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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century

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Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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21 ‘What Would I Say, if I Had a Voice?’: The Irish Novel and the Articulation of Modernity1

Extract

DEREK HAND

A cursory survey of the theories and definitions of the novel suggests that there is little agreement as to what precisely the novel is. In ‘An Unread Book’, Randall Jarrell offers the opinion that ‘a novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it’.2 This provocatively playful remark perfectly encapsulates something fundamental about the novel form, that rather than being fixed and stable, it is perhaps awash with inherent contradictions. As Terry Eagleton argues, ‘the novel is a genre which resists exact definition’,3 suggesting that if it cannot be reduced to merely one thing, then the novel is many things and many things simultaneously. Moreover, this sense of plurality is reflected and accentuated when Franco Moretti declares: ‘Countless are the novels of the world’.4 In doing so, Moretti points to the sheer number of novels that have existed in modern times and his critical method of ‘distant reading’ is an effort to make sense of that volume, discerning trends and contours that might illuminate the form, its themes and concerns, at any given historical moment. Nevertheless, even as he heralds the ←331 | 332→loss of interest in the quirks of any one particular novel, he also signals that there are as many novels as there are readers of the novel. In other words, despite the desire to come to some collective and shared understanding of the form, the foibles of the individual reader will always have her ideas as to...

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