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The Imaginary Irish Peasant

Edward Hirsch
PMLA
Vol. 106, No. 5 (Oct., 1991), pp. 1116-1133
DOI: 10.2307/462684
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462684
Page Count: 18
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The Imaginary Irish Peasant
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Abstract

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Irish peasant was a figure encoded with literary, social, and political meaning, and to speak or write about that central image of Irish identity in the context of the time was to participate in a special kind of cultural discourse, far removed from the changing realities of rural life. The portraits of the peasant generated by different Irish poets, dramatists, fiction writers, and antiquarians were often radically opposed to one another; in fact, each writer undertook to rewrite or to reconceptualize the peasant characters imagined by predecessors and contemporaries. Thus W. B. Yeats and Douglas Hyde created portraits that not only rivaled each other but aimed primarily at overturning the prevailing English colonial stereotype reflected in the stage Irishman. These portraits were in turn rewritten by John Synge, even as Yeats's, Hyde's, and Synge's were reworked in divergent ways by James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, and Patrick Kavanagh.

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