Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso 1995), 367pp. [1 85984 932 6]

Undertakes to insert Irish history into cultural theory, but also to challenge current repressions and evasions of cultural theory in relation to class, state, revolution, ideology, and material production, being categories which he thinks dangerously neglected. [x] Intro. includes a parody of revisionist deliberations on Irish infanticide [x-xi]

Yeats: ‘A moment comes in every country when its character expresses itself through some group of writers, painters, or musicians, and it is this moment, the moment of Goethe in Germany, or the Elizabethan poets in England, of the van Eycks in the Low Countries, or Corneille and Racine in France, of Ibsen and Bjornson in Scandanavia, which fixes the finer elements of national character for generations ... Generally up to that moment literature has tried to express everybody’s thought, history being considered merely as a chronicle of facts, but now, at the instant of revelation, writers think the world is but their palette, and if history amuse them, it is but, as Goethe says, because they would do its personages the honour of naming them in their thoughts. [...]

Just as they use the life of their own times, they use past literature - their own and that of other countires - selectying here and there under what must always seem, untile their revelation understood, an impulse of mere caprice .. (Explorations, NY 1962, pp.236-37; cited in Schliefer, ed., The Genre fo the irish literary Revival, 1980 p.3.

Quotes Carleton on Thackeray: ‘he writes well about Ireland, for an Englishman.’ [ix]

Patrick Branwell ‘made a more spectacular hash of [his life] than was strictly necessary. [1]

Cites J. C. Beckett’s ‘unpleasantly patronising comment’ that “we have in Ireland an element of stability - the land, and an element of instability - the people”, along with J. W. Foster’s response that ‘in [Irish] literature - and I suspect in history ... landscape is a cultural code that perpetuates instead of belying [these] instabilities and ruptures.’ (Col. Conseq., p.149; Eagleton, p.6.)

My aim was something beyond that of the ordinary class of portrait painting ... it was my wish to produce an irish picture somewhat historical in its object, and poetical in its sentiment.’ (Quoted Stokes, Life and Labours, 1868, p.15; Eagleton, 6.)

Land in Ireland is a political rallying cry as well as a badge of cultural belong, and a question of rents as well as roots ... Whatever the cause, the naturalising strategies of English ideology don’t stick well in Ireland. To claim that the Ascendancy ruled, but was never entirely able to hegemonise that rule, is to suggest that it could never properly naturalise it. “While a new system has been given to the country”, remarks the distinguished surgeon and literary scholar George Sigerson, “little has been taken to naturalise it.” (Modern Ireland, 1868, p.15 [sic]; Eagleton, p.7]

‘The unconscious, however, is a site of ambivalence: if Ireland is raw, turblent, destructive, it is also a locus of play, pleasure, fantasy, a blessed release from the tyranny of the English reality principle. Ireland is the biological time-bomb which can be heard ticking softly away beneath the civilised superstructure of the Pall Mall clubs; and its history offers to lay bare the murkey matieral roots of that civility as pitilessly as does Heathcliff. /... Ireland figured as Britain’s unconscious. Just as we indulge in the world of the id in actions which the ego would find intolerable, so nineteenth-century Ireland became the place where the British were forced to betray their own principles, in a kind of negation or inversion their conscious beliefs. … Ireland represented a rebarbative world which threatened to unmask Britain’s own civility, and no doubt some ingenious critic could uncover an allegory for this in The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ [9]

Bibl. Thomas A Boylan and Tomothy P. Foley, Political Economy and Colonial Ireland (1992); Isaac Butt, Introductor Lecture delivered before the Univ. of Dublin (Dublin 1837), inaug. extending concept of wealth to immaterial goods.

Comments CASTLE RACKRENT: Such is the doubleness of one of Irish ficition’s most intriguingly enigmatic characters, Thady Quirk in Maria Edgeowrth’s Castle Rackrent (1800), and it is perhaps not surprising that this ambivalent creation should be the work of an upper-class woman, who is likely toe xperience a somewhat parallel conflict between her social power and sexual subordination. [161]

How tongue in cheek is Thady’s toadying to this lineage of moral desperadoes? [162]

The verve and brio of his discourse partly qualify its cringe: he may be a groveller, but the language which betrays the fact is garrulously self-assertive … His loquacyity is a kind of artlessness, an unstaunchable excess of speech; but it is also, so we may suspect, the rhetorical strategy of the “lower Irish”, disarming authority by its rumbustious spontaneity and wrapping unpalatable truths in its endless parataxis. [162]

The more Thady exculpates his masters, or can be felt blandly manipuating the narrative in their favour, the worse it is for them: they are now responsible not only for their own squalid conduct but for a monstrous blunting of moral sensibility around them. [163]

… Castle Rackretn can be read as embodying an idoelogical conflict we can disceern elsewhere in Edgeworth, between the values of a vital if anarchic ruling class which is able, whatever its moral shabbiness, to secure the allegiance of its underlings, and the rational virtues of a more sober social order whose austere utility will win it few ardent adherents. [163; sees the treatment of King Crony and Ulick O’Shane in this light]

The danger with unreliable first-person narration is the lack of a metalanguage by which its flaws might be measured … [it is] the Preface, footnotes and glossary which supervise and regulatre Thady’s dishevelled Irish discourse with a very English ironic condescension. [164]

From this standpoint, the novel is not after all a masterpiece of Swiftian undecidability or triumph of dialogic indeterminacy … [164]

Is Castle Rackrent, however, really as assured a text as all that? [quizzes its relation to the 1798 Rebellion]. [… 164] What if … Thady were no loyal lackey but a type of the disaffected Catholic peasantry, concealing his subversion beneath a mask of servility and working covertly for the overthrow of the landlords? His story would then be a species of performative contradiction … [cites Tom Dunne, Maria Edgeworth and the Colonial Mind, 1984).

If the meaning of the novel is hard to decipher, then, it may be because of an ambaiguity in its assesesment of the past forced upon it by present circumstances [i.e., the Rebellion; 166]

other [Edgeworth] novels largely dismissive of Gaelic traditionalism [166]

The theory that Thady is dissembling his disaffections has some interesting implications. For it is we he is fooling - we, the readers, who exert no kind of power over him, but who are consequently placed in [166] the position of his superiors.

[or else] it is less the reader he is conning than the “Editor” to whom he recounts his tale, a figure who would fall squarely enough for him into the category of class enemy … In this sense, curiously, itis Maria Edgeworth who is being taken for a ride by one of her own creations. [167]

Thady is a domestic servant, and so in a sense in the position of a woman; … his narrative, which has a stereotypically feminine intimacy, eye for detail and obliqueness to the public world., is thus at one level that of a wife who knows her husband too well to thing anything but badly of him, but who is patriarchially constrained from defining herself as disloyal. [167]

Thady’s self-serving blunders and oversights … would then be … Freudian paraprax[e]s, symptoms of a smouldering animosity barred from the conscious mind. Such a reading of the work is wholly debatable; but it would make the novel an extraordinarily perceptive portrait of the workings of ideology, in which conscious beliefs and unconscious intentions can often be at odds; and it would chime with Edgeworth’s sense, elsewhere in her writing, that truth and fictin in Ireland are not so much at odds as inextricably intermingled. [167]


[Gothic fiction:] the unconscious screen on whcih a dying social class projects its fantasies [...] the policital unconscious of the Anglo-Irish society, where its fears and fantasies definitively emerge. (p.188; quoted in Susan Parker, UUC, MA Diss., 2008.)


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