Staff–Postgraduate Seminar Series

School of English, Trinity College Dublin

Abstracts for Week 4

Travel and Travail: The Scatological Route to Paradise.

Paradise is paradox. Both a real and an unreal space, a space that is sought for but one that has also long been lost to human discovery, the hidden garden of Eden has been an enduring source of fascination for early Pacific explorers and armchair adventurers alike. Western cultural obsession with the Pacific and its many tropical islands exploded following Captain Cook’s exploration of Tahiti in the late-18th century, as the Pacific was believed to be the last possible location for the earthly paradise. Travellers’ journals and accounts of the region tended to blend both fact and fiction, the physical and the imaginary qualities of these ostensible island ‘paradises’. The desert island is structured upon certain Cartesian dualities of ‘mind’ and ‘body’ (it is a space of both symbolic and literal isolation), and it is this conflation of the imaginary and the physical, the fantastical and the real, I argue, that allows us access to the mythology of paradise.

In this paper, I suggest that it is through the sheer physical travail – pain or injury – of the body that the traveller/adventurer is able to imaginatively recreate the landscape of paradise within certain 20th century Robinsonade narratives. Looking specifically at Victor Sage’s short story ‘Crusoe’ (1984), Alex Garland’s The Beach (1996), and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001), I argue that it is through certain motifs of ingestion, digestion, and excretion that the desert island is transformed into a simulacra or image of paradise. In so doing, I will posit the notion that our cultural conception of paradise is a ‘product’ of our own processes of excretion and waste, and that the route to paradise may be traced back to – and through – the body.

Dr Ian Kinane

“THE MIND IS A PLACE OF WONDER!”: Experimental typography as a window into the mind of young narrators in David Almond’s My Name is Mina and Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series.

First person narratives, so strongly linked with literature for young adults, present readers with the opportunity to inhabit the mind of the youthful characters in the text. Controlled and constructed by the adult author, these narrators offer up themselves and their minds’ inner workings for readers to explore, inhabit and empathise with. This creation of trust between character and reader has much to do with the tone, voice and accessibility of the narrative itself, but can also be augmented and intensified by the use of experimental or expressive typography to lend credence to the printed voice on the page. This paper will argue that the appearance of the printed word itself can have a strong visual impact, and demonstrate how the creative and experimental use of unusual typography in children’s literature can assist in the creation of trust and empathy in the reader. Using David Almond’s My Name is Mina (2010) and Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy (2008-2010) as examples of first person narratives which make use of highly expressive and unusual typography, the paper will offer a deconstruction of the  layers of meaning which are created by the collaboration of the physical form of the book and the text itself, referencing theories of multimodality, the semiotics of typography and the physical form of the book.

Louise Gallagher


Abstracts for Week 3

The Human Frontier: Ayn Rand and Star Trek

On July 16, 1969, Ayn Rand stood watching the ascent of Apollo 11. The American novelist later wrote: “For once, if only for seven minutes, the worst among those who saw it had to feel—not ‘How small is man by the side of the Grand Canyon!’—but ‘How great is man and how safe is nature when he conquers it!’”

Through her fiction, Rand created a utopian vision: a future of pure capitalism, where high technology abounds, and human beings are free in ways they have never been before. Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, has influenced economists, politicians, and businesspeople at the highest level, from Alan Greenspan to Paul Ryan to Larry Ellison.

Ironically, one month before the launch of Apollo 11, Star Trek had aired its last episode. The franchise would of course make a comeback in the following decades. Today, on the porous border between fiction and reality, Gene Roddenberry’s creation is intimately bound up with how the space-faring future is conceptualised.

Admiration between Rand and Roddenberry was mutual: Rand was a fan of Star Trek, and its creator repeatedly read Rand’s work. Objectivists have carried on the novelist’s interest in Trek. When they imagine a future that is Randian, it is often to the stars that they look.

This paper explores the links between Ayn Rand and the fictional product which, for many of her devotees, best portrays the future as they’d like it to be.

Ben Murnane

“Thank You Kindly Misthress Banshee—You’re A Woman of Your Worrud”:
Femininity, Folklore and Subversion in the Darby O’Gill Fairy Tales of HT Kavanagh

Herminie Templeton Kavanagh wrote a series of literary fairy tales at the turn of the twentieth century which addressed both adult and child members of the ever-expanding Irish diaspora in the United States of America. Kavanagh was writing at a time when collections of Irish folk and fairy tales were extremely fashionable in the diasporic space of Irish America. This paper will explore how Kavanagh offers her readers a subversive representation of women and gender roles and dynamics and how, in doing so, she was writing back to the misogyny of a particularly popular collection of Irish folklore from 1888, DR McAnally Jr’s Irish Wonders. In her characterisation of her protagonist Darby O’Gill’s wife Bridget and sister-in-law Maureen, she confronts and subverts McAnally’s portrayal of Irish women as domineering wives who behave ignorantly and harass and torment their unfortunate husbands. This paper will also discuss how Kavanagh further champions women in her fairy tales by departing from the established and traditional representation of a particular creature from Irish fairy lore who is always presented as feminine. The supernatural death messenger commonly known as the banshee is reconstituted by Kavanagh as an entirely autonomous and empowered fairy woman who is much more impressive than her male counterparts in the fairy world, just as Bridget and Maureen are much more impressive than their male counterparts in the mortal world.

