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Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival$
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Sinéad Garrigan Mattar

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780199268955

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199268955.001.0001

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Lady Gregory: The Primitive Picturesque

Lady Gregory: The Primitive Picturesque

(p.185) 5 Lady Gregory: The Primitive Picturesque
Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival

Sinéad Garrigan Mattar

Oxford University Press

Where William Butler Yeats laid the foundations of his literary primitivism by immersing himself in occult studies, and where John Millington Synge immersed himself in comparative science, Lady Gregory was immersed in a colonial context and read widely in the literature of colonialism and colonial travel. Rather than questioning the relationship between the civilised and the primitive mind, Lady Gregory adopts an assumption of noble sameness and subsumes anthropological implications into a traditional stylisation of experience. The influence of science was to be felt directly only in the technique Gregory employed to collect and collate the folklore of her tenantry, and only the barest echo of this influence is heard in her plays. What became apparent instead was that Gregory's literary primitivism owed a debt to the travellers, explorers, and colonial administrators of the 19th century, rather than to its comparative scientists. Gregory's primitivism is best described as ‘picturesque’, a word which recurs again and again in her descriptions of the peasantry in Ireland in the anecdotal, touristic sections of the ‘Notebook’. Her vision had much in common with the depictions of the primitive emergent from 19th century travel literature.

Keywords:   Lady Gregory, primitivism, plays, travel literature, Ireland, peasantry, folklore, colonialism, comparative science, colonial travel

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