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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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Yvonne O’Keeffe Home Is Where the Heart Is


: (De)constructing Family Ties in the Emigrant Novels of Mary Anne Madden Sadlier It is clear from the writings of nineteenth-century Irish author Mary Anne Madden Sadlier that she holds the family in high esteem and views its role in society as imperative. Her novels set in Ireland epitomise quintessential rural family life, while her emigrant novels, which mainly detail life in North America, present the ideal Irish family in a romanticised light whilst employing sentimental clichés in order to reinforce her portrayal. Various discourses inform and shape the ideology surrounding the family, and within an Irish context, religion and nationalism are vital to the propagation of the family unit. For Sadlier, Irish family values are irrevocably entwined with Catholicism, and their implications within the family unit are central. Indeed, Stephen Brown notes in his entry on Sadlier in Ireland in Fiction that she considered the ‘grand object’ of her writings to be ‘the illustration of our holy Faith’.1 In her novels, Sadlier presents Catholicism as being representative of ‘home’ culture; whereas, Protestantism is presented as a ‘foreign’ concept which is something to be avoided and discouraged. As a writer, she sees it as her duty to protect Catholicism (and thereby, home) from the threat of foreign invasion, and her literary works reinforce these beliefs. Sadlier also links the honour of the family to patriotism, thus con- structing the family as a framework for a particular Irish identity. This type of thinking portrayed the family as a privileged construct...

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