with it, “that moving national allegory” Cathleen-ni-Houlihan last and by no means least:

The unfortunate thing was that by these plays, written in English, the Irish National Theatre did not clearly prove its right to the first of its names. The plays, the poetry, and the novels, of the Anglo-Irish group of writers were not essentially Irish or Gaelic. Foreign influences, notably Ibsen and Maeterlinck, and even our French decadents were preponderant. Even to-day one cannot help finding something artificial in this literature that is so young in its romanticism, but so advanced in its subtle art and studied symbolism. The English form is superimposed upon a thought that is not English, but is a treasury of that modernised “Celticism” the charm and penetration of which were revealed to English readers by Matthew Arnold half a century ago. It is an orchestra of new instruments seeking to adjust itself to a very ancient music, the key and notation of which are lost, a music of which these modern players can give but their personal interpretation. We may go further and say that an Irish literature, properly speaking, is not possible in the English language, except in the case of those popular ballads and political poetry in which Young Ireland excelled. Is not an Anglo-Irish literature fated from its birth to be but a transitory and diverted stream of the great river of Anglo-Saxon literature? It is certain that the new school, great and well-earned as has been its success, is even in Ireland limited in its appeal, and passes over the heads of the masses, who fail to comprehend it.