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Echoes of the Rebellion

The Year 1798 in Twentieth-Century Irish Fiction and Drama


Radvan Markus

The 1798 Rebellion, a watershed event in Irish history, has been a source of both inspiration and controversy over the last two centuries and continues to provoke debate up to the present day. The ongoing discussion about the meaning of the Rebellion has not been limited to history books, but has also found vivid expression in Irish fiction and theatre.
The product of extensive research, this study provides a comprehensive survey of historical novels and plays published on the topic throughout the twentieth century, comparing them with relevant historiography. It draws attention to a number of outstanding but often neglected literary works, bringing together materials written in both English and Irish. Employing important theoretical concepts such as Derrida’s ‘spectre’ and Hayden White’s tropological view of history, the book probes the relationship between historiography and fiction to shed light on their interplay in the Irish context, including the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. This investigation illuminates a number of broader questions, including the most pressing of all: in what way should we deal with the ‘spectres’ of the past and their complex legacies?
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CHAPTER ONE: Theoretical Preliminaries: History, Fiction and Ethics


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Theoretical Preliminaries: History, Fiction and Ethics1

A work which purports to deal with the relationship between history and fiction in relation to such a complex event as the 1798 Rebellion obviously has to be well-grounded in theory so that its claims are no mere impressions. The starting point of the discussion will be the theory of Hayden White, whose effective blurring of the borderline between history and fiction prepared a common denominator which could facilitate the comparison of historiographical and fictional interpretations of the event in question in a meaningful way. The potential of White’s approach for literary analysis is borne out by a number of recent publications discussed below which have felicitously used it to deal with historical fiction and drama. However, White’s emphasis on the inevitable fictional element in any rendition of history does not necessarily imply boundless freedom for historians, novelists or playwrights to arrange historical facts in an absolutely arbitrary manner. In fact, most of the best writers (and historians) to be treated in this book were acutely aware of the importance of the interpretation of the Rebellion for the Irish national identity and even for contemporary politics, more often than not in connection to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Therefore, Hayden White’s findings will be contrasted with the opinions of his immediate critics, as well as the philosophers Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Derrida, whose works open a way in which one can treat ethical and pragmatic...

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