Brian McManus


Abstracts for Week 2

Conduits of Culture and “Food for the Mind”: W.H. Smith Railway Bookstall Workers and the Book Purchases of Late-Victorian Readers

Historians of the book identify the railway station bookstalls operated by W.H. Smith as one of the principal locations in the circulation of Victorian print culture texts. However, scholarly discussion of these sites has yet to afford any major attention to the role of the Smith employees who presided over these consumer spaces. Accordingly, this paper will examine the nature and degree of influence exercised on reader selections during book purchase transactions by the stall mangers and assistants. My efforts to illuminate this question will draw on variety of sources such as life writing texts produced by individual bookstall managers, an essay collection of stall-worker professional reflections on the “art of bookselling”, official W.H. Smith policy statements, and contemporary commentary on bookstall keeper–consumer interactions from the periodical press.

This paper will contend that these bookstalls keepers merit recognition as significant micro-level facilitator figures for audiences navigating the nineteenth-century print culture landscape. The input the Smith employees furnished in these interactions had the potential to prove particularly decisive in the case of the emerging constituency of newly literate upwardly mobile late-Victorian readers with minimal reserves of cultural capital. While demonstrating that spatio-temporal factors shaped the varying sorts of reader-purveyor relations fostered by this trade in what one Smith worker called “food for the mind’, I will also situate this analysis of print dissemination within the broader spatial context of the nineteenth-century railway network.

Dr Paul Rooney

‘The demand disturbs the happy and the rich’: the surplus person in Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population and Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley

‘A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him.’

So begins the notorious ‘nature’s mighty feast’ paragraph, which appeared in the second edition of T.R. Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population (1803). The view of life offered here is stark: there are people in this world who ought not to exist. Though this paragraph was omitted from all subsequent editions of the Essay, it continued to be quoted and denounced by Malthus’s critics.

My larger research project traces echoes of this paragraph through nineteenth-century British fiction, finding characters which can be read as examples of people who have no business to be where they are. For this paper, I focus on Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley. This novel was first published in 1849, but is set in 1811-12, a time when Malthus was still publishing editions of his Essay. With its patterning of images of feast and famine, crowd and individual, locals and foreigners, and its use of the love-triangle plot device, Shirley can be read as an example of how nineteenth-century British writers used the novel form to explore the emotional experience of being a ‘surplus’ person.

Dr Ruth Doherty

Abstract for Hilary Week One

Joyce’s Maamtrasna Revisited: Language Matters

Writing of current attitudes to bilingualism, Doris Sommer has observed: ‘Some educators and politicians consider nonelite bilinguals to be damaged raw material that needs to be pressed into simple and transparent form before it can bear complexity.’ This paper will take as its subject the Maamtrasna murders (1882) and the trial of the Irish-speaking Myles Joyce, as discussed in James Joyce’s 1907 essay ‘Ireland at the Bar’. It will revisit the infamous trial and execution, and the ensuing and contested narratives, from the perspective of language shift in late nineteenth-century Ireland. An examination of the dynamics of monolingualism and bilingualism within that historical moment offers an opportunity to discuss more generally how and why ‘language matters’ in Irish cultural studies.

Professor Margaret Kelleher, Chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama, University College Dublin

Abstract for Week Twelve

From Lilliput to Narnia: Children’s Literature

The lecture will look at some key texts of what is now called children’s literature by Irish authors, from Swift through Wilde to CS Lewis. It will examine the roots of their texts in folklore and folktale. It will address the paradox that children’s literature seems at once futuristic and conservative: “back to the future” or a case of the “archaic avant-garde”. It will explore the troubled relationship between childhood and modernism—and hint at some ways in which the classics of children’s literature provided the main templates for “magic realism” as practised in the postcolonial world.

Professor Declan Kiberd, University of Notre Dame

Abstracts for Week Eleven

Berryman’s Blues

When asked about “the influence of blues and minstrel shows on The Dream Songs” in an interview for the Harvard Advocate in 1969, Berryman responded: “Heavy. I have been interested in the language of the blues and Negro dialects all my life, always been” (qtd. in Plotz, 8). Taking its cue from Berryman, this paper traces the impact of the blues upon his work, and focussing particularly on allusion to artists such as Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey as well as his deployment of a blues idiom, explores the ways in which Berryman reveals his capabilities as a listener of the blues.

