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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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Oral Tradition with a Twist: Flann O’Brien’s Short Fiction and Nation Building



Twentieth-century Irish short fiction has often been a vehicle for political commentary and a means of coming to terms with the violent fight for Irish independence. Prominent authors who are often mentioned in this respect are, of course, Seán O’Faoláin and Frank O’Connor, who voiced their critique of post-independence Ireland in rather explicit terms in their realist stories.1 The short fiction of Flann O’Brien, to the contrary, is far less often linked to these political and nationalist concerns, even though he published his stories around the same time and in some of the same magazines as O’Faoláin and O’Connor. The two stories I will discuss in this paper, ‘The Martyr’s Crown’ and ‘A Bash in the Tunnel’, were both published in Envoy: A Review of Art and Literature in Ireland. This literary magazine was founded and edited by John Ryan and also features stories by O’Connor and O’Faoláin. Conversely, O’Brien’s work was also published in The Bell under the editorship of O’Faoláin. Although O’Brien’s short fiction is generally less well-known than that of his contemporaries, his work also deserves to be read within the social and political context of post-independence Ireland. As I will argue in this paper, while O’Brien’s experimental, humorous and satirical stories depart from the tradition of ← 173 | 174 → the realist story in mid-century Ireland, his stories nevertheless address similar themes and can be seen to deliver a political commentary through the medium of storytelling. The stories...

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