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The Irish Short Story

Traditions and Trends

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Edited By 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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Breaking New Ground and Making Patterns: Mary Lavin’s First Short Story Collection Tales from Bective Bridge

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Tales from Bective Bridge (1942) was the first collection of short stories from the writer Mary Lavin. Although Lavin also produced two novels, Mary O’Grady (1945) and The House in Clewe Street (1950), the short story was to be her preferred channel of artistic expression. Tales from Bective Bridge, I will argue, is the platform upon which Lavin invests in her future short fiction. It marks particular areas of interest for Lavin in terms of style and genre, and establishes key thematic movements to which Lavin returns again and again. Lavin resisted any notion of the short story as a testing ground for the novel form; she stressed that it was ‘already a powerful medium’ with limitless potential.1 Unfortunately, at odds with Lavin’s faith in the genre, the short story has suffered from a lack of critical confidence in its stature and form, as well as a more negative popular assessment of it as a light art: size really does seem to matter. As Heather Ingman argues ‘Even in Ireland, short fiction has been relegated to the margins of critical discourse, the short stories of major short story writers like Elizabeth Bowen treated as minor or apprentice pieces in comparison with their novels.’2 This particular example is unsettling as Elizabeth Bowen makes such an eloquent defence ← 235 | 236 → of the genre in her introduction to The Faber Book of Modern Stories (1937). Bowen places the genre at the cutting edge of modernity, allying it with the new technology...

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