Evil literature, Irish literature: Censorship and the invention of the Irish writer

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Patrick McCarthy - Committee Chair


The history of modern Irish literature is inseparable from the history of modern Irish censorship. Almost without exception, each of the great moments in the emergence of modern Irish writing involved some form of intense controversy, some attempt to suppress or challenge the work in question. In 1899, W. B. Yeats's The Countess Cathleen provoked protests; in 1907, J. M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World provoked riots; from 1905 to 1914, James Joyce's Dubliners provoked one of the most infamous and extended disputes between an author and his wary publishers in all of modern letters. These struggles and others were the direct ancestors of the great battles over Irish literary censorship which began soon after the founding of the Irish state in 1922 and raged for almost forty years afterwards. Nevertheless, no extended study of the intimately antagonistic relationship between the Irish writer and the Irish censor yet exists. Using a theoretical approach derived from Michel Foucault and, especially, Pierre Bourdieu, this dissertation lays the groundwork for such a study by explaining how it could have been that Irish writers obviously profited through the imposition of censorship as much as they lost through it, and by explaining how it could have been that Irish writers explored and critiqued the regime of social and sexual power which gave rise to official censorship while simultaneously denying that they had any interest in challenging official censorship directly. I focus upon the early careers of Yeats and Joyce, particularly, and end with a close analysis of a specific censorship episode in the Irish Free State: the suppression of Harry Clarke's Geneva Window in 1931.


Theater; Literature, English

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