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Fictions of the Irish Land War

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Edited By Heidi Hansson and James H. Murphy

The eruption of rural distress in Ireland and the foundation of the Land League in 1879 sparked a number of novels, stories and plays forming an immediate response to what became known as the Irish Land war. These works form a literary genre of their own and illuminate both the historical events themselves and the material conditions of reading and writing in late nineteenth-century Ireland. Divisions into ‘us’ and ‘them’ were convenient for political reasons, but the fiction of the period frequently modifies this alignment and draws attention to the complexity of the land problem.
This collection includes studies of canonical land war novels, publication channels, collaborations between artists and authors, literary conventions and the interplay between personal experience and literary output. It also includes unique resources such as a reprinted letter by the author Mary Anne Sadlier and a reproduction of Rosa Mulholland’s little-known play Our Boycotting. The book concludes with a detailed bibliography of land war fiction between 1879 and 1916, which should inspire further reading and research into the genre.
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HEIDI HANSSON AND JAMES H. MURPHY, Introduction to Rosa Mulholland, Our Boycotting: A Miniature Comedy

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← 182 | 183 → HEIDI HANSSON AND JAMES H. MURPHY

In its light-hearted way, Rosa Mulholland’s play Our Boycotting demonstrates many of the themes and attitudes that appear in fiction about the land struggle throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Like many land war novels, the play is basically a Romeo and Juliet style romance. As the concluding lines of scene III demonstrate, the land conflict creates a carnival situation that destabilizes class and gender patterns but also promises reconciliation and closure: ‘Happy disorder, that makes such a state of things possible to a lover unreasonably proscribed by an old bear! Sweet Capulet, here is your Montague!’1 In Our Boycotting, the Capulet-Montague conflict is basically a generational matter, as in Shakespeare’s original, but in other works, the star-cross’d lovers may be Irish and English, as in M. E. Francis’s Miss Erin (1898) or belonging to different social classes, as in Elizabeth Owens Blackburne’s The Heart of Erin (1882). The theme recurs throughout the body of land war fiction and often, the final union of the lovers offers a solution also to problems between landlords and tenants.

Rosa Mulholland (1841–1921) came from a prosperous Belfast Catholic family. Late in life she married the Dublin historian Sir John Gilbert. Her career as a writer was helped by the early approval of Charles Dickens who published her work in All the Year Round. She was later associated with the ← 183 | 184 → Irish Monthly, a Catholic literary magazine whose...

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