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New Voices, Inherited Lines

Literary and Cultural Representations of the Irish Family

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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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Hannelore Fasching ‘The new drama of being a mother about which so little has been written’

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: Maternal Subjectivity and the Mother Icon in Anne Enright’s Writing Speech is a selfish act, and mothers should probably remain silent.1 Irish cultural tradition has long venerated the mother, the angel of the house responsible for keeping the family together. Contemporary women writers, however, are articulating a perspective on motherhood hitherto occluded. Anne Enright’s fictional and non-fictional accounts of motherhood, on the one hand, react against standard social paradigms, including the subservient role of women in society, the privilege accorded to marriage, and mother- hood itself, and on the other hand, tend to recycle these paradigms that traditionally guaranteed social prestige and respect. This essay is based on the assumption that literature ref lects whether and how women are able to detach themselves from their former prescriptive role definition in their quest for identity. Anne Enright’s fiction portrays mothers in their struggle to define their own identity in a culture which has shaped not only their self-perception and understanding of womanhood and motherhood, but also the general attitude to motherhood in Irish society at large. I main- tain that art provides a space where Irish women process, build and put into perspective what traditionally was assigned them as a role. This paper approaches motherhood by examining how Anne Enright uses her ‘art to 1 Anne Enright, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (London: Vintage, 2004), 1. 184 Hannelore Fasching explore and develop various modes of maternal thinking’.2 The inter- pretations of her fictional representations of mothers are accompanied by ref lections...

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