New Critical Perspectives on Franco-Irish Relations

by Anne Goarzin (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection VII, 273 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 68


This collection of critical essays proposes new and original readings of the relationship between French and Irish literature and culture. It seeks to re-evaluate, deconstruct and question artistic productions and cultural phenomena while pointing to the potential for comparative analysis between the two countries. The volume covers the French wine tradition, the Irish rebellion and the weight of religious and cultural tradition in both countries, seeking to examine these familiar topics from unconventional perspectives. Some contributors offer readings of established figures in Irish and French literature, from Flann O’Brien to Albert Camus; others highlight writers who have been left outside the critical frame, including Sydney Owenson, Jean Giono and Katherine Cecil Thurston. Finally, the volume explores areas such as sport, education, justice and alternative religious practices, generating unexpected and thought-provoking cultural connections between France and Ireland.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I Not Quite What It Seems: Challenging the Critical Doxa in French and Irish Literature
  • A Voice from the Margins: Albert Camus at 100
  • Jean Giono: ‘The Peasant-Anarchist’
  • The Novice in the City: Sydney Owenson and the Bildung of Metropolitan Economics
  • The Challenges of Katherine Cecil Thurston’s Max (1910)
  • ‘Being the Not Wife’: Representations of Second Wives and Stepmothers in the Fiction of John McGahern and Anne Enright
  • Reframing a Portrait: Flann O’Brien’s Interrogation of the Artist in ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’
  • Acts of Justice in Ireland: Social Utopia and Natural Law in a Deconstructive Staging of Tennyson’s The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian
  • Challenging the Virilian Doxa: Of Flow, Speed and Trajectory in Allan Gillis’s Poetry
  • Part II More than Meets the Eye: Questioning Orthodoxies and Defining New Perimeters for Cultural Studies in France and Ireland
  • The Photographic Framing and Un-Framing of Inhabited Landscapes in Ireland
  • Thinking Beyond the Bottle: Traditional French Wine versus New Media
  • Football and Identity: The Irish in Scotland and the Algerians in France
  • From Politics to Deviance: The Gender of Violence at the Height of The Troubles
  • Whitefriar Street Church: An Institutional Perimeter for an Unframed, Polymorphic Religious Practice
  • Teacher Education in France and Ireland: Traditional and Contemporary Representations
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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This collection of critical essays is marked by the contributors’ drive to challenge what may be considered as the commonly accepted critical doxa; and to address and revive lesser-known works by French and Irish authors. The chapters evince a continuing search for new angles, and display a desire to expand the literary as well as the critical field by thinking outside the box. In the first section, each contributor makes a point of confronting the critical beliefs, either by questioning the iconic position of major figures of French or Irish literature, from Camus to Giono, and from Flann O’Brien to McGahern, or by seeking to rehabilitate works that have long been overlooked, and finally by pinpointing undeserved neglect of important literary transitions.

Eamon Maher’s examination of two of Albert Camus’s best-known novels, L’Étranger (1942) and La Peste (1947), prompts a renewed critique of these works by drawing on Conor Cruise O’Brien’s controversial 1970 study, and supplies a reassessment of Camus’s position in relation to Algeria. In the wake of the centenary of Camus’s birth in Mondovi, Algeria, in 2013, Maher’s reading thus proposes a different critical frame or lens through which to reassess the myriad problems that his dual identity, French and Algerian, posed for this iconic literary figure. Gerard Connolly’s approach treads close to Maher’s as he suggests a similar need for the revaluation of French novelist Jean Giono’s politics. Connolly reflects on the ethical implications of Giono’s anarcho-pacifism and notes that his unflinching refusal to engage with the Second World War, was, from his point of view, symptomatic of his loathing and rejection of an entire political world. Connolly boldly parallels Giono and Céline’s visions, and goes as far as calling them ‘cosmic twins’ against all the odds. While these key figures of French literature call for renewed readings, Matthew L. Reznicek’s in-depth analysis of Sydney Owenson’s The Novice of Saint ← 1 | 2 → Dominick (1806) constitutes an equally important move towards the margins of the literary canon, in order to reconsider what lies outside its frame. His contribution stresses the importance of Owenson’s often less well-known work as a point of contact between the metropolitan and financial fictions of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Honoré de Balzac. By thus locating its literary trajectory, Reznicek shows how the novel exemplifies Franco Moretti’s plea that criticism should broaden the literary field. By showing the critical interplay between the Bildungsroman and capitalism as experienced in the metropolis, Reznicek argues that, through its representation of the young female protagonist’s individual development, The Novice demonstrates the ambivalent relationship that exists between women and the commodity economy, by underlining capitalism as a conservative socializing system. Similarly, Mary Pierse’s reading of a lesser-studied novel such as Katherine Cecil Thurston’s 1910 Max subtly works towards questioning representations of the French and the Irish. The novel interweaves Franco-Irish connections into a rather romantic tale that quite cleverly targets prevailing orthodoxy and prejudice. While the book is often identified as a New Woman novel, Pierse shows that its focus is wider than that, and that in somewhat surprising ways, it furnishes a staunch defence of stalwart natives of both countries and undermines the stereotypes promulgated in English press and print. Michelle Kennedy’s chapter further explores a rather new depiction of women in literature in a more contemporary context, as her concern is with John McGahern and Anne Enright’s treatment of secondary relationships. Through application of the theories of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan, Kennedy studies the position of second wives and their struggles to be partners within the family dynamic.

