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Breaking the Mould

Literary Representations of Irish Catholicism


Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

Catholicism has played a central role in Irish society for centuries. It is sometimes perceived in a negative light, being associated with repression, antiquated morality and a warped view of sexuality. However, there are also the positive aspects that Catholicism brought to bear on Irish culture, such as the beauty of its rituals, education and health care, or concern for the poor and the underprivileged. Whatever their experience of Catholicism, writers of a certain generation could not escape its impact on their lives, an impact which is pervasive in the literature they produced.
This study, containing twelve chapters written by a range of distinguished literary experts and emerging scholars, explores in a systematic manner the cross-fertilisation between Catholicism and Irish/Irish-American literature written in English. The figures addressed in the book include James Joyce, Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, Kate O’Brien, Edwin O’Connor, Brian Moore, John McGahern, Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Vincent Carroll and Brian Friel. This book will serve to underline the complex relationship between creative writers and the once all-powerful religious Establishment.


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JAMES SILAS ROGERS Edwin O’Connor’s Language of Grace 105


James Silas Rogers Edwin O’Connor’s Language of Grace In recent years, the Irish-American novelist Edwin O’Connor (1918–1968) – often dismissed as little more than a local colourist of the Boston Irish, and still best remembered for the quirk of having coined the phrase ‘last hurrah’ – has enjoyed at least a modest rediscovery.1 In 2003, the Catholic University of America Press released Charles Duf fy’s exemplary critical biography of O’Connor, A Family of His Own.2 In 2006 the distinguished critic and essayist Ralph McInerny included O’Connor in his essay col- lection Some Catholic Writers, which followed on the 2005 Loyola Press reissue, in its Christian Classic series, of what is easily O’Connor’s best book, The Edge of Sadness (1961); the reprint is glowingly introduced by the contemporary Catholic novelist Ron Hansen.3 O’Connor was blessed with both a talent for mockery and a f lawless ear for bombastic language. These authorial gifts secured his popularity, but also obscured his more serious intents; like many another Irish writer, he seems consigned to a sort of presumed jocularity, rendering invisible his deeper purposes, and – in the case of The Edge of Sadness – his theo- logical concerns. O’Connor publicly asserted that there was no such thing as a Catholic novel, insisting that ‘There are Catholics who write novels – that is all’.4 1 An earlier version of this essay appeared as ‘The Edge of Sadness: Grace, Duality, and Words of Blessing’ in U.S. Catholic Historian, 23:3 (2005), pp. 57–70. 2 Charles Duf fy, A...

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