Gerontology has been gaining in importance since the 1970s. However, until we begin to experience it ourselves, the process of ageing is often difficult to grasp, and the study of ageing in fiction has been recognised as a useful counterweight to the abstractions and theorisation of gerontology. This chapter will discuss Deirdre Madden’s fiction from the perspective of recent work on ageing, focusing particularly on her novel Authenticity (2002), in which three characters, Dan, William, and Roderic, illustrate different attitudes to ageing. Old age has often been seen as a time of getting back to essentials, a journey towards a more authentic self. In Authenticity, Dan, with his freedom from social convention, his serenity, and his solid sense of self, is the character who comes closest to this ideal. But, as Erik Erikson points out in The Life Cycle Completed, the ageing process can reveal hidden traumas and, rather than integration, may lead to despair, as in William’s case. For Roderic, who also knows what it is like to be trapped in an inauthentic life, ageing leads to loss of confidence, especially sexual confidence. An examination of ageing in Madden’s fiction reveals the extent to which the experience is shaped by the culture in which her characters live. William, raised to exercise self-control and willpower, qualities that have enabled him to succeed in a consumerist, capitalist society, fares least well when it comes to ageing.
Family secrets and the Gothic in The Birds of the Innocent Wood and Remembering Light and Stone
This chapter probes Deirdre Madden’s subtle and self-reflexive deployment of Gothic tropes and themes in The Birds of the Innocent Wood and Remembering Light and Stone. It inspects too her affinities with what has been dubbed the female Gothic. Haunting is a central trait associated with the heroines of these texts, their families, and their social and sexual relationships. In particular, the Gothic manifests itself in the form of family secrets and of the uncanny spaces occupied by the protagonists, which have double aspects and are unhomely abodes. The secrets that dog the characters are never fully unlocked and exert their troubling force by persisting in later generations and countermanding the heroines’ attempts to evade them. The Irish lake-land terrain in The Birds of the Innocent Wood and the split and contrary facets of the Umbrian town, S. Giorgio, in Remembering Light and Stone concretise the unsettling sense of spectral worlds that subtend the everyday. Even though Madden’s figures are beset by the uncanny and feel dislocated as a result, they themselves act as disturbing and alienating presences. They are caught up in realities that are full of doubles and troubling mirror images, but they too bring disequilibrium with them. The compulsive and repetitive cycles linked with the Gothic are allayed to a degree by the conclusion of these novels. Yet they are never fully banished, as the uncanny is an ineluctable feature of existence for Madden’s characters.
While Spenser is firmly rooted in the virtue ethics premise that the telos of moral life is action oriented towards the production of flourishing, Chapter 5 offers an account of the often radically un-Aristotelian shape this vision of flourishing assumes in Spenser’s ethics. This chapter considers the disciplinary agendas of Spenser’s ethical imagination as a projection of the Garden of Adonis’s metaphysical concerns into the realm of political agency. Through readings of Neostoic thought in the ‘Mutability Cantos’, of Guyon’s destruction of the Bower of Bliss, and of the image of the colonial market town near the close of Spenser’s prose dialogue, A View of the Present State of Ireland, it examines the relationship of this central marker of Spenserian political virtue to broader questions of moral subjectivity, of virtuous action, and of the possibility of a flourishing life in the mutable world. Spenser’s program of ‘vertuous and gentle discipline’ describes how structures of normative behavior and personal comportment are ultimately concerned with marshalling the mutable body, its needs, and its desires towards generating a social order within a disordered, and potentially disordering, world.
This chapter examines Deirdre Madden’s One by One in the Darkness (1996), arguing that two central features of her novel are its depiction of class and its narrative emphasis on the multiple effects that ripple outward from any given event. By exploring a variety of class experiences within the Quinn family, One by One shifts away from the language of ‘the two communities’, reaching instead towards a more nuanced multiplicity. The novel also depicts that multiplicity by emphasising the many ripples that single events leave behind, often withholding a key happening in favour of the bruised silences that follow in its wake. One by One in the Darkness thus reflects a larger pattern in Madden’s work: rather than just books in which things happen, hers are often books in which things have happened. This gives her fiction the quality less of revelation than of meditation, and helps One by One avoid the most clichéd modes of representing the Troubles. As comparisons to some of Madden’s contemporaries suggest, this quality has a significant resonance in the context of Northern Irish fiction.
Spenser’s ethics are organized among concerns that would become pivotal to the transforming discipline of moral philosophy in early modernity: making the status of humanity itself a central speculative problem of moral inquiry, and centering social obligations as both the normative guide to, and ultimate telos of, virtuous agency. Spenser is thus important to the history of moral philosophy because he also illuminates the ways these questions find a crucial aspect of their historical origin in early modern England’s political emergence as a colonial empire, helping to shape central representational and critical problems of British intellectual culture well into the modern era: the challenge of understanding colonialism, and the coercive violence on which it depends, as a moral activity. Reading Spenser as a moral theorist, and one whose moral theory is significantly shaped by his experiences in Elizabethan Ireland, thus illuminates at a crucial moment of historical inception that philosophical tradition’s pivotal turn as it evolved alongside early modern England’s wider political and economic transformation into a global nation-state built on the foundations of colonial expansion.
