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Partium Christian University

Faculty: Human and Social –Studies Specialization: English Language and Literature Course: Writing and composition Professor: drd. Borbély Julianna Student: Gál Tünde Year of study: 1st year English major, 2nd semester 15 June 2010

Representations of Irishness in Irish Fiction
The purpose of much Irish fiction, it seems, is to become involved in the Irish argument, and the purpose of much Irish criticism has been to relate fiction to the argument. (Toibin 9) The issues of reality and language have been problems is Ireland, Maria Edgeworth wrote: „It is impossible to draw Ireland as she now is in the book of fiction-realities are too strong, party passions too violent, to bear to see, or care to look at their faces in a looking-glass. The people would only break the glass and curse the fool who held the mirror up to naturedistorted nature in a fever.” Lady Morgan said about Irish fiction that „we are living in an era of transition. Changes moral and political are in progress. The frame of the constitution, the frame of socitey itself, are sustaining a shock, which occupies all minds, to avert or modify, under such conditions there is no legitimate literature, as there is no legitimate drama.” (Toibin 9) Thomas Flanagan wrote about the Irish novel that: The nineteenth-century Irish novel established no tradition. Between Carleton’s death in 1896 and the beginning of the new century Ireland produced no prose writer of real stature…When a novelist of commanding talent did appear-the greatest perhaps of his age-he owned little to the work of his predecessors. Ireland was Joyce’s theme, as it had been theirs, and he shared their involvement in issues of race, culture and nationality. But in his work the theme finds its expression in irony, in a passion which mocks both itself and its object….It matters not at all that there were Irish novelists before Joyce, for their work was entirely useless to him. They had established no conventions by which the actualities of Irish life could be represented. (Toibin 10) When we speak about the Irish novel, it is important to mention the novelists before Joyce too. One of these novelists is George Moore, his best novels Esther Waters (1894) is set in 1

In Irish literary history there is the tradition of Gothic fiction. the concern with the nation’s past. also they stand in relation to the stories in Joyce’s Dubliners written in the same decade.England. the setting being Ireland (from Joyce). Compared to these writers. Yeats and some elements also appear in the work of Elizabeth Bowen. much of it described Ireland’s history and landscape and people as peculiar. writers face the same problems as sociologists. and then developing it by trying to discuss the problems. form and language. streets. the awareness of buried.the appeal of the Big House theme lay partly in the fact that the lively expectation of the young tended to be devoured by the guilt and errors of their elders. mainly on the bloodiness of it. had set their novels in England. unfinished business yet awaiting definitive settlement…. This phenomenon includes Maturin. Moore and Joyce were concerned with the same ideas: how to find a formal structure and a tone in language which would not only reflect the Irish heritage-the mixture of poor realities and grand dreams-but to become the Irish heritage. which can be placed between Carleton and Joyce. bursting into the living present. places. Jorge Louis Borges explored the Irish writers’ contribution to English literature. Most of the Irish fiction before Joyce was written for an English audience. as we discover in his work Dubliners. just as in social sciences we have these concepts. They are the first efforts to explore this hidden Ireland since William Carleton. but rather the centre of the world. Joyce’s sense of Irish society. It is full of local references. had the meaning that these problems will trouble the present’s course to future. Most of the talented writers such as Oliver Goldsmith and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Joep Leersen describes this as: “recurrence of the dead past. Joyce shifted the focus on Ireland in the sense that he handed Ireland back to Irish readers in his book. was more vivid than that of contemporaries like Moore.” Concentrating on Irish history. meaning that the researcher is a foreign person or he or she belongs to the researched community. Le Fanu. Joyce’s set almost all of his work in Ireland. He has an earlier novel A Drama in Muslin (1886) that is set in Ireland. (Toibin 15). He 2 . through the way he made Ireland the centre of the known world. Stoker. names of peoples.(Toibin 13) Joyce realized that he had to bring something new. When in Irish literature the focus began to be the country itself. Both writers. history. The importance of the Gothic tradition is that history is an unfinished business. George Moore. Writing about Ireland brings about the issue of “insider” and “outsider”. In Ulysses the city described is not the centre of paralysis. to develop a unique style.

