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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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Julie Bates Beckett’s Maternal Miscellany


Beckett’s imagination of the family surfaces metonymically in a set of obsessively recurring objects that draw upon the wardrobes, possessions and personalities of his own parents. Many male characters are dressed in the shabby greatcoat worn by Beckett’s father, and he also clears a space in his writing for certain objects indelibly associated with his mother. Close study of these maternal objects undermines the prevailing critical presumption of two distinct phases in Beckett’s representation of women: the caustic misogyny of his early and mid-period fiction supplanted by a project of staging the female in a way that challenges the traditionally pos- ited male gaze and suggests that such an evaluation of the place of mothers in Beckett’s work is inadequate.1 Beckett’s singular maternal portraits are organised around the hats, beds and rocking chairs based on those of his own mother. Wide-brimmed hats of bizarre and often elaborate design shield the eyes and convey the strident and mysterious personality of his maternal characters. Such hats suggest an eccentric, remote figure, whose indomitable and oppressive spirit is inscribed in enclosing spaces and strange objects: the privileged sites of her bed and rocking chair embrace the entire body. The comple- mentary objects of beds and rocking chairs eloquently express Beckett’s complicated representation of motherhood. If maternal life-giving power is 1 See, for example: Steven Connor, Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory and Text (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), especially pp. 199–202; Chris Ackerley, ‘Lassata Sed: Samuel Beckett’s Portraits of his Fair to Middling Women’, Samuel Beckett...

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