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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 THREE: A Long Tradition of 1798 Novels and Plays: Literary Reflections of the Rebellion, 1900–1916


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A Long Tradition of 1798 Novels and Plays: Literary Reflections of the Rebellion, 1900–1916

As mentioned in the introduction, the main focus of this study is on novels and plays about 1798 written after the year 1916, partly because the previous period has already been treated by other critics and partly because of the higher prominence of innovative approaches, relevant to the method of this book, in the later works, especially from the second half of the twentieth century.

Despite this qualitative difference, however, there is also evidence that places these innovative novels and plays into a continuity, a tradition of fictional writing about 1798, traceable, according to the information given by Jim Shanahan, as far back as 1799, only one year after the Rebellion, when the first novel about the event was published.1 This continuity can be established along two lines. The first of them is political – despite Shanahan’s argument that later twentieth-century fiction about 1798 is, in comparison to the majority of such novels written in the nineteenth century, less concerned with the immediate political message and more oriented into the past than into the future, this is, in fact, true only about a part of the material in question.2 ← 59 | 60 →

The continuing political relevance of the 1798 Rebellion until the present day can be easily seen from the historiographical debates described in Chapter Two and it is hardly surprising that this aspect...

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