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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novels is comprehensively addressed here, as are his non-fiction works, reviews, plays, short stories, and some as-yet-unpublished work.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 2Politics and the Lost Mother(s) in The Heather Blazing 65


Chapter 2 Politics and the Lost Mother(s) in The Heather Blazing1 Tóibín’s haunting 1992 novel The Heather Blazing marks a return nar- ratively to Ireland, as it traces the dawning reconciliation of conservative Fianna Fáil judge Eamon Redmond to the increasingly liberal politics of contemporary Irish society. Like The South, this novel explores the inter- connections between the personal and the political and the importance of an inclusive view of history through the experiences of the text’s main character. Here, however, Tóibín employs an exclusively Irish setting and, because Eamon doubles allegorically for the Irish state, crafts what is ef fec- tively both a personal and political Bildungsroman. Most critics recognize Eamon’s metaphorical embodiment of the nation-state in The Heather Blazing but understate the role of the lost mother in this narrative of personal and national maturation, even though there is a continuous engagement with the mother-son relationship in the novel. This focus fits a larger pattern in his work: Tóibín’s short story col- lection, Mothers and Sons, privileges the relationships referenced in the title, and his 2008 essay on Irish prosperity also returns repeatedly to the idea of the mother as ‘entirely absent’ or ‘missing.’2 John McCourt and Anne Fogarty both identify Tóibín’s ‘haunting meditation on motherhood’ as part of his oeuvre and acknowledge that ‘the space of the maternal and the voided, haunted place of the mother function as central imaginary 1 An earlier version of this chapter,...

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