offers a microscope so we can see how harsh and vicious the society is. Swift) were of English descent. He experienced both an Irish and a British identity. it is a condition of being involved with the Irish situation. There are stereotypical elements that appear in most of the novels. there are certain features that have made the Irish national being different from the English national being. by which the reader can tell that this is an Irish piece of writing. Another important feature is that nobody writes about happiness. it was enough the fact of feeling Irish. which became a major subject in the 20th century which appears in the works of Bowen. Corkery identifies three major aspects: the Religious Consciousness of the people. This dual identity existed among most of the writers (Swift. One of the major subjects is the burning down of houses or the sense of fire as the final part of the novels: Frances Sheridan Memoirs of miss Sidney Bidulph and The Vicar of Wakefield. There was fear and decay around the Big House. and it was possible for him to go from Britain to Ireland. it was enough “the fact of feeling Irish. Frances Sheridan. Patrick Mc Cabe’s The Butcher Boy. Even Mary Lavin’s story Happiness is about death. many of these Irish writers (Shaw. and usually being mauled by it. Elizabeth Bowen. These three aspects become important in Irish fiction. George Moore.” It is a matter of being involved with the Irish situation. William Trevor. or it can be also a question of class and race. Most of the British writers saw Ireland as outsiders. 3 . or how isolated the individual is (Joyce). In the 19th century Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. John Banville. Jennifer Johnston. The question is what makes Irish fiction Irish? There are certain themes and motives. Most of the writers who saw Ireland from the point of view of outsiders. When talking about identity. wrote about Irish society as being closed. Irish Nationalism and The Land. having in view the definition of it which states that a nation defines itself in opposition to another nation. Sterne. they had no Celtic blood nevertheless. an exception is Anthony Trollope whose view was that of a participant.stated that for Irish writers. Connor Cruise O’Brien tried to define Irishness: “It is not primarily a question of birth or blood or language. Goldsmith. Berkley. The motif of the dance appears as a degree of misery for the individual. William Trevor). The killing of woman by men is also and important theme: John Banville’s The Book of Evidence. to become innovators within English culture. it is enough just to feel different. Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September. different. In this case Ireland is seen as a state of mind. different”.

Patrick Mc Cabe. one of the stories in Dubliners. and it represents the problems of society. beginning with Joyce who deals with the themes in An Encounter. Mary Lavin. An important shift is that the individual becomes important. or novels which present a harmonious family or community. and loneliness becomes important too. rural life in the sense of harshness. terror and fear. Joseph O’Connor. Kate O’Brien was interested in Catholicism.Family and relations within family members. in many of her novels. Writing about the issues of land. specially fathers and sons becomes an essential theme too. Many writers in the 20th century engaged themselves to write about this class: Kate O’Brien. battle between love and fear. who set her work among Catholic Business 4 . all belong to what we can call the Irish tradition. Sebastian Barry’s The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty. Frank O’Connor’s Guests of the Nation. To all these representations Elizabeth Bowen added two other qualities. the unharmonious relations within families. There are no happy endings. and “ it shows a sublimated infantilism”. Other writers who choose this theme are: John Banville. this leads to the idea which we find in many places. The next phase is the emergence of a new accent that of dramatizing the life of the Irish middle classes. these are: “it is sexless”. this theme appears in the background. violation. For example Bernard Mac Laverty’s Life Drawing. death. The motif of dance as terror and the themes used in the novels: the burning of houses. Images of the Famine appear in Carleton’s The Black Prophet also in the works of Edna O’ Brien or John McGahern. Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark. between the peasantry and the country gentlemen. but it does not present family as being a harmonious entity but it is full of violence. killings. which make a novel Irish. John Broderick. where the prospect of ruin still haunts the people and religion governs their life and actions and also their relations. hatred. Emma Donoghue. that Irish fiction is full of dislocation and displacement. (Toibin 13). Homosexuality is a theme that attracted so many Irish writers. We have as an example Mary Lavin. In most of the novels treating this subject appears as the idea of survival in the Catholic Ireland. Political and social problems are presented through the destines of characters. Nationalism appears in Irish fiction from the argument about Parnell in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to the presentation of political violence in the works of Liam O’Flaherty. illness.

