UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The swan in the desolate heaven : the literary image of place and the ideology of Irish nationalism Wolfe, Colin


Place is not simply the physical reality of the topographical and human geographical features located at a particular position in space. It is also the experience of the associations, images, and memories incorporated in the landscape, with a large input from the observer. Our personal and cultural histories are important in this experience of place, which is therefore both subjective and intersubjective. The sense of place in literature is often particularly expressive of this power of association and imagery — perhaps, because of its concentrated form, especially in poetry. Literature, however, in choosing its imagery, is not only reflective of the historical, cultural and personal associations of place, but is also creative in shaping these associations of place. Literature, because it is selective and imaginative, has the power to alter our experience of place. Many of the works of the Irish literary revival possess an unusually strong sense of place — it was a literary movement which sought to emphasise Ireland and Irish themes. The selectivity and imagination of the writers, particularly because of the romantic and mythological heritages stressed in the revival, resulted in a representation of the Irish landscape -- indeed a vision of Ireland -- which is rich in symbol, association, and image. This Ireland of the imagination was also attractive and powerful enough to become part of Irish nationalist ideology. A romantic vision of the Irish landscape and its people developed by W.B. Yeats, A.E., J.M. Synge and others became part of the nationalism of militant revolutionaries such as Patrick Pearse, leader of the Irish insurrection of Easter 1916 — important in Irish history because it shifted the dominant expression of nationalism from constitutionalism to militancy. It was through the use of force rather than through constitutional methods that a separate Irish nation was established in 1922. This thesis, therefore, has three main themes. Firstly, place is an experience of the imagination -- of association, of memory, and of image. Secondly, literature is important in shaping that imagination because of its symbolism and its power in creating imagery. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the ideas of a movement of the imagination such as the Irish literary revival can have a large effect on the ideas, and therefore the ultimate actions, of a movement of action such as, that of the Irish militant nationalists.

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