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Irish Literature of the Nineteenth Century

ENGL 063.001
TR 1:30-3

 

In literature courses and even in literary anthologies, the great Irish writers tend to get lumped in with English ones: most of us gain our scant familiarity with Irish authors (think: Swift, Burke, Wilde, Shaw, Yeats, Beckett, Joyce) in courses on English literary history, where they are presented as exemplary participants in a cultural and aesthetic tradition that, in many crucial respects, was not their own.

This course takes the casual absorption of Irish writing into English literary history as both inspiration and object of study. Our starting point will be the year 1800, when the Act of Union dissolved the Irish parliament and formally subsumed Ireland into Great Britain to form the United Kingdom. In that year, too, the Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth published Castle Rackrent, a short novel that helped inaugurate a long tradition of writing against the English occupation of Ireland from within the confines of fiction. As the coincidence of such large literary and political events suggests, 1800 was a pivotal year in the formation of a distinctly modern Irish literary consciousness. The evolving nature of that consciousness--its aesthetic contours, its political sensibility, its impact, and its innovations--will be our principal preoccupation throughout the term.

Over the course of the semester, we will examine major political and social developments--the Catholic Emancipation movement of the 1820s, the potato famine of the 1840s, the land wars of the 1870s, the Home Rule movement that began in the 1880s--alongside the literature that defined the Irish to themselves and to the English. Our reading will reflect the vexed relationship between Irish and English literary and social history. We will read terrifically popular Irish writers alongside English novelists who packaged Ireland for an English public. Our readings will range from Lady Morgan's mythic tale of national origin, The Wild Irish Girl(1806) and Charles Lever's forward-looking story of nationalist discontent, Lord Kilgobbin (1872), to William Thackeray's forays into an imaginary Irish eighteenth-century in The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844) and Anthony Trollope's tactically timed recreation of the famine in Castle Richmond (1861). Our study will include literary "revival" work written in Irish (we'll read it in translation) as well as the work of expatriated writers such as William Allingham, the Donegal customs officer turned London magazine editor and pre-Raphaelite poet, and Oscar Wilde, the Dublin-born aesthete who found fame--and, finally, shame--writing for the London stage.

The course will conclude with an examination of three twentieth-century literary reconstructions of nineteenth-century Ireland: Brian Friel's play Translations (1980), Andrea Barrett's novella Ship Fever (1996), and Nuala O'Faolain's novel, My Dream of You (2001).

Requirements: one short paper (5-7 pages), one longer paper (10-12 pages), a research project, weekly weblog postings, and occasional quizzes.