Contemporary Irish Fiction
Selling John McGahern (Professor Frank Shovlin)
Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool
This paper will focus on the various ways in which the work of John McGahern was marketed on both sides of the Atlantic between 1963 and 2002. It will consider controversies over dustjacket design and examine various efforts by his UK publisher, Faber and Faber, to cash in on his place in the so-called ‘Irish tradition’, a ploy much disliked by the novelist himself. The paper will also examine why there should have been such disparity in the selling of McGahern in the UK and the promotion of his work in the US, where he was published by Macmillan, Knopf, Atlantic, Harper and Row, Penguin and finally Knopf again. Why, for instance, was That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) sold under that title in the UK but changed to the more prosaic By the Lake when marketed in the United States? Answers to this and other questions will allow us a better understanding of how literary reputations are built and fostered, and give us a glimpse into the more hard-headed, business-like outlook of this one great Irish writer.
Mothers in the Fiction of Colm Tóibín (Professor Liam Harte)
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester
One of the paradoxes Colm Tóibín’s fiction is the disparity between the centrality of mothers as characters and the dearth of portrayals of mothers performing nurturing activities. The flawed mothers that populate his novels and short stories have led some to regard their unconventional behaviour as bordering on the monstrous, an epithet applied to the maternal figures in his debut novel, The South (1990), by the novelist himself. This paper will critically examine the evolution of Tóibín’s fictional treatment of maternal subjectivity, from Katherine Proctor in The South to the eponymous heroine of his eighth novel, Nora Webster (2014). The analysis will pay close attention to the ways in which the powerful ambivalence of Tóibín’s fictional mothers both subverts the idealisations of motherhood inherent in Catholic discourse and complicates attempts at feminist recuperation.
“Local women en masse”: Histories and Futures of Northern Irish Women’s Writing (Dr Caroline Magennis)
School of Arts and Media, University of Salford
As every scholar of contemporary writing knows, one of the pleasures of the field is anticipating which new novels will come to dominate the literary landscape, and the boom in writing by women from Northern Ireland has been unprecedented. In this paper I will account for the social, political and literary influences on this remarkable field of writing by examining recent texts by Jan Carson, Rosemary Jenkinson, Wendy Erskine, Lucy Caldwell and Anna Burns, paying close attention to their relationship to histories and futures of both the fictional landscape and Northern Ireland itself. Focusing on their rethinking of the domestic, sexuality and borders, the paper will ask how their writing might reframe vital questions about Northern Irish identity at a time where homogenising discourses are in the ascendant.