English 493: Studies in Modern Irish Literature, 2003-2004

Honor’s Theses of Lessie Calhoun, Jennifer Backe, and Kara Harbert, directed by Professor Conner

Project Description: Three senior English majors will write year-long Honor’s Theses on various aspects of Irish Modernism this year. Each of these students participated in the Spring Term in Ireland program in their sophomore year (spring of 2002), and these theses follow upon that work and their current interests. The students will meet in both a tutorial and a seminar-style setting, working both individually and together to produce their projects.

Individual project descriptions:

Lessie Calhoun: I propose to write an honors thesis on the poetry of William Butler Yeats, under the direction of Professor Conner. I would like to concentrate on several themes. These would include the treatment of women in his poetry and the importance of Irish mythology and folklore. To combine these themes I would like to explore the influence of Yeats’s work with Lady Gregory and her studies of Irish mythology and the effect it had on his poetry. The political atmosphere that surrounded their collaboration undoubtedly had an effect on their work as well. I began studying Yeats and Gregory in Ireland during the 2002 spring semester, and would very much like to build on that work. Since I have seen many of the places where Yeats lived and the places in Ireland that he was inspired by, I would also like to explore the influence of that landscape on his work.

Kara Harbert: My English Honors Thesis will explore varying concepts of "place" found in the poetry of Seamus Heaney. I intend to focus on physical place (landscape), religious place, and political place. Some of the discussion will revolve around Heaney’s own position in Ireland, as a Catholic who is born in Northern Ireland but moves "back" to the Republic of Ireland, a move which reflects changes in physical, religious and political places. The following texts will be used: Death of a Naturalist, North, Station Island, and The Place of Writing, among others.


In this thesis I would like to explore the use of paralysis in the work of several Irish dramatists, including W. B. Yeats, co-founder of the Abbey Theater, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, and Martin McDonagh. I want to engage with Yeats’s The Cat and the Moon, described by Richard Allen Cave as "a wonderful exploration of the actor’s art to convince us imaginatively first of the reality of the character’s lameness, then of the reality of the miracle; and all is achieved through the physical prowess, shaping meaning by the meticulous and richly inventive deployment of a flexible body language." Understanding Yeats as an artist dedicated to the subtleties of movement and invested in the value of the theater, I find his work an important place to begin. From there I want to explore Seamus Heaney’s The Cure of Troy: A Version of Philoctetes and Martin McDonagh’s Cripple of Inishmaan, both of which stage characters with leg afflictions while simultaneously exploring other modes of paralysis, particularly the burden of emotional wounds. Finally, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot offers an emblematic vision of paralysis on the stage. I want to address several Irish dramatists because I see Ireland as a multifaceted community with a variety of different voices and styles. I want to investigate how these authors address questions of community and nation through the image of the wound. I anticipate the following questions: Can an Irish community heal its wounds? What role do history, memory, and language have in perpetuating injuries or in healing them? What difference does an author’s style make in answering these questions?

Course structure and schedule:

Every other week, we will gather as a group to discuss elements and readings in modern Irish literature. Each student will be responsible for leading these sessions and providing readings one week in advance. On the alternate weeks, I will meet with each of you individually, to discuss particular aspects of your project and guide the writing process. In the winter term, we will structure our readings and group meetings according to particular problems and issues we face in common.

Week one: First group meeting: general issues, questions, tactics, plans. Read the following essays: Yeats, "Hopes and Fears for Irish Literature," "The Celtic Element in Literature," and "The Irish Literary Theatre"; Lady Gregory, "The Changing Ireland" (I’ll have copies waiting for you)

Week two: individual meetings

Week three: Introducing Yeats, Gregory, and Irish Mythology (Lessie Calhoun)

Week four: individual meetings

Week five: Introducing wounds and paralysis in Irish drama (Jenn Backe)

Week six: individual meetings

Week seven: Introducing Heaney and place (Kara Harbert)

Week eight: individual meetings

Week nine: Yeats and Gregory revisited (Lessie)

Week ten: individual meetings

Week eleven: wounds and paralysis revisited (Jenn)

Week twelve: Heaney revisited (Kara)

Exam week: individual meetings

Deadlines: the only fixed deadline is a finished draft of the first chapter or section (roughly 20-30 pages) turned in to me before the Christmas break begins.