EN 764: Twentieth Century Irish Fiction                                                         Jim Smith

Gasson 201, Wed. 2-4:30 p.m.                                                                                     Connolly House 301

Office Hours: Wed. 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.                                                                617-552-1596 (office)

and by appointment.                                                                                                            617-333-9898 (home)



In this graduate seminar, we will read a selection of Irish novels so as to identify, discuss and better understand complex cultural phenomena that become manifest in the aftermath of the colonial experience. The underlying premise suggests that Irish novelists participate in debates concerning national identity and, in the process, anticipate the evolution of a postnational society. Paying particular attention to issues of language, gender, place and literary authority, and to representations of religion, history, and identity, the seminar seeks to establish the inevitable heterogeneity related to the post-colonial condition.


Texts: (BC Bookstore)

Aidan Higgins, Langrishe, Go Down [Coursepack]

Jennifer Johnston, Invisible Worm

Molly Keane, Good Behaviour [Coursepack]

John McGahern, By the Lake

Mary Lavin, In a Café [Coursepack]

Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

Flann O’Brien, At Swim Two Birds

Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls Trilogy

Kate O’Brien, Land of Spices [Coursepack]

Julia O’Faolain, No Country for Young Men [Coursepack]

Francis Stuart, Black List, Section H [Coursepack]

William Tevor, The Story of Lucy Gault



1. Beginning with the class on Flann O’Brien’s At Swim Two Birds (1/25) each week a group of students will summarize and evaluate criticism on the assigned text, prepare and circulate a report/ annotated bibliography for members of the seminar, and assume a leadership role in discussion. Each presenter will examine one additional reading (indicated on Syllabus under *****) and incorporate it into the group report.  As a result, each week we will hope to cover at least three critical responses to the text/author and thereby achieve a better understanding of the wider field/debate. To facilitate this process, each group will email a two-page report to the class (no later than the Monday evening prior to class meetings) including:

Š          A summary, an evaluation, and a list of a major issues explored in the critical literature

Š          A list of questions we should consider before class to prepare for discussion

In addition to the materials I have placed on reserve, every week I will provide a bibliography for each writer/novel. Everyone should expect to participate in two presentations over the course of the semester (10% each).


2. For the weeks when you are not presenting, in addition to reading the text, come to class ready to respond to the assigned critical readings.  In particular, everyone should engage the questions set forth by the presenters and participate in an active manner on a consistent basis (30 %).


3.  A seminar paper (20-25 pages approx.) on a topic related to the course readings.  Abstract due April 12, presentation and final version due on May 3. (50%).




1/18       Introduction(s), Overview, Presentations


1/25       Flann O’Brien’s At Swim Two Birds (1939)

Š          Keith Hopper, Flann O'Brien: a portrait of the artist as a young post-modernist. Ch. 1: “The Two Towers: The Filthy Modern Tide Meets the Celtic Toilet,” 28-56.


Š          Joshua D. Esty, “Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and the Post-Post Debate.”  Ariel  26 (1995): 23-49.

Š          Eibhlín Evans, "'A lacuna in the palimpsest': a reading of Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds." Critical Survey (15:1) 2003, 91-107.


2/1          Kate O’Brien’s Land of Spices (1941)

Š          Mary Breen, “Something Understood?: Kate O’ Brien and The Land of Spices,” Ordinary People Dancing. Ed. Eibhear Walshe.167-190.

Š          *****

Š          Emma Donoghue, “ ‘Out of Order’: Kate O’Brien’s Lesbian Fictions,” Ordinary People Dancing. Ed. Eibhear Walshe.36-58.

Š          Kathryn A. Conrad, Locked in the Family Cell: Gender, Sexuality & Political Agency in Irish National Discourse.  Madison: University of WIsconsin Press, 2004. Introduction


2/8          Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955)

Š          Jo O'Donoghue, Brian Moore: a critical study. Ch. 2: “Religion Without Belief: Judith Hearne,” 16-45.


Š          George O’Brien, “The Aesthetics of Exile,” Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes, Theories. Ed. Liam Harte & Michael Parker. 35-55.

Š          Tom Inglis, "Origins and Legacies of Irish Prudery: Sexuality and Social Control in Modern Ireland." Eire-Ireland: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Irish Studies. 40: 3&4 (Fall/Winter, 2005): 9-37. BC Libraries Online Journals: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/eire-ireland/toc/eir40.3.html


2/15       Aidan Higgins’s Langrishe, Go Down (1966)

Š          Vera Kreilkamp, “Reinventing a Form: Aidan Higgins and John Banville,” The Anglo-Irish Novel and the Big House. 234-261.


Š          Rudiger Imhof,  Modern Irish Novel: Irish Novelists after 1945. “Aidan Higgins,” 27-44.

Š          Beja, Morris.  “Fellons of Ourselves: The Fiction of Aidan Higgins,” Irish University Review 3,2 (1973): 163-78.


2/20       Geraldine Meaney, "The Sons of Cuchulainn: Violence, the Family and Irish Canons." Gender and Irish Studies Lecture Series, Connolly House, 4:00 p.m.


2/22 and 3/1     Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy & Epilogue (1986 [1960, ’62, ‘64])



3/15       Mary Lavin’s In A Café (1961, 1995)

Š          James Heaney, “‘No Sanctuary From Hatred’: A Re-Appraisal of Mary Lavin’s Outsiders,” Irish University Review 28, 2 (1998): 294-307. [Copy available at Connolly House, 201]


Š          Marie Arndt,  “Narratives of internal exile in Mary Lavin's short stories,” International Journal of English Studies 2:2 (2002): 109-22. [Copy available at Connolly House, 201]

Š          Jeanette Roberts Shumaker, “Sacrificial women in short stories by Mary Lavin and Edna O'Brien,”Studies in Short Fiction 32:2 (Spring 1995): 185-. Full Text, Literature Online: http://lion.chadwyck.com/             


3/17       Irish Studies Film Series, One day seminar.  Panels at Connolly House


3/20       Ruth Barton, "Maureen O'Hara: Pirate Queen, Feminist Icon?" Gender and Irish Studies Lecture Series, Connolly House, 4:00 p.m.