Deirdre Madden: New critical perspectives is a landmark study of this important and highly regarded Irish novelist. It underscores the range, imaginative complexity, and enduring relevance of Madden’s fictions. The chapters collected in this volume explore her crucial Troubles and post-Troubles fictions – Hidden Symptoms, One by One in the Darkness, Molly Fox’s Birthday, and Time Present and Time Past – and draw out their interconnected portrayals of violence, grief, time, trauma, and memory. Madden’s dexterous use of the novel form is highlighted, especially her bending of the conventions of realism to encompass searching philosophical and existential themes. Revealingly, she is shown to be a foremost practitioner of the artist novel or Künstlerroman. Through the figures of the writer, the painter, the photographer, and the actor, she examines the ability of art to remake and distil reality and to shed indirect light on emotional cruxes that cannot otherwise be fathomed. These chapters provide an overview of all of Madden’s work, including her children’s novels, and uncover its inquiring and multidimensional qualities. Her overarching themes are drawn out, amongst them the familial, states of dislocation, resonant objects, the haunting aftermath of the past, the transnational, and the regenerative function of art. Making use of a wide variety of approaches, these chapters persuasively elucidate the compelling subtleties of Madden’s fiction. Readers are invited to discover the work of this accomplished Irish writer who across all her novels engages thought-provokingly with contemporary life, politics, and art.
Memory and temporality in Hidden Symptoms, One by One in the Darkness, and Time Present and Time Past
This chapter analyses Deirdre Madden’s repeated concerns with memory and temporality by comparing two of her earlier works, Hidden Symptoms (1986) and One by One in the Darkness (1996), with her latest novel Time Present and Time Past (2013). Her exploration of the impact of the past on the present is exemplified in her two ‘Troubles’ novels, but is also a major concern of her last work that is set at the height of the Celtic Tiger’s economic success. In all three novels, characters are faced with a past which intrudes into the present in quasi-traumatic form and has notable visual qualities. Drawing on ideas by Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Pierre Nora, the chapter argues that in all these works, memories are embodied in physical spaces, especially domestic interiors, but most notably crystallise in images, in particular photographs, that are translated into ‘prose pictures’. These created memory images oscillate between the traumatic and the nostalgic and ultimately help to reconcile the past and the present, thereby challenging the notion of progress that underpins contemporary historical-political developments on both sides of the Irish border.
This chapter explores the many figurations of home in Deirdre Madden’s novels against the background of critical theories of home, from Heidegger and Bachelard to bell hooks, Iris Marion Young, and Doreen Massey. A close reading of relevant passages from the novels shows the primacy of home in all its dimensions in Madden’s work. In widening concentric circles, home is shown to refer to house, family, neighbourhood, city, land, and country; with the different scales feeding into each other. Following the chronological trajectory of the novels, the chapter also argues that the conceptualisation of home undergoes a significant shift in Madden’s oeuvre. The angry rejection of traditional definitions of home in terms of safety, identity, and Authenticity in Hidden Symptoms, The Birds of the Innocent Wood, and, to a lesser extent, Remembering Light and Stone is gradually replaced by an exploration of alternative imaginaries of home as more fluid, open, and relational. In the later novels, then, home is experienced as a process far more than a product and is no longer necessarily bound to one specific place. Still, if for characters like Julia in Authenticity or the narrator of Molly Fox’s Birthday, the movement from the childhood home to an adult sense of being-at-home among friends and family in different places seems fairly straightforward, for several other characters, the relation between the inherited and performative dimensions of home remains a source of conflict requiring constant negotiation and reconstruction.
Central to Spenser’s ethics is the question of the political and metaphysical insufficiency of the ancient virtues to the task of establishing colonial rule in Ireland. Chapter 6 focuses on Spenser’s engagements with the Florentine political theorist, Machiavelli, claiming that if Spenser’s Irish experience exposes the political limitations of an Aristotelian understanding of virtuous action, then the View’s Machiavelli-inflected account of Arthur, Lord Grey as an icon of virtue notably clarifies the scope, aims, and ambitions of what we might describe as a specifically Spenserian account of virtue. Spenser’s account of Grey’s violent tenure in Ireland, in which he upholds the massacre of Spanish troops at Smerwick as an exemplary action, defines virtue not as fulfillment of normative principles of excellence, but as the ability to respond in politically efficacious ways to various bad choices compelled by fortune and necessity.
In this interview, Deirdre Madden discusses her work and influences, putting them in the context of her early life in Northern Ireland, her studies at Trinity College Dublin and the University of East Anglia, and her years spent living abroad on the Continent. She talks about how she became a writer, and about significant themes in her work, including home and domesticity. She discusses how she crafts her work and speaks of literary influences, including Marcel Proust, T. S. Eliot, and Henry James. Themes in her novels include time, transience, and memory. These ideas, together with the significance of family as a subject, and the Northern Irish Troubles are all explored in the interview. Another important theme is the visual arts, including painting and photography – both how these works are produced and what they might mean to the viewer. These art forms, in which something is made, are contrasted to acting, which is performative. There are reflections on the nature of identity, and how it may be constructed. Madden’s interest in material culture and the psychic force apparent in objects is also considered in detail. Whether or not her work belongs fully to the tradition of realism is discussed. Finally, she reflects upon her writing for children and speculates on future work.