Thomas Flanagan, who died in 2002 at the age of seventy-nine, was, in addition to his achievements as a novelist, one of our most humane and readable practitioners of literary criticism and commentary. Though he came of age during the New Criticism era, Flanagan was, as his friend Seamus Heaney puts it in his preface to this new collection, “a history and biography man.” His 1959 study, The Irish Novelists, 1800–1850, rescued from oblivion such writers as Maria Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, Gerard Griffin, and William Carleton, and established a context for them in Irish literary history. Previously, little was known, in America at least, about Irish writing before Yeats, Joyce, and Synge. Flanagan not only broadened and deepened our understanding of Ireland and her literature, he also laid the foundations for the edifice that would come to be known as Irish studies.

This new, posthumously published book, called...

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