Monday, August 15, 2011

"Words Alone: Yeats and His Inheritances" by R.F.Foster.

I think one could fairly describe R.F. Foster's output as prodigious. The amount of reading that must have gone into his two volume biography of Yeats alone is almost frightening to contemplate. He somehow managed not to be buried by the details and he is consistently enjoyable to read. Neither of which can be said for Gordon Bowker's new biography of Joyce.

Two examples from Foster's new book: "Words Alone".

The first nails The Boys Own quality of Dracula while simultaneously taking to task some of the more outrageous readings of the book:

In many ways Dracula reads more like John Buchan on mescaline than anything Irish. Its primary identity is as English (or British) shocker rather than Anglo-Irish meditation-however wittily the count and his earth boxes may be interpreted as a metaphor for declining Irish landlords. 105

We could argue whether Uncle Silas is Le Fanu's "masterpiece". Foster's topic in chapter three, "Lost in the Big House: Anglo-Irishry and the Uses of the Supernatural" predisposes him towards the novel as it is always going to be more useful to his analysis than "In a glass darkly". But I like this:

Thus the Styrian lesbian Vampire Carmilla allegedly turns into an 'autochthonous manifestation of the female nation, reaching out from portraits and ruined castles to fascinate and destroy the expatriate English, confined, as Laura is in the novella by a sterile world of patriarchal rationality where no young men are permitted because no continuation is possible.' Perhaps the connection between nation and narration can be taken a step too far.

The reproof is in the juxtaposition of controlled syntax with what precedes it more than in the diplomatically phrased comment.

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