Abstracts for Week Six
Emily Lawless, Historical Fiction and the Nineteenth Century
The periodical press of late-Victorian London was not just a dynamic and integral part of public intellectual life, but an important space where Irish writers consolidated opportunities to expand their publishing careers. Of the many influential names that graced the pages of journals in the 1890s, an Irish cohort (including journalists, authors and politicians) was distinctly visible. Although today largely neglected figure of the literary revival, Emily Lawless was a prolific Anglo-Irish novelist who enjoyed a considerable degree of success in England. Her work dealt chiefly with Irish subject matters, and its popularity was such that even Gladstone was to admit his views on Ireland were influenced by reading her novels.
This paper focuses on a major element of Lawless’s periodical writings in the form of her historical fiction. The four stories published in the Nineteenth Century journal between 1880 and 1895 – ‘A Bardic Chronicle’, ‘Art Kavanagh’, ‘The Builder of the Round Towers’ and ‘Gerald the Great’ – draw upon many of the themes that characterise her longer works, most strikingly questions of historical appropriation and cultural translation. The paper deals with the idea and use of voice in her narratives, and how Lawless deliberately moves away from attempts at authoritative representation in recourse to Ireland’s Gaelic past. The interaction with colonial and Celtic revivalist concerns, significantly, demonstrates an awareness on Lawless’s part of contemporary national discourses that were being replayed throughout the whole of the Nineteenth Century and the intellectual press – a keen cultural sensitivity that typifies the most successful of her published work.
The Shop Window: The Honest Ulsterman and the Northern Canon
A number of critical studies on Northern Irish literature and culture have highlighted the important role played by little magazines in fostering a creative environment and disseminating the work of new authors. The literary “renaissance” associated with the “group” poets (Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Derek Mahon) of the 1960s is often seen as a turning point in the literary history of Northern Ireland. Commenting on the Honest Ulsterman, Edna Longley said that “[no] magazine could sow the seeds for the imaginative “flowering” and cross fertilisation that was already taking place when it was founded, but it could provide earth and a shop-window and encourage the plants to spread”.
The importance of the Honest Ulsterman in fostering a new literary scene has already been identified by a number of critics. Yet these studies are often limited to the role the magazine played in providing a point of solidarity for Northern poets in its early years. The longevity of the magazine proves its ability to remain relevant far beyond its connection to the ‘group’ poets. This paper explores how the Honest Ulsterman presented new poets and established certain criteria for writing in Ulster. Here, attention will be paid to how the magazine and its Ulsterman Publications pamphlet series offered a platform for new authors. It also argues that the magazine and the debates that it generated determines the reception and fostered the idea of “Northern poetry”.