Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2010
‘This place is a backwater’, grumbles one of Olivia Manning's characters. Isolation is a key theme in the Irish short story of this period, it being the widespread view of Irish fiction writers that the Second World War, or the Emergency as it was known in Ireland, had the effect of making an already inward-looking society even more isolated from the rest of the world. This was not necessarily the whole story. As Clair Wills has argued in That Neutral Island, Ireland's isolation paradoxically allowed for a new vitality in Irish culture. Neutrality encouraged the development of Irish artistic and cultural life as wartime censorship kept out rival foreign material. The number of art exhibitions and theatrical performances increased during this period and the indigenous film industry was given a boost due to restrictions on imports of foreign films. Moreover, the influx of refugees from Europe included artists, musicians and poets, swelling the ranks of Dublin's intelligentsia and giving the city a more cosmopolitan feel. Nevertheless, the view of Ireland's wartime writers, cosmopolitan and often European in outlook, was that neutrality had increased Ireland's isolation from the rest of the world.