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Books & Publications


John Wilson Foster's first book was published in 1974 and since then he has published fifteen others, on subjects ranging from Irish literature, cultural history and RMS Titanic to natural history. His latest book appeared in 2014. 

Below are a selection of his books, other writings can be found here.

Titanic: Culture & Calamity


 (Belcouver Press, 2016)

Titanic: Culture & Calamity


 (Belcouver Press, 2016)

LATEST BOOK

"We are all passengers on Titanic!"

This declaration from Titanic: Culture and Calamity adorns the last gallery in all the Titanic Artefact Exhibitions and was borrowed by George Tulloch when he was the first CEO of RMS Titanic Inc.

This new book is a revised and updated edition of Foster's pioneering book, The Titanic Complex: A Cultural Manifest, which received high praise when it appeared in 1997. This book was the first to place the great ship and its terrible end in the context of both Anglo-American culture (from Virginia Woolf to black American balladeers) and Northern Irish, specifically Belfast, history and culture (from sectarianism to Titanic Belfast).  

"Foster has written a stunning portrait in miniature of Belfast, the art of memory, pre-First World War English society, fiction of the 1890s and 1900s, and a polemical defence of what he calls 'the local dialect of modernism'."

  • Gerald Dawe, The Irish Times

"John Wilson Foster's short study considers every aspect of the liner's fate, along with its subsequent freight; this is a cogent and densely packed undertaking,"

  • Patricia Craig, Times Literary Supplement

Pilgrims of the Air


An Irish Times Nonfiction Book of the Year, 2014

 

Pilgrims of the Air


An Irish Times Nonfiction Book of the Year, 2014

 

Published by Notting Hill Editions

To be published in 2017 by New York Review Books

This is a story of a scarcely credible abundance, of flocks of birds so vast they made the sky invisible. It is also a story, almost as difficult to credit, of a collapse into extinction so startling to the inhabitants of the New World as to provoke a mystery. In the fate of the North American passenger pigeon we can read much of the story of wild America – the astonishment that accompanied its discovery, the allure of its natural ‘productions’, the ruthless exploitation of its ‘commodities’ and the ultimate betrayal of its peculiar genius. And in the bird’s fate can be read, too, the essential vulnerability of species, the unpredictable passage of life itself.

"The centenary year of the Great War also marks the death of a bird in Cincinnati Zoo. Named in honour of George Washington’s wife, the 29-year-old “Martha” was the last passenger pigeon in existence. Once there had been between five and 10 billion of them, but when their habitat – the forests – were cut down, causing them to graze on crops, farmers opened fire and then professional hunters took over. Slaughter followed. Belfast academic and writer John Wilson Foster’s masterful narrative is both cautionary tale and superb history writing. It is also an astute lament for the loss of an older, more noble America and, with it, a creature of great beauty." Eileen Battersby’s non fiction books of the year 2014

"John Wilson Foster’s new book is a gem in every sense: small but perfect in the hand, elegantly written and full of evocative, deeply researched interest, both in the bird and American social history. Roaming in millions across the virgin forests of North America, sometimes blotting out the sky, the passenger pigeon belonged to a land – and its rivers and ocean – of an early and now seemingly incredible wild abundance, fatally eroded by servicing the spread of humankind." Michael Viney Irish Times

passenger_pigeon_in_flight.jpg

"In his Pilgrims of the Air, Foster, a literary critic, writer, and birder, has produced one of the loveliest of literary meditations on the pigeon and its fate...In fluid, pleasing prose, Foster traces the commodification of wildlife in North America from the sixteenth century to the closing of the frontier and the extinction or near-extinction of such emblematic American creatures as the pigeon and the bison. The author ranges widely, impressively, across the earliest literature of exploration and conquest, smoothly integrating sources that a lesser writer might have been tempted to relegate to a chronological appendix."
Rick Wright - Book Review Editor at Birding.

"I've just read this and greatly admired and enjoyed it. Wonderfully well written and constructed, and with some completely astounding detail magisterially marshalled into a containing, ramifying (and terrible) narrative.  - Neil Corcoran

Between Shadows: modern irish writing & culture


(Dublin, 2009)

Between Shadows: modern irish writing & culture


(Dublin, 2009)

Between Shadows is the sequel to the acclaimed Colonial Consequences and like its predecessor is a wide-ranging encounter with modern Irish writers and culture.  Among the writers are Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Trevor, Barry, Kiely and McPherson.. The wartime Belfast literary scene, Bloomsday, the anomaly of Ulster, and the Great War are among the cultural episodes and phenomena the author examines in this varied set of critical engagements. “Guests of the Nation” is the author’s most concentrated confrontation with Irish nationalism.

