Yeats's Heroic Figures
Wilde, Parnell, Swift, Casement
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Heroic man and "the lies of history," the myths that surrounded them, were vital to the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. This study examines the four Anglo-Irish historical figures who dominated his life and art: Oscar Wilde, Charles Stewart Parnell, Jonathan Swift, and Roger Casement. All were creators—whether they conceived their life artistically, conceived an intellectual vision of Ireland free, or made lasting art. Their powers were matched by the magnitude of their defeat, for all, except Swift, were violently crucified by the mob for their irregular private lives. In defeat, however, they revealed transcendent heroism, as they faced their enemies with aristocratic disdain and unfailing bravery. Their constantly recreated heroic images inspired and haunted Yeats in art and politics, showed him ways to remake himself and to reconcile his devotion to art with his duty to Ireland. Yeats's Heroic Figures traces the intersections of the vivid figures in the "human drama" Yeats saw as history from 1883 to 1938, and considers their shaping forces upon Yeats's art, philosophy, and life. It is the first study to consider these four heroes together, and it brings to light much material previously neglected in comprehensive studies of Yeats.
Michael Steinman specializes in Anglo-Irish and Modern British literature. He teaches in the Department of English at Nassau Community college, Garden City, New York.