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Sons of Ulster

Masculinities in the Contemporary Northern Irish Novel


Caroline Magennis

Both masculinity and the Northern Irish conflict have been the subjects of a great deal of recent scholarship, yet there is a dearth of material on Northern Irish masculinity. Northern Ireland has a remarkable literary output relative to its population, but the focus of critical attention has been on poetry rather than the fine novels that have been written in and about Ulster. This book goes some way towards remedying the deficiency in critical attention to the Northern Irish novel and the lack of gendered approaches to Northern Irish literature and society.
Sons of Ulster explores the representation of masculinity within a number of Northern Irish novels written since the mid-1990s, focusing on works by Eoin McNamee, Glenn Patterson and Robert McLiam Wilson. One of the key aims of the book is to disrupt notions of a hegemonic Northern Irish masculinity based on violent conflict and hyper-masculine sectarian rhetoric. The author uses the three sections of the text to represent the three key facets of Northern Irish masculinity: bodies, performances and subjectivity bound up with violence.


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4. The Sins of the Father: Patriarchy, Masculinity and Fatherhood 92


92 Chapter Two with sexualised meaning, and how sectarian conflict stems the fluidity of a gendered subjectivity. Both novels, with their rejection of the violent and embracing of the erotic, offer new potential for Northern Irish masculine identity. They point to the ways in which the queer landscape of Belfast is changing, and one can only hope Northern Irish fiction can represent these changes. 4. The Sins of the Father: Patriarchy, Masculinity and Fatherhood This section will consider the fictional representation of Northern Irish men’s relationships with their own fathers13 and their attempts to be fathers. There is a relative absence of strong traditional family units in Northern Irish fiction. In McNamee’s fiction the family is either a hotbed of oedi- pal tension and frustrated regret (Resurrection Man), a site of conspiracy and possible filicide (The Blue Tango) or a unit consisting of an alcoholic mother, paranoid delusional father and suicidal anorexic daughter (The Ultras). As noted in the first section of Chapter One, on the maternal, Patterson’s fiction presents an alternative view of home and family life; in his later fiction he begins to consider issues of fatherhood, and how this role affects men’s sense of themselves. As Patterson notes in Lapsed Protestant, ‘I have, in my fiction, returned to this question repeatedly. It has occurred to me recently that I have written a lot about my father’ (LP 35). In Wilson’s novels, his child-men both shirk the responsibilities that are foisted upon them and yearn for fatherhood. Academic...

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