Like most other writers of the blues, Berryman exploits the tradition to express feelings of loneliness and oppression as well as concerns over money and alcoholism. These issues were particularly close to the poet’s mind during 1962, the year in which he wrote his most blues-heavy lyrics. Indeed the blues becomes a particularly apt mode of expression for Berryman, who wished to “keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in [his] aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it” (Ellison, 79). With recourse to writers such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison and Amiri Baraka (as well as various well-known blues lyrics) I hope to posit some correspondences between Berryman’s Songs and other significant blues works. Finally, I will consider how Berryman’s adoption of a blues idiom – an African American dialect – allows him to inhabit what he regarded as a position of powerful alterity.

Eve Cobain


“STOP THE PRESSES: BAT-WOMEN ON THE MOON!”: Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Adams Locke’s ‘Lunar Hoax’, and 19
th Century American Literary Showmanship. 

While he remains most famous for his ‘gothic’ tales of terror and his early detective stories, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) also wrote frequently and fascinatingly on the subject of science. Three of his longest fictions, ‘The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall’ (1835), ‘The Balloon Hoax’ (1844) and his only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), are imaginary voyage tales which imaginatively speculate about the unfolding project of 19th Century exploration. However, as with so much of his work Poe’s scientific writings are marked by an overwhelming tendency to blur fact and fiction and to hoax their readers.

This paper shall assess this aspect of Poe’s work by focusing on the impact of one of the most significant print sensations of his day: Richard Adams Locke’s ‘Moon Hoax’. Locke’s hoax successfully convinced a generation of American newspaper readers that living beings had been observed on the lunar surface, and for Poe it served as a test of public credulity. However, Poe claimed that Locke’s hoax had stolen its basic premise from his ‘Hans Pfall.’ Aggrieved, he sought to replicate Locke’s success in further hoaxing works of his own. This paper shall connect both Poe and Locke’s hoaxes to the tradition of hoaxing in 19th Century American literature. It shall also explore the quality of literary showmanship which Poe made his own and reveal the close links between this and the practices of the other great American showman of the era, P.T. Barnum. 

Ed O’Hare

Abstracts for Week 10

Interpreting between privacies: place and space in Brian Friel’s Translations.

According to Vimala Herman’s theory, to view theatrical space as a continuum rather than a binary on-stage/off-stage construct redefines the dramatic space which constitutes the fictional play-world as an aspect of theatrical space – that which is “presupposed by a play and which is realised anew by each performance within the bounds of its unique space-time structure”. On-stage space and off-stage space become, respectively, the theatrical space within and the theatrical space without; both “belong to the same universe and form a continuum”. A continuum of theatrical space is, therefore, the overall stage event, which includes the audience, and which forms the deictic context of the play. What is most significant in Herman’s reading, however, is that, given that there is no longer a verbal/visual divide in place when considering theatrical space, “the primary point of reference for deictic referencing” is the corporeal speaker who gives voice to a dramatic text and thereby brings the continuum of theatrical space into being.

With this in mind, what this paper aims to do is to consider the way in which Friel explores the relationship between place and space in his play Translations through an interrogation of the power of the acting body – or rather a body capable of producing meaningful sound – to transform place into space and vice versa. Concentrating in particular on the relationship between Maire and Yolland, the paper will assert that to view Translations as that which takes place within a continuum of theatrical space is to reveal it as a play in which power exists in the liminal, transformative, mediatory zone between place and space; as a play in which to misunderstand or to be misunderstood is to jeopardise realities.

Zosia Kuczynska

Deconstructing Samuel Beckett’s Not I

Samuel Beckett wrote, Not I, in English in 1972, and according to James Knowlson, he was conscious that it was ‘on the very edge of what was possible in the theatre’. This paper argues, that while the mise en scène of the play ‘announces the limit of representation’, in a similar way to how Jacques Derrida argues Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty does, engaging in the textuality of the text, reveals a paradox, raising the question whether Beckett was, in Derrida’s words about Edmund Husserl, ‘able to break so completely with presuppositions which – in one form or another – have dominated the whole of Western intellectual tradition’.

The first section examines the central role of the stage directions in dramatizing Mouth, the play’s protagonist at the limits of representation, at the border crossing of a ‘theatre of representation’, and a ‘theatre of life’.  ‘Life’ here is Derrida’s term, ‘the nonrepresentable origin of representation’, which ‘carries man along with it but is not primarily the life of man’. ‘Representation’, ‘describes man and what he does’, what Derrida terms, ‘the humanist limit – of the metaphysics of classical theater’.  The second section explores the aporia of Mouth, as firstly, a stage image, secondly as a character and finally as the real mouth of the actress.  The textuality of the text will be explored to reveal what Christopher Norris terms ‘blind-spots of metaphor’, which have a disruptive effect on Beckett’s attempt to bring a close to representation.

Mary O’Byrne