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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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Chapter Three - Violence 109


Chapter Three Violence 1. ‘Our thoughts and deeds turn to violence’: Problematising Male Violence in the Northern Irish Novel The violence had started to produce its own official literature. Mainly hardbacks, with the emphasis on the visual. — RM 92 As in many of the novels under consideration, violence has reared its head in this book, often colouring the text, but lacking substantial exposition. This chapter will concentrate on how violent acts are represented, and how these acts are reconciled with Northern Irish men’s understanding of their own masculinity. What use is literature, and the novel in particular, in our further understanding of the nuances of violence? Marilyn C. Wesley in Violent Adventure (2003) notes the ‘primary insistence on the infliction of harm that marks the difference between actual violence, which is essentially destructive, and textual violence, which represents rather than directly inflicts violence’ (165). She also comments on the manner by which violence can act as a narrative catalyst: ‘Narrative, like drama, is not real action but an imitation of an action, organized by Aristotle’s specification of com- pleteness – having a beginning, a middle, and an end – and violent incident plays a prominent role in all of these definitive stages’ (173). Through the narrative arc of fiction, then, we can discover a great deal about the nature of violence, the experience of being a victim of violence and the factors with come to bear on a violent act. 110 Chapter Three Violence has been a key feature of the social...

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