“If Irish literary and cultural criticism has taken off since the 1970s – and it has – John Wilson Foster is one of the main reasons”

  • Edna Longley, Foreword  

 “Foster’s exemplary criticism and his generous enthusiasm act as something of an enduring antidote to a culture that now seems to predicate itself on a permanent newness and superficiality”

  • Joe Horgan, Books Ireland 

“Foster’s range . . . has always been impressive and has remained so over the course of several decades . . . that [he] remains an important critic in the Irish-studies context is indisputable . .  [his] writings consistently demonstrate a keen intellect and are eminently readable”

  • Oona Frawley, James Joyce Quarterly

Irish Novels 1890-1940: new bearings in culture & fiction


(Oxford, 2008)

Irish Novels 1890-1940: new bearings in culture & fiction


(Oxford, 2008)

Attempting to fill a large critical vacancy, Irish Novels 1890-1940 is a comprehensive survey of popular and minor fiction (mainly novels) published between 1890 and 1922, a crucial period in Irish cultural and political history. Since the bulk of these sixty-odd writers have never been written about, certainly beyond brief mentions, the book opens up for further exploration a literary landscape, hitherto neglected, perhaps even unsuspected. This new landscape should alter the familiar perspectives on Irish literature of the period, first of all by adding genre fiction (science fiction, detective novels, ghost stories, New Woman fiction, and Great War novels) to the Irish syllabus, secondly by demonstrating the immense contribution of women writers to popular and mainstream Irish fiction.  

“This is a book to bolster the energies of a generation of researchers now pursuing the history of Irish novelists, and popular novelists in particular, through a revised framework of modern Irish cultural development”

  • Eve Patten, James Joyce Literary Supplement

Irish Novels 1890-1940, alive to every nuance of narrative standpoint and expected or unexpected departure, covers its chosen ground with cogency and resoluteness”

  • Patricia Craig, Times Literary Supplement                      

“This is a fascinating addition to Victorian literary and cultural studies which, although dauntingly voluminous in scope, can be read at ease thanks to a helpfully hermetic chapter arrangement”

  • Lauren Clark, Irish Studies Review

“Foster is to be congratulated for achieving a salutary complication of our understanding of the lines of force and distinction operating in pre-independence Ireland”

  • Gerard O’Donoghue, Notes & Queries

“This rigorously argued study delivers a powerful, disruptive stimulus to settled views of the Irish novelistic tradition and is bound to become an indispensable companion to teaching and research on the subject”

  • Liam Harte, Irish Times

The Achievement of Seamus Heaney


(Dublin, 1995)

The Achievement of Seamus Heaney


(Dublin, 1995)

The Achievement of Seamus Heaney, by the eminent critic John Wilson Foster, emphasizes the high seriousness and integrity of Heaney's verse and prose, embedding itself deeply in the literary history and culture not only of his native Ireland but also of Britain and Europe.

Critically involved with his subject for a quarter century, Foster surveys one man's pilgrimage through peace and war, childhood and manhood, towards freeom and love - as Heaney's progress becomes our own. The unfashionable virtue and lyric eloquence of that pilgrimage is celebrated in this incisive, comprehensive reading of the poetry.

"If John Wilson Foster's The Achievement of Seamus Heaney is much the briefest of the major studies, it is also one of the most ambitious. Foster writes with brisk authority on the Irish, British and wider Western contexts of the work, offering a judiciously illustrated argument that Heaney's verse and criticism, taken together, mark a highly serious and at least partly successful attempt to restore poetry to a cultural eminence it had enjoyed from classical antiquity to the end of the Romantic era"

  • Patrick Crotty, The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney

Colonial Consequences


(Dublin, 1991)

Colonial Consequences


(Dublin, 1991)

winner of the 1992 american conference for irish studies literary criticism award

nominated for the 1991 irish times non-fiction award

Colonial Consequences contains sixteen essays in Irish literature and culture by Belfast-born, Vancouver-based critic John Wilson Foster. The essays survey texts, genres and cultural backgrounds, from eighteenth-century landscape verse, the origins of Irish modernism, Yeats's great poem 'Easter 1916', to the literature and life-styles of Northern Ireland.

They give eloquent, close readings of specific writers - Kavanagh, Hewitt, Rodgers, Montague, Murphy, Donoghue - and at the heart of the book Foster expands on his 1974 study of Seamus Heaney with a new and challenging analysis of the poet as a deeply political writer, working through cultural traditions that are questioned, while respected. The volume concludes with recent essays which have made Foster an important figure in the current debate over political meanings and cultural trends in a riven, unsettled society.

