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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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Claire Keegan’s New Rural Ireland: Torching the Thatched Cottage

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Although she has published only two collections of short fiction – Antarctica (1999) and Walk the Blue Fields (2007) – and the long short story Foster, issued as a single volume in 2010,1 Claire Keegan has already earned critical acclaim as a major voice in the contemporary short story. Whereas the stories in Antarctica are placed in a variety of settings, including Ireland, the US and England, Walk the Blue Fields and Foster are set in rural Ireland,2 the locale where Keegan was raised and where she still chooses to live. It is also the setting for her most assured and masterful writing. Rural Ireland has worn multiple faces in Irish literature, by turns sentimentalized and reviled, a place of sublime beauty and domestic harmony or a punishing landscape concealing brutal secrets. Keegan’s rural fiction, with its narratives of strong-willed yet thwarted women, priests who break their vow of celibacy, farmers enthralled with and enslaved by their land, children undervalued and misunderstood, at first glance suggests familiar territory charted by William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, John McGahern, Liam O’Flaherty and others, but there is nothing derivative or stale about these ← 279 | 280 → stories.3 As Anne Enright has observed, ‘Keegan takes the clichés of Irish rural life and sets them ablaze.’4 Both timeless and rooted in the here and now, Keegan’s rural Irish live constrained but not predetermined lives; they are more often victims of their own choices than of circumstance. As in the early stories of Edna O’Brien,...

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