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1 - The novel before 1800

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2007

John Wilson Foster
Affiliation:
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
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Summary

Uses of romance

'When we speak of the People, we ought carefully to make a Distinction between Irish and Irish.' The voice is not that of a stage-Irishman committing a blunder, but a cosmopolitan Englishman in William Chaigneau's novel, The History of Jack Connor (1752). He continues: 'that is, we ought to regard the Protestants of Ireland as ourselves, because, in Fact, they are our Brethren and our Children; and so to manage the poor Natives, who are mostly Papists, that by Clemency and good Usage we may wean them from ill Habits, and make them faithful and useful Subjects'. Use of the adjective 'Irish' clearly required distinctions. There may be a huge gap between Irish and Irish, but none between Irish and English: Irish Protestants are different from poor Irish natives, but essentially the same as the English speaker of Chaigneau's text. Acts of positioning, literary and geographical, of readers as well as characters, are crucial to eighteenth-century Irish fiction. Often, those acts are complicated by the fact that they are also, as in the present instance, silently redrawing earlier demarcations, correcting previous distinctions between 'ourselves' and 'them'.

Most eighteenth-century Irish fiction was produced by Irish Protestants, either the descendants of early Norman settlers (the Old English) or more recent arrivals. Yet the identity such writers shared determined neither their relationships with native culture - which ranged from the intimate to the remote - nor the strength of their attachment to the English mainland.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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