An unusual, personal introduction by the author retraces the steps that led him to these combative and penetrating inquiries. Scholarly, engaged and readably written, locally rooted yet globally perceived, they provide a rich matrix of interpretation which frames the past while clarifying the future.

“The essays in criticism that distinguish this splendid collection breathe the wholesome, pluralist air of tough-minded understanding, and offer an incisive anatomy of the literary and cultural condition of contemporary Ireland”

  • Eamon Grennan, Canadian Journal of Irish Studies

“his book constitutes a kind of report from a war-zone: the Northern Ireland which in the last twenty years has endured all-too-real terrors of various kinds”

  • Terence Brown, Irish Times

Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival


(Dublin; Syracuse, NY, 1987, 1993)

Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival


(Dublin; Syracuse, NY, 1987, 1993)

Expanding the meaning of fiction beyond novels and short stories to include sagas, folktales and imaginative autobiographies, the author reads the prose that either propelled the Revival or else questioned it, narratives and counter-narratives of Irish cultural identity. Long thought to be paltry in comparison with poetry and drama, Revival fiction proves to be various and vigorous and extraordinarily revealing of the ambitious cultural programme the Revival represented. It could hardly be otherwise when the authors include among many others W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge, AE, Lady Gregory, James Stephens, George Moore and James Joyce.

“A wonderful book . . . There is an amplitude and a stretch about it I don’t find in much contemporary criticism . . . Really, a major achievement”

  • Philip Hobsbaum, critic and poet

“Anyone who deals with the Irish Revival in the future is going to have to come to terms with this vast, cogent, and important work”

  • Journal of Modern Literature

“. . . should become part of every Irish consciousness. No student of our country’s literature in the English language and, at times, the Gaelic language . . . can afford to ignore this book

  • Irish News (Belfast)

"His new book earns him a place among the foremost commentators on Irish literature" 

  • English Studies in Canada
 

FORCES AND THEMES IN ULSTER FICTION


(New Jersey; Dublin, 1974)

FORCES AND THEMES IN ULSTER FICTION


(New Jersey; Dublin, 1974)

"Ulster's narrative tradition... has been comprehensively and thoroughly analysed by John Wilson Foster in his Forces and Themes in Ulster Fiction, a long and illuminating study."

  • Laura Pelaschiar, Writing the North (1998)

 “The best book I know on the psychological stresses and tensions of my native province . . . and on the allegorising process which we tend to adopt”

  • John Hewitt, poet and literary historian

“John Wilson Foster is at once the master and servant of that Ulster experience which he has explored with discipline, affection and excitement”

  • Eavan Boland, poet

Recoveries: Neglected Episodes in Irish Cultural History


(Dublin, 2002)

Recoveries: Neglected Episodes in Irish Cultural History


(Dublin, 2002)

In three contributions to the little-researched subject of the history of science in Ireland, John Wilson Foster looks at neglected episodes in Irish cultural history from mid-Victorian to Edwardian times. He discusses Darwinism in late 19th-century Ireland and its impact on Irish churchmen, with special reference to Darwin's champion John Tyndall, whose famous declaration of materialism in his Presidential Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Belfast 1874 provoked a vehement response from the leaders of the Protestant as well as Catholic churches. Foster then moves to the Belfast of 1911 and the building and launching of the Titanic, which he sees as the culmination of the engineering genius of Belfast from the mid-19th to early 20th century. In his third essay, Foster looks at the growing interest in Belfast towards the end of the 19th century in amateur scientific fieldwork (for example, botany), encouraged by the values and preoccupations on Victorian culture. The book is based on lectures delivered at NUI Maynooth in the National University of Ireland's Visiting Lectureship series.

 

"These essays by John Wilson Foster show a remarkable critical agility and discursive expertise. They contain much to relish, and much to ponder."

  • Times Literary Supplement

 “groundbreaking book. . .  Foster occasionally risks foundering on the iceberg of too many hypotheses in such little time and space. This is, however, a Titanic venture. Irish cultural studies gains much from his recoveries”.

  • Mary C. King, Irish Studies Review

“A number of collections have appeared that begin to place science in Ireland in a broader historical and cultural context. . . . John Wilson Foster has been a critical figure in this movement “

  • David Attis, Foilsiú

Nature in Ireland: A SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL HISTORY


(co edited with Helena C.G. Chesney; Dublin, 1997; Kingston and Montreal, 1998)

Nature in Ireland: A SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL HISTORY


(co edited with Helena C.G. Chesney; Dublin, 1997; Kingston and Montreal, 1998)

CHOICE OUTSTANDING BOOK AWARD 1998

How has Irish nature been studied? How has it been expressed in literature and popular culture? How has it influenced, and been influenced by, political, economic and social change? These long-neglected questions are pursued in Nature in Ireland, a pioneering collection of original essays by leading naturalists, science writers and cultural historians who bring us from the geological prehistory of the island to the environmental threats of the late twentieth century.

