An erudite collection of essays, notes, and reviews that focuses almost entirely on the 20th century. It is a diverse volume, but even the few political and historical forays are somehow made to seem purely literary. The main theme is sounded in the opening essay on Yeats, ""Romantic Ire. land,"" i.e., the myth and stereotype of Irish essence can be destructive in both literature and politics. Though there may be a distinctive Irish experience, chasing the ideal causes such varied reactions as Yeats' mythopoeia and Sean O'Faolain's early heroicism and elegaic style. The lights of Yeats and Joyce color every essay just as they have colored all modern Irish poetry and prose, and sections are devoted to each. Donoghue argues compellingly that Yeats was a sentimental--meaning self-conscious--poet trying to persuade himself that a naive--meaning objective, mimetic--relation to the world was possible. The review of Deirdre Bait's biography of Samuel Becket is amusing, but most of the pieces are utterly high-minded. Opinionated, but complete, Donoghue always declares his special interests and prejudices. A thorough knowledge of Irish history and literature is supposed, though everyone is excused from Finnegan's Wake. The book reviews are somewhat more accessible than the essays, but in both Donoghue writes dense, reference-laden prose. A complex, scholarly work.