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The Irish Short Story

Traditions and Trends


Elke D'hoker and Stephanie Eggermont

Often hailed as a ‘national genre’, the short story has a long and distinguished tradition in Ireland and continues to fascinate readers and writers alike. Critical appreciation of the Irish short story, however, has laboured for too long under the normative conception of it as a realist form, used to depict quintessential truths about Ireland and Irish identity. This definition fails to do justice to the richness and variety of short stories published in Ireland since the 1850s. This collection aims to open up the critical debate on the Irish short story to the many different concerns, influences and innovations by which it has been formed. The essays gathered here consider the diverse national and international influences on the Irish short story and investigate its genealogy. They recover the short fiction of writers neglected in previous literary histories and highlight unexpected strands in the work of established writers. They scrutinize established traditions and use cutting-edge critical frameworks to discern new trends. Taken together, the essays contribute to a more encompassing and enabling view of the Irish short story as a hybrid, multivalent and highly flexible literary form, which is forever being reshaped to meet new insights, new influences and new realities.
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The Ghostly Fields of North Cork: Ireland in the Short Stories of Elizabeth Bowen


In this essay, I consider the Irish stories of Elizabeth Bowen, in particular ‘The Back Drawing Room’ (1926) and ‘The Happy Autumn Fields’ (1945), in relation to Bowen’s complex and divided relationship with Ireland. I draw on the illuminating readings of Sinéad Mooney, Neil Corcoran and others to explore the elusive nature of these modernist stories of haunting, uncanny fields and houses, where Bowen’s own fractured identity as Anglo-Irish enables her fictive vision of the unknowable and the ghostly. In these two stories, as with other of her Irish stories, Bowen uses the familiar landscape of North Cork around her ancestral home in Farrahy to create an uncanny world, to defamiliarize the landscape as a key element of her aesthetic as a modernist writer.

Andrew Bennett has identified Bowen’s modernist aesthetic when he writes that ‘Bowen’s writing of the 1920s and early 1930s responds to and registers a sense that the world has changed’1 and I would argue that both of these stories embody her modernist sense of a frayed, threatening even murderous Irish landscape, where the threat of extinction lurks and the past overwhelms the fragile present. Her Irish identity is key to her modernist vision, providing her with an insight into unease, change, the collision of past and present within an impressionistic and multi-layered text. Bowen wrote essays and reviews about Ireland all throughout her working life but it is significant that her fictive writings set in her own country were sporadic. Two...

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