Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement

Overview

This is the first study of Irish improvement fiction, a neglected genre of nineteenth-century literary, social, and political history. It shows how the fiction of Mary Leadbeater, Charles Bardin, Martin Doyle, and William Carleton attempted to lure the reader away from popular genres such as fantasy, romance, and "radical" political tracts by demonstrating the value of hard work, frugality, and sobriety in a rigorously realistic mode, representing the contentment that inheres in a plain social order free of ...

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Overview

This is the first study of Irish improvement fiction, a neglected genre of nineteenth-century literary, social, and political history. It shows how the fiction of Mary Leadbeater, Charles Bardin, Martin Doyle, and William Carleton attempted to lure the reader away from popular genres such as fantasy, romance, and "radical" political tracts by demonstrating the value of hard work, frugality, and sobriety in a rigorously realistic mode, representing the contentment that inheres in a plain social order free of excess and embellishment. Improvement discourse defined itself in opposition to the perceived excesses of both revolutionary politics and romantic poetry, seeking (but failing) to demonstrate how both political discontent and unhappiness could be offset by a strict practicality and prosaic realism. The improved societies depicted in these fictional pamphlets are the expression of a counter-revolutionary liberalism and correspond to representations of social stability in the emerging English realist novel. These issues are examined in chapters exploring the career of William Carleton; peasant "orality"; educational provision in the post-Union period; the Irish language; secret society violence; and the Irish revival.

Helen O'Connell argues that improvement discourse is embedded in the literary mainstream of nineteenth-century Ireland, from the "oral" peasant narratives of William Carleton to Young Ireland nationalism. In addition, she shows how the cultural revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries emerged in reaction to the modernizing discourse of improvement. While uncovering previously neglected material, this study sheds new light on the work of Maria Edgeworth, Mary Leadbeater, William Carleton, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Douglas Hyde, J. M. Synge, and W.B. Yeats.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199286461
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/23/2006
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen O'Connell is a Lecturer in English Studies at the University of Durham. She has previously lectured at University College Dublin.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Aesthetics of Excess
1. 'False Refinement', Plain Speech, and Improved Writing
2. Improvement and Nostalgia: Society Schools and Hedge Schools
3. The Silence of Irish
4. Political Discipline and the rhetoric of Moderation
5. The Aesthetics of Excess: Improvement and Revivalism
Conclusion

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