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New Voices, Inherited Lines

Literary and Cultural Representations of the Irish Family


Edited By Yvonne O'Keeffe and Claudia Reese

Irish writers have always been fascinated by the family, sometimes depicting it as a traditional space under threat from external influences, sometimes highlighting the dangers lurking within. More recently, families have been represented as a type of safe haven from a bewildering postmodern world. At the heart of these constructions are questions of power and agency, as well as issues of class, gender, ethnicities and sexualities.
This collection of essays explores literary and cultural representations of the Irish family, questioning the validity of traditional familial structures as well as exploring newer versions of the Irish family emerging in more recent cultural representations. In addition to redefinitions of the nuclear family, the book also considers aspects of family constructions in Irish nationalist discourse, such as the symbolic use of the family and the interaction and conflict between private and public roles. The works and authors discussed range from Famine fiction, Samuel Beckett, Mary Lavin and John McGahern to Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín and Hugo Hamilton.


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Christopher Cusack and Lindsay Janssen Death in the Family


: Reimagining the Irish Family in Famine Fiction, 1871–1912 The failure of the potato, and consequent famine, is one of those events which come now and then to do the work of ages in a day, and change the very nature of an entire nation at once. It has even already produced a deeper social disorganisation than did the French revolution – greater waste of life – wider loss of property – more than the horrors, with none of the hopes. […] It has unsettled society to the foundation; deranged every interest, every class, every household.1 Writing in 1847, the Young Irelander James Fintan Lalor commented on the ways in which the Great Famine (1845–1851) had upset the structure of Irish society. During the Famine, one million died of starvation and dis- ease and another million emigrated,2 due to consecutive crop failures and a constellation of adverse political and social forces.3 As such, it is widely considered the formative trauma at the heart of modern Irish history.4 Its ef fects were far-reaching: among other things, it upset the order of Irish agricultural society. The lowest layers of society – agricultural labourers, 1 James Fintan Lalor, ‘A New Nation: Proposal for an Agricultural Association between the Landowners and Occupiers’, in L. Fogarty, ed., James Fintan Lalor: Patriot & Political Essayist (1807–1849) (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1918), 8–9. 2 David Lloyd, Irish Culture and Colonial Modernity, 1800–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 19. 3 For a powerful recent analysis of how the Famine came...

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