‘Tomorrow we will change our names,
invent ourselves again’: Irish fiction
and autobiography since 1990
[B]oomtime Ireland has yet to find its OscarWilde or its Charles Dickens
or even its Evelyn Waugh. The strange place we now inhabit does not
seem to yield up its stories easily. . . . What has happened, essentially, is
that the emergence of a frantic, globalised, dislocated Ireland has deprived
fiction writers of some of their traditional tools. One is a distinctive sense
of place. To write
membership was fairly active. In 1888, it held meetings that were addressed by
Mrs OscarWilde, Mrs Stuart Downing and Florence Balgarnie, among
others. Mrs Wilde focused upon the influence that women had over
‘ the truest form of patriotism ’
men, as wives, sisters or friends, and the influence that mothers had over
children. She concluded that the family was the ‘unit of the nation’, and
much work could be done by ‘the preservation of peace in the family’.
Florence Balgarnie, in contrast, spoke about the bodies that supported
war, ‘monopolies, the military, and
. There will be work
and bread for all. This nation will prosper because it is a Godly
nation and because we walk hand-in-hand with the Lord.
Here, then, is a man who sees a nation in crisis and decline. He
is offering ways to weather a socio-cultural and political storm.
One wonders whether, in 1970, the incoming Conservative Prime
Minister Edward Heath could ever have dreamed of such rhetoric.
The director of Cromwell, Ken Hughes, had previously worked on
films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Casino Royale (1967), and
The Trials of OscarWilde (1960) – another
updates on the state of fear. Each age, in addition, has its particular genre of fear. In Ireland, the religion of fear (1920s–1960s)
has given way to the economics of fear (1960s–present), the fear of the priest
superseded by the fear of the P45. One could argue that the changing genre of
fear corresponds to a fundamental shift at another level, which is the shift from
the figure of discipline to the figure of control.The figure of discipline is typically
that of the worker as captured in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times or that of the
prisoner as depicted in Oscar
were frowned on by Machiavelli (1970: 77).
Dandyism is often associated with decadent strains of Anglo-American and French literature.
Though a detailed treatment is beyond the scope of the present study, the following writers
– a far from comprehensive survey, to be sure – offer insights into the topic,
whether as practitioners, theoreticians or observers: Lord Byron, OscarWilde, William
Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Chris Petit (specifically, the eponymous character from his novel
Robinson , 1993), William Gibson (Peter
Imagining America , Peter Conrad describes how famous British
travel writers – Mrs Trollope, Dickens, OscarWilde and the rest
– knew what they were going to see in America because
‘America’ was a construct of the European imagination, and
before coming they had, like Columbus, ‘imagined America’.
India has had much the same experience of being ‘imagined’
by writers for whom it was a necessary creation, the
Art’, The Times (11 February), 14.
Brock, A. C. (1919b). ‘The New English Art Club’, The Times (5 June), 12.
Brock, A. C. (1919c). ‘Modern War Pictures’, The Times (27 December), 13.
Corbett, D. P. (1997). The Modernity of English Art: 1914–1930 (Manchester:
Manchester University Press).
Cork, R. (1976). Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age. I, Origins and
Development (London: Gordon Fraser).
Edwards, P. and R. Humphreys (2008). Wyndham Lewis: Portraits (London:
National Portrait Gallery).
Ellmann, R. (1988). OscarWilde (London: Penguin).
his pale, solemn face.14
The fact that Hood remains one of ‘ourselves’, assimilated to the
realm of friend and family, attests to his central place in Victorian
popular literary culture. The rhythms of his verse influenced poems as
disparate as Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ and OscarWilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. In the twentieth century Hood’s
select but stalwart band of supporters included the war poets Edward
Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon, who was, as he recalls in his autobiography, inspired to become a poet by the
wings, with ‘Master’ written
on his ugly face! (Law, 1893–94: September 1893, p. 9)
The migration of Russian Jewish émigrés between 1880 and 1914, after
the Russian pogroms of 1881 and 1882, substantially increased the
Jewish population in Britain, especially London, and generated much
racial and xenophobic prejudice (Gray, 2010: 235). The consternation
surrounding the Jewish immigrants seeped into contemporary literature
and the Boss takes his place alongside other Jewish characters associated
with the theatre, such as OscarWilde’s sexually predatory Isaacs in The
Tourism, cross-cultural space, and ethics in Irish poetry
Charles I. Armstrong
’ (Mahon, 1999: 230),2 but a more
complex and productive parallel is established through repeated conjurings of
the artistic milieu of the 1890s fin de siècle. Mahon’s approach to the movement
is centred upon its Irish, English, and French representatives, as he focuses on its
bases in London and Paris. The Decadents’ ambiguous position as both a symptom and a critique of modern society provides Mahon’s verse with some nuance
and ambivalence. An 1890s journal provides him with the title of The Yellow
Book. The period marking the heyday of OscarWilde and the