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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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Epilogue 181


Epilogue This book began with the intention of redressing some of the critical neglect endured by Irish autobiography. This was achieved in part by demonstrating that the work of leading theorists in both Irish Studies and Autobiographical Theory can be used to the power of two when applied in combination. Roy Foster’s work on Irish autobiographers extending from Yeats to McCourt, for example, and Declan Kiberd’s work on Synge and O’Connor, are enhanced when read alongside the insights of Leigh Gilmore or Liz Stanley. In addition, comparative studies were used to place the theoretical debates within a textual context, as well as to demonstrate the breadth and variety of Irish autobiography produced in the twentieth century. Whilst it was important to emphasize the continued evolution of the genre by presenting texts as distinct as the individuals who produced them, it was equally crucial to draw out the similarities which connect them, and, therein, the central characteristics of the genre. The comparison between Anglo-Irish and Blasket autobiographies, two groups at once both crucially distinct yet subtly interdependent, was established around the common theme of cultures on the verge of extinction at the cusp of Ireland’s independence. In their very different styles of writing and self-reflection, the authors examined were shown to leave a legacy of both style and content that would go on to influence the next generation of Irish autobiographers. By way of contrast to the clear group identities they demonstrated, the writers considered in Chapter Three were ostensibly concerned...

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