Representing the Great Famine in Contemporary Historical Fiction
Representing the Great Famine in Contemporary Historical Fiction. Narrative and Intertextual Strategies in Joseph O’Connor’s Irish American Trilogy
ISBN 978-3-86821-905-0, 244 S., 11 Abb., kt., € 34,50 (2021)
(ELCH - Studies in English Literary and Cultural History, Bd. 83)
The Great Famine (1845-1852) – arguably the most devastating period of Irish history – is often associated with a lack of or even the actual impossibility of adequate representation in historiography and literature. Despite an extensive range of groundbreaking historical and literary research on the Famine in the last three decades, less scholarly attention has been paid to its portrayal in contemporary historical fiction. Proposing a term ‘Famine fiction’ to describe a proliferating number of works of narrative fiction about the Great Hunger, this study examines the still under-researched Irish American Trilogy (2002 / 2007 / 2010) of Joseph O’Connor as a central contribution to this expanding corpus of 21st-century literature. Through a systematic model of narrative worldmaking and structuralist readings of intertextual phenomena, the analysis brings to light a variety of tropes and modes which negotiate and add to the existing cultural database of Famine imagery. Ranging from ballads and revisions of 19th-century illustrations to intertextual networks of female characters, these representations suggest overarching lenses of continuity and hope as alternative, culturally productive interpretations of the Famine narrative. Uncovering how the trilogy inspires recent artistic and activist responses to the Great Hunger, this study takes a major step toward both, acknowledging Joseph O’Connor’s input to Famine fiction, and advancing our understanding of the role of the latter in shaping 21st-century cultural conceptions of the Great Irish Hunger.
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