Nature in Ireland is an indispensable reference source, containing definitive histories of Irish botany, mammalogy, entomology, fish and fisheries, geology, meteorology, ornithology, woodlands, demesnes and bogs. These essays reclaim the study of nature as a major contribution to Irish culture and a significant field of Irish studies, drawing out the links between scientific study, history, art and popular culture. 

 

'A lavish compendium of Irish natural history.'

  • Karlin Lillington, The Guardian

'A wonderful, eclectic collection of essays. The scope and scale of this volume will make it a reference book and baseline, yet one with appeal to both lay person and professional. This book is one for anyone interested in Irish nature and culture.'

  •  Mary Mulvihill, The Irish Times

I have only touched on the riches of fact and idea with which this compendium abounds, majestic in its inclusiveness. It’s a book that every library should possess, and that every Irish reader, native or sea-divided Gael, can enjoy and return to over and over again”

  • Kildare Dobbs, Books in Canada

“The magisterial Nature in Ireland, which Foster edited and to which he contributed an amazing series of essays, could be seen as breaking ground for what has become Irish ecocriticism”

  • Oona Frawley, James Joyce Quarterly

TITANIC


(Edited by John Wilson Foster; London Penguin, 1999.

Published in the United States as The Titanic Reader, 2000)

TITANIC


(Edited by John Wilson Foster; London Penguin, 1999.

Published in the United States as The Titanic Reader, 2000)

The Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic during a night of rare calm, but the tragedy caused shock waves on both sides of the ocean and has continued to haunt our imaginations ever since. The human drama of the disaster still has much of the power to excite and appall that it had in 1912, inspiring novels, films, plays, poems, and songs.

This anthology -- for the first time ever -- draws from more than eight decades of literature about the Titanic disaster. The Titanic Reader both relives the event, with accounts of survivors and witnesses, and shows how a variety of commentators sought meaning in the disaster -- and how the meaning changed over the years. There are contributions from major writers, including Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, Emma Goldman, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William F. Buckley, and Leadbelly. A unique and compellingly readable anthology, The Titanic Reader is the definitive book on the tragedy that had such a powerful impact on the twentieth century.

"Titanic must be one of the most satisfying anthologies ever. John Wilson Foster begins his account of the great liner before she was born, when her terrible existence was only imagined by writers like Thomas Carlyle. The story is then continued in newspaper accounts, letters, eye-witness statements, poems, enquiry records. What makes it a book to remember however, are the introductions and commentaries by Foster himself, the perfect companion for this voyage out" 

  • Frances Wilson, Books of the Decade: Authors' Choice

"This compilation of extraordinary writing about the great ship . . . is probably the best I have ever found . . . you owe it to yourself to read these accounts”

  • Linda Demaree, Amazon.com

The Age of Titanic: Cross-Currents in Anglo-American Culture


(Dublin, 2002)

The Age of Titanic: Cross-Currents in Anglo-American Culture


(Dublin, 2002)

The Titanic disaster exposed the fascinations and anxieties of Edwardian Britain and America. The ship and the catastrophe revealed the preoccupation of the Age with ever larger and ever more impressive machines, with speed and size, with exploration to the farthest reaches of the earth, but also with abjection and poverty, with migration and the feverish movement of populations, with the roles of women and men, with the inequalities of social class, with the Abyss that awaited failure and error. All converged nightmarishly on the night of April 15, 1912. 

 

In the immediate aftermath, major writers were moved to comment, explain, and mourn – Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Bram Stoker, Joseph Conrad. But from the official inquiries and the controversies that arose from them, it emerged that the sceptre of power in the world was passing from Britain and Europe to the expanding United States of America.

 

“In this brilliant extensive study of the cultural vortex which surrounded, and surrounds to this day, the making of the Titanic and its terrible fate, John Wilson Foster, the Belfast-born literary critic and scholar, has produced a classic.”

  • Gerald Dawe, The Irish Times

The Titanic Complex


The Titanic Complex


This book, published in 1997, was the first to trace the origins of the mechanical genius that created this and other majestic liners to the city of Belfast, previously neglected both as the begetter of Titanic and as a major player in the late Machine Age that made the world as we know it.

"Foster has written a stunning portrait in miniature of Belfast, the art of memory, pre-First World War English society, fiction of the 1890s and 1900s, and a polemical defence of what he calls 'the local dialect of modernism'."

  • Gerald Dawe, The Irish Times