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The decades that followed 1940 in Ireland are conventionally framed in terms of literary underperformance and political exhaustion. This introduction sets out the volume as an important intervention into this common perception, energised by what can be considered a quantitative turn in Irish cultural criticism, with a concomitant spatial expansion of what can be termed ‘Irish literature’. This gives way to a discussion of how an ingrained theme in twentieth-century critical perspectives – that of distance between Irish culture and European and international influences – is belied by a contemporary literature which registered the impact of proximity and connection. The introduction goes on to discuss how these connections are measured by subsequent essays in the volume, some of which are thematised around literary traffic between Ireland and Europe, America, Britain, and beyond. The genres which contained these communications are also discussed in contributions, alongside the often interrelated questions of language, publishing, and reception, amongst others. In its conclusion, the essay describes the fragility of the Irish literary canon, offering the Irish writing of this period as uneven despite the international recognition that many of its authors were receiving.
This volume explores the history of Irish writing between the Second World War (or the 'Emergency') in 1939 and the re-emergence of violence in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. It situates modern Irish writing within the contexts of cultural transition and transnational connection, often challenging pre-existing perceptions of Irish literature in this period as stagnant and mundane. While taking into account the grip of Irish censorship and cultural nationalism during the mid-twentieth century, these essays identify an Irish literary culture stimulated by international political horizons and fully responsive to changes in publishing, readership, and education. The book combines valuable cultural surveys with focussed discussions of key literary moments, and of individual authors such as Seán O'Faoláin, Samuel Beckett, Edna O'Brien, and John McGahern.
Since the mid-1980s, the rapid transformation of the Republic of Ireland's domestic and international profile has been accompanied by a heightened political engagement in Irish fiction. With a confidence bolstered by the 1990 election to the Irish presidency of a female reformist lawyer, Mary Robinson, the Irish began to face up to their position as modern Europeans who had 'not so much solved as shelved the problem of creating a liberal nationalism'. Where political culture led, writers followed, and in the publishing boom of the 1990s, the Irish novel repeatedly highlighted the institutional and ideological failings of the country, tracing the halting progress of Ireland's cultural, sexual and economic evolution, and foregrounding its voices of dissent. The works categorised by critic Gerry Smyth as the 'New Irish Fiction' were distinguished by a sociological purpose, which, with a few noteworthy exceptions, bypassed philosophical abstraction. 'Less of an intellectual and more of an artisan', wrote Smyth, 'the new Irish novelist is concerned to narrate the nation as it has been and is, rather than how it should be or might have been'.
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