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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 SIX: ‘Bits of Broken Pottery’: The Fragmentary Method of Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French


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‘Bits of Broken Pottery’: The Fragmentary Method of Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French1

One of the most ambitious (as well as the most commercially successful) 1798 novels of the twentieth century is undoubtedly Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French, published in the United States in 1979. The author was a distinguished Irish scholar, who worked as a professor of literature and wrote widely about nineteenth-century Irish novels and Irish history.2 Consequently, the book displays much of his extensive and thorough scholarship, and contains much more minute historical detail than any of the other works of literature treated in this study. In addition, the novel is highly valuable for its interesting pseudo-documentary form, the challenging interpretation of 1798 it contains, as well as its powerful commentary on the nature of history itself. ← 157 | 158 →

The Year of the French, as the title indicates, is based on the same episode of the Rebellion as Ó Tuairisc’s L’Attaque and inevitably contains some similar scenes. However, the differences between the two novels are possibly more striking than their common features. On the most obvious, realistic level, Flanagan’s book is much more extensive in both time and scope, which is hardly surprising given the difference in length. It follows the Franco-Irish army all the way from Killala to its final defeat at Ballinamuck and beyond, and due to its multiplicity of narrators it offers a wide range of perspectives, including various shades...

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