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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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Maire Doyle Exploring the Alternatives


Máire Doyle Exploring the Alternatives: The Orphan and the Family in John McGahern’s Fiction Despite the considerable attention that has been paid to family in the fiction of John McGahern, few of his families can be said to constitute a complete version of what has generally been considered a ‘traditional’ family.1 That these families have once been such only serves to illuminate the context in which McGahern’s families are rendered; Reegan, Mahoney and Moran are widowers and Patrick Moran’s father in The Leavetaking becomes one, while Reegan in The Barracks is twice-bereaved. From a socio-historical perspective it seems that the special place af forded to the family in Bunreacht na Éireann, with its particular emphasis on the impor- tance of the mother in the family home, is both challenged and scrutinised in McGahern’s work. His vivid rendering of the kinds of families that emerged from post-Independence Ireland earned him the reputation as the contemporary Irish novelist most adept at rendering the kind of petty abuse of power that a hierarchised patriarchal structure yielded. Reponses to dour and domineering father figures and poignant mothers have tended to obscure the fact that family is explored from a variety of perspectives. It should not be surprising then, given McGahern’s focus on the family, to find that at some point in his work he would undertake an exploration, or perhaps, more accurately, an ‘imagining’ of orphanhood. The particular focus in this essay is to interrogate McGahern’s strategy of casting his two central characters...

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