Edward Alan Schaefer, for his part, intentionally chooses an original angle in order to argue for the critical relevance of Flann O’Brien’s vast body of journalistic work, wherein lies an expansive appraisal of the artist’s role in a post-James Joyce Ireland. Schaefer examines O’Brien’s interrogation of the artist in ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, the column he wrote for The Irish Times. While writers such as Joyce and Graham Greene championed At-Swim-Two Birds, he notes that O’Brien’s latter four novels were largely ignored during his lifetime – yet O’Brien’s newspaper column, published ← 2 | 3 → under the name of Myles na Gopaleen, attracted a large readership for over twenty years. As Schaefer demonstrates, in addition to prodding and parodying popular interests and politics in the column, O’Brien assesses and reassembles the role and identity of the artist in a quickly shifting Irish cultural and artistic landscape.

More contemporary works or artistic endeavours are also covered in the first section of the book, whether showing how the reception of classic works such as Tennyson’s may be received and understood in the context of the Irish economic recession that began in 2008, or how they may have given rise to a renewal of the literary form to take into account some global and contemporary issues. Strikingly, Eva Urban’s chapter ventures beyond conventional frames of theatre and theory by exploring the complex relationship of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s 1892 play The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian with history, and, more specifically, with the Robin Hood legend. She theorizes a deconstructive performance adaptation of this text in Ireland, one that related the play’s themes to the Irish economic crisis and suggested how a revival of modern utopian philosophy might open up positive solutions for Irish society. She shows how the frontier between literature and philosophy that Derrida seeks to displace in the process of writing, was actually dismantled in the process of writing the performance text and she points to new critical perspectives for reading and performing drama in the specific context of the Irish recession in the noughties. Anne Goarzin’s contribution also argues for the necessity to deconstruct prevailing discourses. Central to her approach is the juxtaposition of a contemporary rejection of the ills of speed, and of the cultural velocity provided by social networks and communications which Paul Virilio defines as ‘dromology, or the logic and effects of speed’. She argues that while Alan Gillis’s poetry acknowledges the contemporary aspiration to instantaneous and speedy communication, it also stresses the power of the slow craft of poetry and of the printed word, as an object requiring attention and time and which enables the reader to be reconciled with the contemporary sense of a racing and all-out immediacy.

