An exemplary protestant : a study of the Myth of John Hewitt and its place within contemporary literary debate in Northern Ireland
This thesis is an epistemological study of John Hewitt's place in critical dialogue on Northern Irish writing and offers a telling perspective on changing attitudes to Protestant cultures after the Troubles re-emerged in 1968. Hewitt's work is of crucial importance because of his insistently biographical style, and the length of his career which began soon after Northern Ireland was founded. The approach consists of close textual analysis of Hewitt's body of work and of material available in public archives, unpublished private sources, and from interviews with his acquaintances and professional associates. Chapters One and Two are a comparative study of Hewitt's, partly self-constructed, presentation as a martyr and the tarnishing of Samuel Ferguson's relationship to Ireland. Analysis of criticism of Ferguson by Robert O'Driscoll, Greagoir Ö Will and David Cairns and Shaun Richards reveals that he was increasingly traduced as a reactionary Protestant and purloiner of Ireland's cultural assets for the Ascendancy. A parallel study of Hewitt shows that he metamorphosed from neglected `exile' to `father of modern Ulster poetry', exemplary Protestant and icon of cultural liberalism. Chapters Three to Seven examine the use of Hewitt by Northern intellectuals, primarily Edna Longley, Michael Longley, Gerald Dawe, Tom Clyde and Frank Ormsby. The thesis develops the theme that Hewitt was imaginatively exploited to create a space apart from the unattractive choices to engage either with a `compromised' ruling class within Northern Ireland or an ascendant romantic nationalism. In this respect, what is considered as Hewitt's `radical regionalism' was particularly welcomed as a means to sustain a critical autonomy in the North. Chapter Three builds on Chapters One and Two by exploring the interrelationship between the development of political conflict, Hewitt's critical revival, and an escalating tendency to stereotype Protestant cultures. Chapters Four to Seven focus on Hewitt as myth maker, untangling the processes whereby he successfully projected himself as a socialist evangelist, radical regionalist, `spiritual maverick', and idealised secular dissenter of English `planter' stock. This extensive body of evidence demonstrates the use of Hewitt as a source for philanthropic models of community harmony, and provides the context within which this use of him takes place: a context which is distinguished by proliferating, negative views of `Protestant' cultures and their literary legacies.