Tradition, Patriarchy and Irish Poetry

More and more, my thesis is coming circling around the issue of tradition and influence for women poets coming from a well established male lineage. There are lots of debates in there – do I take Harold Bloom’s (patriarchal) framework for intra-poetic relationships or Gilbert and Gubar’s feminist (but in places a little flimsy) framework? Can the two differing views be applied together?

Yeats is the poster boy for every other study of influence. After all, he preempted it himself by writing ‘Irish poets, learn your trade / Sing whatever is well made’. Yet, I can’t say I really see the generational transmission so clearly for women poets.

Where I find useful direction in Irish studies, I find the feminist critical view isn’t compatible. For example one text states:

‘In a small country as Ireland with what must necessarily be a tiny literary culture, individual voices are bound to crowd upon one another and the issue of influence may be more immediate than in the broader and more heterogeneous literary circles of Britain and America’
Terence Brown and Gerald Dawe, Tradition and Influence in Anglo-Irish Poetry (1989)

This point is fair, yet nowhere in the text is gender considered. No women poets are looked at and their absence isn’t noted. It is implied that the question of influence and tradition are very male affairs. The question, then, is how to address it now.

Yeats is where tradition comes from, apparently.
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2 thoughts on “Tradition, Patriarchy and Irish Poetry

  1. Our work is mirroring each other right now Alex! I definitely empathise with the quandry of literary influence. I personally love Gilbert and Gubar and ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’.. well, I still remember the day I took it down from the shelf in the library and had my eyes opened to a new level! 😉 Though I do agree with you, it is patchy in places. Historically lacking, perhaps as it chooses the literature paths and affiliations. Perhaps the scope isn’t big enough?

    For me, with Plath, I have found a lot of inter-linkings moreso from Gilbert and Gubar than Bloom. I’ve read G&G in tandem with Elaine Showalter’s ‘The Female Malady’ which maps female mental illness and asylum treatments/populations with literary analysis on the side. This text kind of fills in some of the blanks for me that G&G leave out..

    That said, ‘The Age of Influence’ is a hugely important text too. For Plath, she would not have been the writer she was had she not come to England and received a more classical education in Cambridge, introducing her to the Graves ‘White Goddess’ movement and a greater appreciation for DH Lawerence, Henry James, etc. And from an early age, she was Yeats and Auden obsessed. The influence from Yeats onto Plath is so clear in so many of her ‘Colossus’ poems.

    So after that ramble, the point I’m getting to is, perhaps it’s a bit of both? To have women and men boxed exclusively away from one another: one side Bloom-ian, the other coming from the silent, underculture of the Brontes, Perkins-Gilman, Woolf; it’s not the whole picture really. They need to be intertwined.

    I think NI poetry must be a lot more difficult to deduce. Because with masculine and femininities there also comes nationality and background which, I would imagine, plays just as important a dividing factor and personality component. The writing of an upper-class protestant woman in 1960 would be worlds away from the writing of a working class city-living catholic man: yet they’re both women. Where does the influence lie? It’s too large a discussion to have in a comment box! 🙂

  2. Yes, I am conscious that I will definitely have to make use of Bloom and Gilbert & Gubar. Connecting them is easier said than done, though. Also, it seems almost counter intuitive to use theory broadly considered anti-feminist to create a feminist reading of the N.I. context! However, I think that contemporary writing, despite whatever parallels I can draw in terms of the emergence of women’s writing, is critically conscious (if that makes sense). They know where they are coming from, as it were.

    I can see how Madwoman relates more closely to your work than it might do to mine. They focus mainly on the mental illness which is central to Plath and plenty of other women poets. For me, I think the influence and tradition question induces more of Bloom’s fight than G & G’s agoraphobia.

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