The second section, which deals with questioning orthodoxies and defining ‘new perimeters’ for cultural studies in France and Ireland, contains essays from a broad range of disciplines. Pierre-Jérôme Jéhel and Corinne ← 3 | 4 → Feïss-Jéhel, a photographer and a geographer, choose to conjugate their reading of a contemporary series of photographs by Jéhel. They argue that while the visitor to Ireland is bound to encounter the expected clichés and usual visual frames, and the traveller counts on encountering these promised images, yet on the journey in Ireland, the unconsciously sought-after, so-called ‘Irish landscapes’ fail to materialize. Through a reflection on the creative process of photography, the authors link stereotypical representations of Ireland with a selection of photographs taken over the last fifteen years. Among several diptychs, they illustrate parallelisms that serve as an ‘un-framing’ of such formulaic representations. While the relationship to an unspoilt landscape has long been conceived of as one of the tenets of ‘Irishness’, Brian Murphy’s chapter seeks to focus on the ‘Frenchness’ of wine culture, and suggests viewing ‘place’ through a new lens. He notes that while the notion of ‘place’ has always been at the heart of French gastronomic culture and that of all food and beverage products, it is French wine that offers the most defined gastronomic association with a particular place. Since the 1930s, such associations have been validated and regulated by government bodies such as the INAO (Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité). The dominant orthodoxy in French wine culture suggests that to experience how ‘place’ relates to a wine necessitates a physical visit. However, Murphy shows that such orthodoxy is challenged by concepts such as McGovern’s ‘tourism without travel’ concept and suggestions that the unique nature of the wine product allows it to act as a ‘cultural envoy’ in places outside French borders. His chapter explores how a ‘place’ experience can be viewed through a different, more technological lens. It asks the question whether technology can be used to enhance the story of ‘place’ to such a degree that it can be experienced by the wine drinker without the necessity for travel. The question of linkage between place and nation is also raised by Frank Healy’s examination of the collective identity of members of the Irish diaspora as expressed through a football-related Internet blog. Sport in general, and football in particular, have long been the subject of studies into political and cultural identities. Healy explains that when Celtic FC was founded in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland, the name ‘Celtic’ was chosen to reflect the desire for a sense of community between the Irish immigrants and the Scots, although the club and its supporters continue to cherish ← 4 | 5 → their Irish roots as an integral part of their collective identity. Today, use of the Internet in general and social networks in particular tends to reshape time-space relationships and may be serving to redefine a sense of identity. Healy presents an ‘outside the frame’ analysis of a football blog, Celtic Quick News, where Celtic fans, apart from discussing football, engage in wide-ranging debates, often touching on their collective identity, and challenging the representations of what it means to be of Irish extraction. This was particularly true in modern Scotland as it prepared for a referendum on its independence from the UK in 2014, which was defeated narrowly. However, beyond the rather dominantly ‘male’ worlds of wine and sport, the question of the social place of women beckons for increased critical attention. Marion Sarrouy’s analysis of women’s participation in political movements that were characterized partly by their violent actions raises fundamental questions pertaining to the field of gender studies and of social sciences more generally. She shows that the sexual division of labour and social spaces, as well as the stereotypical binary characteristics attributed to the masculine and the feminine, are challenged by women taking an active part in political and military work and endorsing violent actions. Sarrouy effectively uses excerpts from reports in two newspapers – about two violent attacks in which Republican women were involved in 1974 – in order to question the dialectics of visibility and invisibility and to address issues of power and agency, domination and the sex/gender dichotomy.

The last two chapters of the collection offer unexpected insights into changing religious practices in Ireland and a comparative study of changing patterns in education both in France and Ireland. Déborah Vandewoude’s examination of evolving attitudes to religion centres on the process of de-institutionalization and privatization of faith with which the Irish Catholic Church has been faced since the 1990s. Traditionally attributed to secularization, and accelerated by highly mediatized clerical abuse scandals, the general disaffection with sacramental practices has led to the development of an à la carte Catholicism in which manifestations of popular piety foster a personal and social experience of the Sacred. She reflects on the ways in which this folk Catholicism may also lead to superstitious beliefs and behaviours which depart from official institutional precepts. Vandewoude explains how the changes in contemporary Irish Catholicism, and the ← 5 | 6 → dynamics of renewal based on popular piety, have been accompanied by the evolving position of the Vatican, as it absorbs the enthusiasm fuelled by traditional religiosity. Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin is an interesting case in point, as it allows and even promotes the expression of a postmodern Catholicism within its institutional perimeter.

Central to this book’s questioning is the way in which knowledge, critical and academic, is passed on to others. Imelda Elliott’s chapter thus makes for an apt conclusion to the volume. She shows that teaching has also been at the centre of debates in recent years both in France and Ireland. In Ireland, key elements in the traditional identity of teacher training at primary level are the role of the Irish language and the Catholic Church. At post-primary level, trainee teachers generally study subjects such as philosophy, history, psychology and sociology of education, and theories of teaching and learning, as well as doing teaching practice. In France, traditionally there was a sharp division between the training of primary and secondary school teachers. Primary school teachers in France were trained to be public educators, whereas secondary school teachers were expected to have in-depth of knowledge of their discipline. In both France and Ireland, reforms in teacher training are afoot. Elliott reflects on what the debates about these reforms reveal about current representations of teaching in both countries. Moreover, she questions the extent to which teacher training in both countries presents different representations of the profession, and whether it is possible to think outside the frame in teacher training in Ireland and France.

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Not Quite What It Seems: Challenging the Critical Doxa in French and Irish Literature

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VII, 273
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (September)
irish rebellion french wine albert camus catholic culture flann o'brian
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VII, 273 pp., 6 coloured ill., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Anne Goarzin (Volume editor)

Anne Goarzin lectures in Irish literature and culture at the University of Rennes 2, France. She is the author of Reflets d’Irlande, John McGahern (2002) and has written numerous articles on contemporary Irish poetry and the visual arts in Ireland. She is Director of the Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique (CRBC-Rennes 2) and was co-editor of the journal Études Irlandaises from 2008 to 2014. She now chairs SOFEIR (The French Society for Irish Studies).


Title: New Critical Perspectives on Franco-Irish Relations
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290 pages