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Irish Autobiography

Stories of Self in the Narrative of a Nation


Claire Lynch

Ireland has passed through numerous identity crises in the last century, keeping the meaning of Irishness in constant flux. This book explores how diverse writers have positioned their life stories within the wider narrative of the nation’s development. Examining the wealth of autobiographical texts written by Irish writers in the twentieth century, including W.B. Yeats, Tomás O’Crohan, Frank O’Connor, Brendan Behan, Frank McCourt and Nuala O’Faolain, the study highlights the plurality of Irish identity and the main characteristics which typify the genre of Irish autobiography.
In charting the social and cultural history of Ireland through the first-hand accounts of the country’s most celebrated writers, the author also identifies important overlaps between fiction and memory, finds intersections with folklore and the short story, and draws out relationships within and between texts. The book repositions the important and often overlooked genre of Irish autobiography by highlighting its importance within both Irish Studies and the field of Autobiography and by opening up the ways in which lives can be written and read.


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Introduction The ‘Other Force’: Irish Autobiography in Context 1


Introduction The ‘Other Force’: Irish Autobiography in Context In the third volume of the Field Day Anthology Seamus Deane testifies to the importance of Irish autobiography when he considers those who seek through ‘personal experience, self-examination, reconsideration of historical events and circumstances, to identify the other force, the hos- tile or liberating energy which made the self come into consciousness’.1 In spite of various religious, class and gender differences, Deane argues that the writers he anthologises are inextricably connected in their auto- biographical purpose. When defined in general terms as ‘life-writing’ by and about Irish people in which Ireland and ‘Irishness’ are central themes, Irish autobiography boasts an extensive history. Autobiography, however, is never straightforward; infamous for matching complex theoretical definitions with advanced escapology. Whilst it is clearly a significant area of Irish writing, overlapping many topics which preoccupy scholars of Irish literature such as ideas of national and individual identity, it has rarely been considered adequately in critical writing. Irish autobiography is often neglected in this way precisely because it is too prevalent to be comfortably examined. It literally does not fit into most studies of Irish literature both in terms of size, but also, more significantly, due to its unique shape. This book is an attempt to eliminate some of the obstacles which have prevented a sustained critical response to Irish autobiography in proportion to its quality and quantity. Autobiography is arguably the most underhand of all literary genres, consistently avoiding the defini- tions fashioned for it and...

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