3/22       Francis Stuart’s Black List, Section H (1971) [Paper 1 Due]




3/24       Irish Studies Library Resources Workshop with Kathy Williams, Irish Studies Bibliography, O'Neill Library Place and Time TBD


3/29       Julia O’Faolain’s No Country for Young Men (1980)          

Š          Theresa O’Connor, “History, Gender, and the Postcolonial Condition: Julia O’Faolain’s Comic Rewriting of Finnegan’s Wake,” The comic tradition in Irish women writers. Ed. Theresa O’Connor. 124-48.


Š          Christine St. Peter, Changing Ireland: Strategies in Contemporary Irish Women’s Fiction. Ch. 4, “Returning from the ‘Ghost Place’: Recomposing History,” pp. 66-94, esp. 82-88.

Š          Kelli Maloy, “Decolonizing the mind: memory (and) loss in Julia O'Faolain's No Country for Young Men. Colby Quarterly 33,3 (1997): 236-44. [Copy available at Connolly House, 201]


4/5          Jennifer Johnston’s Invisible Worm (1991)

Š          Rachael Sealy Lynch, “Public spaces, private lives: Irish identity and female selfhood in the novels of Jennifer Johnston,” Border crossings: Irish women writers and national identities. Ed. Kathryn Kirkpatrick.


Š          Margot Gayle Backus, “‘Perhaps I May Come Alive’: Mother Ireland and the Unfinished Revolution.” The Gothic Family Romance 216-238.

Š          Ann Owens Weekes, “Figuring the Mother in Contemporary Irish Fiction,” Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes, Theories. Ed. Liam Harte & Michael Parker. 100-124.     


4/10       Clair Wills, "Women Writers and the Death of Rural Ireland" Gender and Irish Studies Lecture Series, Connolly House, 4:00 p.m.


4/12       Seminar Research Project Presentations


4/19       John McGahern’s By the Lake (2003)


Š          Denis Sampson, ""Open to the World': A Reading of John McGahern's That They May Face the Rising Sun." Irish University Review 35, 1(Spring/Summer, 2005): 136-46.

Š          John McGahern, "What is My Language." Irish University Review 35, 1(Spring/Summer, 2005): 1-12.


4/25       Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour (1981)   SEMINAR MEETS AT CONNOLLY HOUSE, 6:30-9:00 p.m.

                  Visiting Lecturer, Prof. Eibhear Walshe, University College Cork

Š          Mary Breen, “Piggies and Spoilers of Girls: The Representation of Sexuality in the Novels of Molly Keane,” Sex, Nation, and Dissent in Irish Writing. Ed. Eibhear Walshe. 202-20.


Š          Rachel Jane Lynch, “The crumbling fortress: Molly Keane's comedies of Anglo-Irish manners,” The comic tradition in Irish women writers. Ed. Theresa O’Connor. 73-98.

Š          Ellen L. O'Brien, "Anglo-Irish abjection in the `very nasty' Big House novels of Molly Keane." Lit: literature, interpretation, theory 10:1 (1999): 35-62.


5/3          William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault (2002)

Š          Mary Fitzgerald Hoyt, William Trevor: Imagining Ireland. Dublin: Liffey Book, 2003.


Š          Dolores MacKenna, William Trevor: the writer and his work. Dublin: New Island, 1999.



5/8          Final Paper Due.




Secondary Material ON RESERVE at O'Neill Library


Irish Fiction/Novel:


Margot Gayle Backus, The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality, Child Sacrifice, and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1999.


James M. Cahalan, Double Visions: Women and Men in Modern and Contemporary Irish Fiction. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999.


Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

- - -. Inventing Ireland. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.


Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992.  Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000.


John Wilson Foster, Forces and Themes in Ulster Fiction.  Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1974.


Liam Harte and Michael Parker (eds.), Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes, Theories. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. 163-73.


Rudiger Imhof, The Modern Irish Novel: Irish Novelists after 1945. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 2000.


Jeffers, Jennifer M.  The Irish Novel at the End of the Twentieth Century: Gender, Bodies, and Power.  New York: Palgrave, 2002.


Vera Kreilkamp, The Anglo-Irish Novel and the Big House. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998.


Christina Hunt Mahony, Contemporary Irish Literature: Transforming Tradition. London: Macmillan, 1998.


Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992.  Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000.


Theresa O’Connor (ed.), The comic tradition in Irish women writers. Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1996.  124-48.


Ray Ryan (ed.), Writing in the Irish Republic: Literaure, Culture, Politics 1949-1999. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.


Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction. London: Pluto Press, 1997.


Eibhear Walshe (ed.), Sex, Nation, and Dissent in Irish Writing. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.


Owens Weekes, Ann. Irish Women Writers: An Uncharted Tradition.  Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1990.


Robert Welch, Changing States: Transformations in Modern Irish Writing. London & New York: Routledge, 1993.


History/Cultural Context


Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History, 1922 to the Present. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1985.


Seamus Deane,  (Intro. and Gen. Ed.), The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. 3 Vols. Derry: Field Day Publications, 1991.


Brian Fallon, An Age of Innocence: Irish Culture 1930-1960. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1998.


Tom Inglis, Moral Monopoly: The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church in Modern Ireland. 2nd. Ed. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1998.


Dermot Keogh, Twentieth-Century Ireland: Nation and State.  New Gill History of Ireland 6. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1994.