Re-enchantment   /   Fall 2015   /    Book Reviews

Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890–1923 by R. F. Foster

Charles Townshend

R. F. Foster, the Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford University and author of a celebrated biography of W. B. Yeats, here turns his attention to the people Yeats called “them.” In 1916, these people were rather more obscure than Yeats, who wryly noted in his poem “Easter 1916” that when he had from time to time “met them at close of day / Coming with vivid faces / From counter or desk,” he had exchanged “polite meaningless words” with them before going on to make some “mocking” comment about them at his club. They were not clubmen, for sure; but just what kind of people they were has never been altogether easy to say.

In Vivid Faces, Foster’s aim is to re-examine the period up to the 1923 establishment of the Irish Free State in order to get beyond traditional approaches to understanding revolutionary change in terms of class or ideology, which, he says, seem inadequate today. “We search now,” he writes, “to find clarification through themes of paradox and nuance.” And, as Foster suggests, we have also become interested not just in what changes but also in what does not.

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