Migration and Belonging in Irish Literature and Film
Roads to Nowhere: The Famine as Place in Emily Lawless’s Writing
ABSTRACT This chapter examines the work of Emily Lawless in relation to the physical traces of the Great Famine in the Irish landscape. Exploring how the experience of trauma disrupts place and time, the chapter foregrounds how Lawless avoids the sentiments typical in literary characterization by shifting the narrative to a depersonalized landscape that bears the scars of catastrophe.
In the copy of Emily Lawless’s short-story collection Traits and Confidences kept in Marsh’s Library in Dublin, there are some notes by the author that provide a background for the stories. The pencilled note before the reflective piece ‘Famine Roads and Famine Memories’ simply gives a geographical location: ‘Just beyond Dernaslaggan’, probably the estate Dernasliggaun (Ir. Doire na Sliogán) in County Galway (Marsh’s Library copy, 142). In the essay, the Great Famine is treated as an event that literally ‘takes place’ through the long-lasting marks left on the landscape by government-funded relief work like the construction of roads and bridges leading to villages deserted before or soon after their completion. This emphasis on the spatial rather than the temporal dimension integrates the Famine in a kind of eco-history but downplays its importance as a human story, in contrast with the more common association of the Famine with exile and non-belonging. As the collective memory of displacement, the Famine shapes a national and transnational identity that is based on loss, however imagined the emotion might be 150 years after the event. As a ← 11 | 12 → geological scar,...
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