Snotgreen

In Brief

Mulligan proposes “A new art color for our Irish poets: snotgreen.” Given Ireland's millennial association with the color green, this must be heard as a snotty comment on the nationalistic cultural movement to which Mulligan refers: the so-called Irish Literary Revival or Irish Renaissance. The Revival was a phenomenon of the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth, identified with writers like William Butler Yeats, George Moore, Douglas Hyde, Lady Gregory, and John Millicent Synge.

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During these four decades many non-governmental organizations arose not only to promote new Irish writing but also to help revive the language and culture of the past. The implicit or explicit aim of all of them was to resist the forces of assimilation that were, it was felt, slowly turning Irish men and women into “West Britons” (a term that was coined in the 1890s). Among the organizations devoted to this goal of decolonializing Ireland were:

Joyce’s feelings about the Revival were mixed, at best. With Synge and Yeats he felt that the time for an Irish national literature had arrived, but he dismissed Yeats' overtly nationalistic Cathleen ni Houlihan as "political claptrap" (Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother's Keeper, 187). While a student at University College Dublin he studied Irish with Padraig Pearse (later one of the leaders of the Easter Rising), but he broke off the lessons because Pearse "found it necessary to exalt Irish by denigrating English, and in particular denounced the word 'Thunder'—a favorite of Joyce's—as an example of verbal inadequacy" (Ellmann, 61). All of the major writers of the Revival were "wealthy Anglo-Irish Protestants mining Irish peasant themes," and Joyce considered this kind of sentimental writing "a provincial fantasy" (Kevin Birmingham, The Most Dangerous Book, 20).

Joyce wrote his fictions about life in Ireland, but lived abroad while writing them and felt that his country could not assume its proper place in the community of nations by retreating into nostalgic mythologies. In the final story of Dubliners, Molly Ivors accuses Gabriel Conroy of being a West Briton and lacking sufficient interest in his own country, people, and language. Gabriel retorts that “Irish is not my language” and exclaims, “I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!” But despite his desire to escape east to the continent, he ends the story feeling that “The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward.”

In Scylla and Charybdis Stephen feels excluded from the nationalist literary circle. He has not been invited to a gathering later in the day at George Moore’s house to which all the other literati in the library—including Mulligan, a Catholic but well-off—are planning to go. But as these men animatedly discuss the fact that “Our national epic has yet to be written,” the literary theory that Stephen has been expounding to them predicts how he will write that epic. In writing "snotgreen," Joyce takes advantage of Gogarty’s characteristic sneering tone to smear the movement of which he was never a part. Beneath his scorn for the Revival's aesthetic, though, runs a deep current of anti-colonial sympathy with its aims.

JH 2011

Photograph of Ben Bulben by R. Todd Felton. Source: Felton, Ireland's Literary Revival (Roaring Forties Press, 2007).
Oil painting of George Moore by Édouard Manet (1879). Source: Wikimedia Commons.