Vivid Faces

Vivid Faces : The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923

4.07 (183 ratings by Goodreads)

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A searing cultural history of the remarkable generation who transformed Ireland, from R. F. Foster


Vivid Faces surveys the lives and beliefs of the people who made the Irish Revolution: linked together by youth, radicalism, subversive activities, enthusiasm and love. Determined to reconstruct the world and defining themselves against their parents, they were in several senses a revolutionary generation.

The Ireland that eventually emerged bore little relation to the brave new world they had conjured up in student societies, agit-prop theatre groups, vegetarian restaurants, feminist collectives, volunteer militias, Irish-language summer schools, and radical newspaper offices. Roy Foster's book investigates that world, and the extraordinary people who occupied it.

Looking back from old age, one of the most magnetic members of the revolutionary generation reflected that 'the phoenix of our youth has fluttered to earth a miserable old hen', but he also wondered 'how many people nowadays get so much fun as we did'. Working from a rich trawl of contemporary diaries, letters and reflections, Vivid Faces re-creates the argumentative, exciting, subversive and original lives of people who made a revolution, as well as the disillusionment in which it ended.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 496 pages
  • 162 x 240 x 43mm | 826g
  • Allen Lane
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 2 x 8 b&w plates
  • 9781846144639
  • 229,064

Review quote

Terrific . . . It is a measure of his literary skill, as well as his expertise as a historian, that he is able to counterpoint so many life stories without sinking into confusion . . . Foster's prose is urbanely precise and he can pin down character as memorably as Yeats . . . Foster has the alertness of an Edwardian novelist to the nuances of class and location . . . depicted with masterly economy in all its brutality, confusion and courage . . . Patient, analytical, articulate, this is a book that counts because it avoids the Irish vice of replacing history with commemoration -- John Kerrigan * Guardian * This book . . . reveals a rich and assorted cast of characters with a diversity of views and preoccupations - feminism, socialism, religious diversity, sexual liberalism, the works . . . The beauty of Vivid Faces is that it is squarely based on the testimonies of the characters themselves - letters, diaries, articles, books and later memories - and shows them as they were, not in the light of what they became, especially those revolutionaries sanctified in the selective historical memory of the Irish Republic . . . There are very funny accounts here of how summer schools in the Irish-speaking west of Ireland were an opportunity for unchaperoned young people enthusiastically to pair off . . . There can be few better accounts of [these] people . . . than this book. Foster writes with unconcealed delight about the foibles of these wonderful individuals as well as their achievements . . . There will be any number of accounts of the Easter Rising and its genesis in the run up to the centenary, but few will be as enjoyable as this -- Melanie McDonagh * Spectator * Vivid Faces . . . puts forward a most interesting explanation for the power and influence of the 1916 Rebellion. Indeed, this book, filled with nuanced interpretation, is likely to change the way we view the rebellion and the period before and after . . . Foster is ready to look at love and dreams, fantasy and bewilderment, as he charts the imaginative lives of the generation that was the first to cause the British to "clear out", as Yeats beautifully put it . . . Foster takes it that we know about their military exploits; what he writes about here is their work as writers and actors and artists, their love lives, their passionate involvement in the world that they wished to re-create . . . Foster has managed to produce the most complete and plausible exploration of the roots of the 1916 Rebellion and the power it subsequently exerted over the public imagination. As the centenary approaches, his book will be essential reading for anyone who wishes to follow the argument about the Irish revolutionary generation -- Colm Toibin * New Statesman * A significant accomplishment that makes a serious case for the concept of 'generations' in exploring the origins of the Rising . . . Through personal diaries, letters and journals, [Foster] allows us to see how these young people lived. What follows is a portrait of an Ireland that bears little resemblance to the country that emerged after 1922 . . . Foster's book, in unmatchable prose, is a must-read -- Niamh Gallagher * Times Higher Education * Powerful and absorbing . . . [Foster] draws on decades of engagement with cultural history to bring an original, lively and learned analysis to a fascinating generation . . . Judicious and empathetic, with no attempt to hide his admiration for their idealism, he does not fall into the trap of assessing them acerbically through the lens of the present but allows their own words to breathe. Much of his account is riveting and skilfully woven together, with the analysis enlivened by Foster's customary sparkling prose . . . [he] does a lot to balance male-dominated accounts of the period . . . Crucially, this is not a book built on reductive hindsight; instead it gives us a deep and textured awareness of that "enclosed, self-referencing, hectic world" where the thinkers lived, worked, reflected and dreamed -- Diarmaid Ferriter * Irish Times * Roy Foster . . . has achieved what few have managed: an account of the Irish revolution that captures its quixotic ardour without succumbing to it . . . Vivid Faces is a wonderful book about revolution - both the specific and the general. I read it in the aftermath of Scotland's abortive revolution by referendum and found Foster's analysis painfully wise -- Gerard DeGroot * The Times * Written by a master-historian, this superbly orchestrated group portrait of Ireland's 'revolutionary generation' from 1890 to 1923 shows how the independence movement drew its ideas, tactics and personnel not from peasant outsiders but metropolitan, middle-class insiders . . . Foster highlights refreshing new perspectives -- Boyd Tonkin * Independent * Extraordinary personal journeys outlined in Foster's richly detailed evocation of a period of Irish history in which idealism, bohemianism and artistic creativity went with a resurgence of militant nationalism and what Foster calls 'the cult of the gun' . . . Foster's exhaustively researched history delineates the various streams of cultural and social radicalism that converged in the two decades leading up to the Irish revolution -- Sean O'Hagan * Observer * Sometimes a history book prompts one to reflect on the past and present alike. R F Foster, professor of Irish history at Oxford University, has just published such a text . . . Foster writes so compellingly -- Martin Kettle * Guardian * Written with a stern sense of authority, but simultaneously leaving room for suggestion, interpretation, debate and nuance, Vivid Faces is an immensely important analysis of Irish history that will be used again and again as a reference point for generations to come: continuing a much-needed healthy debate about what exactly Irish Republicanism stands for? -- J P O'Malley * Independent * It is a relief to read such a study, which takes for granted that the world is incorrigibly plural, and which immerses itself in the stuff of passionate human histories -- Neil Hegarty * Telegraph * The book itself is a valuable collection of a broad range of views of participants that publishers dared not mention for decades. It dissects the propaganda to provide an insightful look at the real contemporary thinking . . . invaluable historical record -- Ryle Dwyer * Irish Examiner * Generous, humane and stylish -- Jonathan Keates * Times Literary Supplement BOOKS OF THE YEAR *
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About Professor R F Foster

R. F. Foster is Carroll Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford. His books include Modern Ireland, 1600-1972, Paddy and Mr Punch, The Irish Story, W. B. Yeats (two volumes) and Luck and the Irish.
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Rating details

183 ratings
4.07 out of 5 stars
5 36% (65)
4 44% (80)
3 15% (27)
2 4% (8)
1 2% (3)
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