sexuality or race were subordinate. homosexuality. and recently the themes exploring sexuality. The Big House. deal with homosexuality. or abuse. The sexual revolution and the new feminism in England and in the United states eventually had an impact in Ireland. how do they tell their own story. North and South of the border. allowing for a process of exploration. gender.classes. religion and its implications. The new themes that emerged. They are still occupied with Irish themes but they assumed a more Eurocentric perspective. experiment and re-vision”. but she mainly focused on her characters. on the one hand based on differences and on the other it is a narrative. and what constitutes the Irish tradition we may say that the common subjects which most of the authors treat and are representative are: Ireland the country (as setting). initially finding expression in covert communities. rather than on Irish society. nationalism. on the human heart. land. organizations and activities. Interrupting the continuum of the past and the present involves reclaiming and revisioning rather than rejecting tradition. Nationalism can be seen as an idealized view of the past. A nation is a product of and dependent upon a historical narrative which reflects the voice of the dominant group. (Peach 11). history. It is an “interrogative space. poverty slowly yielded to modest prosperity. Insularity yielded to increasingly European perspectives. The Contemporary Irish novel has a strong sense of both continuity and disruption. family relations (violence). they look towards European and world literature to provide images and analogues and a broader outlook on those themes. which is marked by uncertainty. are part of the themes that contemporary Irish writers deal with. traditionally minded politicians were replaced by cautious reformers and modernizers. a postcolonial critic uses the phrase “in-between” space or “timelag” which means that those who have been previously marginalized or silenced enter before they find their new identities. how does a community represents itself. Homi Bhabha. As an answer to our questions what makes a piece of writing Irish. which for example. Identity is a construct. stemming from the legacy of the 5 . (Peach 20) It is an aspect of the novel in which writers explore the nature of nationhood and national identity. Nationalism. class distinction. represents memories. identity for the central protagonist is a matter of fantasy arising from their sense of dispossession. became a homogenizing discourse to which other subject identities based on class. In the 1960’s Ireland evolved into a modern nation. In contemporary novels.

The contemporary Irish novel confronts and contradicts the discourses defining Irishness. Themes appear like the “sense of Irish history as trauma”. nation. paralleled by a period of rapid social and cultural change in the Republic. From contemporary 6 . in search of some whole.Easter Rising in 1916 and the war of Independence (1919-1921). home. but which is now open to radical contestation. There is much uncertainty about how to respond to these disruptive socio-political narratives. but which may be possible in the future in a personal and intimate way. belonging. religion and spirituality. has deeply marked Ireland’s literary texts and compelled writers from all traditions not only to question inherited pieties. Jennifer Johnston tends to approach the contemporary “troubles” through the period just after the First World War. desire. There are traces of allegory embedded in the fabric of recent Irish fiction. a new frankness in sexual matters became acceptable. the private individual experience often becomes a metaphor of the public and national destiny. Intertextuality plays a particularly significant role within contemporary Irish writing. lost. exile. sexuality. In Amongst Women (1990) he signals the coming of age of Irish society and the eclipse of the old-fashioned patriarchy as the energies of the father. an IRA leader pass to his daughters. (Peach 17) In this sense the present may be seen as a disarming of the past rather than influenced by it. In John McGahern’s work the fate of the Irishman becomes the fate of all mankind: alone. Contemporary writers explore not just the past or present. but also the authority of art itself. unbroken place which may have existed in the past. Despite the conservative squeamishness. but they tend to present a view concerning to future too. much of which reflects the struggle by both individuals and collectives to come to terms with history which once appeared to offer a secure source of cultural definition. a “need to recreate a history in which an overwhelming event could not be fully assimilated at the time of its occurrence and which and which must therefore belatedly de compulsively repossessed”. For example Patrick Mc Cabe in his work the Dead School (1995) contrasts the radio with its conventional fare. which caused John McGahern to lose his job as a teacher after the publication of his second novel The Dark (1965) a disturbing account of the difficult coming of age of a motherless boy in a dysfunctional family. In the late 20th century novels characters are not defined in relation to themselves and their own bodies but to images generated by the consumer-oriented mass media society. 30 years of intercommunal violence in Northern Ireland.

Print Linden Peach. 2005.Irish writers I choose two writers: John McGahern and Jennifer Johnston and through their work I would like to look closer and explore the issue of Irishness. England. In: Linden Peach: The Contemporary Irish Novel. In: Linden Peach: The Contemporary Irish Novel. London. Secret Hauntings: Seamus Deane’s reading in the Dark (1996) Joseph O’Connor’s The Salesman (1998). Emma Donoghue’s Stir-fry (1994) and Kathleen Ferguson’s The Maid’s Tale (1994). Authority and Subversion: Brian Moore’s the Magician’s Wife (1997). The penguin Book of Irish Fiction. London. Print Mimicry. 38-68. London. 2001. Palgrave Macmillan. Works Cited Colm Toibin. Penguin Books. Jennifer Johnston’s Fool’s Sanctuary (1987). Emma Donoghue’s Slammerskin (2000) and John McGahern’s Amongst Women (1990). Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. 68-97. 2003. Mary Leland’s The Killeen (1985) and Linda Anderson’s To Stay Alive (1984). Print 7 . London. 97-126. Unspoken Desires: Jennifer Johnston’s Later Novels. In: Linden Peach: The Contemporary Irish Novel. Palgrave Macmillan. Print Linden Peach.