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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novels is comprehensively addressed here, as are his non-fiction works, reviews, plays, short stories, and some as-yet-unpublished work.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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Chapter 1 ‘Like Being in Another Country’: Doubled Narratives of Nation and Self in The South 35


Chapter 1 ‘Like Being in Another Country’: Doubled Narratives of Nation and Self in The South ‘[T]he resolute young woman… did not pause to review herself as a con- tinuous life, or to ask if the present is not inevitably the delicate vessel of the past.’ — Kate O’Brien, The Land of Spices1 Colm Tóibín’s 1990 novel, The South, marked his emergence onto the Irish literary scene as a fiction writer after having already established his reputation as an author through journalism and non-fiction. While readers familiar with Tóibín’s prior work might have anticipated political content in his debut novel – owing not least to the title’s apparent evocation of the Republic of Ireland – The South does not simplistically deliver: while the Irish context and past haunt much of the narrative through memory and f lashback, they do not serve as its daily, lived contexts, and much of the text is set in Barcelona and its vicinity.2 The relationship between Spain and Ireland also becomes increasingly complex as the narrative proceeds. Spain is clearly not intended to serve as a simple metaphorical substitution for, or even a foil to, Ireland in this novel. Tóibín has repeatedly cited the desire of main character Katherine Proctor to be ‘through with history’ and her sense that she can ‘escape’ from it.3 Yet, in The South, Spain forces a negotiation with Katherine’s past 1 O’Brien, Kate, The Land of Spices (New York: Virago, 1988), 20. 2 For Tóib...

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