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Politics of the Personal in the Fiction of Colm Tóibín


Kathleen Costello-Sullivan

This original and engaging study explores the way in which Colm Tóibín repeatedly identifies and disrupts the boundaries between personal and political or social histories in his fiction. Through this collapsing of boundaries, he examines the cost of broader political exclusions and considers how personal and political narratives shape individual subjects.
Each of Tóibín’s novels is comprehensively addressed here, as are his non-fiction works, reviews, plays, short stories, and some as-yet-unpublished work. The book situates Tóibín not only within his contemporary literary milieu, but also within the contexts of the Irish literary tradition, contemporary Irish politics, Irish nationalism, and theories of psychology, gender, nationalism, and postcolonialism.


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Introduction Mother/Country: The Politics of the Personal in the Fiction of Colm Tóibín 1


Introduction Mother/Country: The Politics of the Personal in the Fiction of Colm Tóibín In a Spring 2009 interview, Colm Tóibín addressed the query whether his use of mothers in The South engages ‘the issue of fiction and politics’ by moving ‘from family conf lict to bloodshed in wars.’ Tóibín replied, ‘The question is, Does this move into the realm of larger political matters? And the answer is No.’1 This direct response invites a consideration of the relationship between the personal and the political elements of that narrative. ‘The South’ is an admitted dual reference to Spain and the Republic of Ireland,2 and R.F. Foster notes that the ‘title suggests that Ireland may be, in fact, the “insistent protagonist” of the novel itself.’3 Tóibín has elsewhere acknowl- edged what many intuit, that ‘[t]he Irish novel is intensely related to the [Irish] body politic’4 – an assertion that corroborates Foster’s perception of Tóibín’s canon overall: ‘He has… made a habit of referring to the link- ages between history and fiction in Ireland, and the way that historical memory interpenetrates the development of fiction.’5 Finally, this sense of the interconnectedness of fiction and history applies more generally to the socio-political valences of the novel form itself: ‘[a]s a literary form, 1 Wiesenfarth, Joseph, ‘An Interview with Colm Tóibín,’ Contemporary Literature 50/1 (Spring 2009), 1–27. 10. 2 Nielsen, Jacob Urup, ‘An interview with Colm Tóibín,’...

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