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Demons, Hamlets and Femmes Fatales

Representations of Irish Republicanism in Popular Fiction

Jayne Steel

The book provides a lively discussion of the ways in which popular fiction appropriates the figure of the Provisional IRA activist and the political conflict within the north of Ireland. It looks at how authors’ recreations, or transformations, of Irish republicanism might reveal self-referentional images that are, ultimately, a product of national identity and/or gender identity. An important focus of the book interrogates British fascination and fixation with the Provisional IRA and its ‘terrors’.
The many novels discussed in this study include Gerald Seymour Harry’s Game; Campbell Armstrong Jig; Bernard MacLaverty Cal; Mary Costello Titanic Town; Jennifer Johnston Shadows on our Skin; Deidre Madden One by One through the Darkness.


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The unconscious [...] is a site of ambivalence: if Ireland is raw, turbulent, destructive, it is also the locus of play, pleasure, fantasy, a blessed release from the tyranny of the English reality principle. Ireland is the biological time-bomb which can be heard ticking softly away beneath the civilized superstructures of Pall Mall clubs.1 Terry Eagleton’s suggestion that, at an unconscious level, Ireland supplies ambivalence in terms of ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’ is entirely pertinent to the metonymic representations of the PIRA and the Troubles created by British and Irish, male and female writers. Granted, and as I have acknowledged throughout, these represent- ations are summoned in different ways and for different reasons depending upon the gender and national identity of the writer. Nevertheless, the high frequency of recurring themes and images identified in fiction, film and the media does supply strong evidence for the argument that the ‘traumatic’ Troubles had a profound and reciprocal impact upon the British and Irish, male and female psyche. An important feature of this book has been the revealing of how representations of the PIRA and the Troubles bear the traces of, to quote Eagleton, an Irish ‘time-bomb’ of fear and fantasy that is always threatening to explode in the face of British pragmatism, human subjectivity and common sense. Repeating ‘the later sixteenth century, when Edmund Spenser walked the plantations of Munster’, images of the PIRA often provide ‘the perfect foil to set off [...] virtues [such as] controlled, refined and rooted [against] hot-headed, rude and no-...

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