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Trinity College Dublin

The National Novel
Director: Professor Ian Campbell Ross e-mail
Researchers: Dr Carole Jones e-mail
                         Dr Christina Morin e-mail

This project resulted in two doctoral thesis studies of the national novel: Scotland (Dr Carole Jones) and Ireland (Dr Christina Morin)

I The National Novel ó Scotland.
Dr Carole Jones, Displaced Masculinity: Men, Women and Gender Disorientation in Contemporary Scottish Fiction

This thesis is a study of the representation of gender in Scottish fiction since 1980. It is prompted by the foregrounding of male insecurity in writing from this period, where uncertain and ineffectual male characters contrast with the stereotype of the Scottish Ďhardmaní. It analyses both womenís and menís relationship with masculinity in contemporary novels, and their sense of displacement due to the decline in patriarchal authority and the destabilisation of gender identity and relations. All the texts examined undermine the notion of an essential human nature and promote a concept of identity as constructed and performative. This study relates the represented subjective disorientation to the crisis in contemporary philosophy regarding the humanist, Cartesian model of the subject. In this it engages with debates in feminism and the field of menís studies. The thesis examines the novels of five Scottish writers: James Kelman, Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay, A.L. Kennedy, and Alan Warner. They all discourage content-based reading for events and plot, and they experiment with form and the effect of non-conventional modes of representation, allowing alternative models of the self to emerge. These models are not always conclusively imagined, and the narratives are not often brought to a satisfying conclusion. Instead they propose, in their refusal of a static and familiar form, that a transition in gender is an ongoing process of emergence rather than a movement between discrete, progressive stages, and that subjective stability is a fiction dependent on the instability of language and representation

II The National Novel ó Ireland
Christina M. Morin, ĎCompleting the Unioní: Charles Robert Maturin and the (Ir)reconciliations of Romantic National Fiction

Considered merely as imitation, if not plagiarism, of such contemporary works as Sydney Owensonís The Wild Irish Girl (1806), Maturinís novels were largely written out of twentieth-century accounts of Irish literature. More recently, critical interest has increased, but analytic work remains limited, often confined to examining Maturinís most famous novel, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Such truncated attention belies the significant influence Maturin had on the Irish national tale popularized at the start of the nineteenth century as well as on the historical novel made famous by Sir Walter Scottís Waverley series (1814-1829). Although Maturin certainly drew much inspiration from the works produced both by Scott and by his fellow Irish authors, his novels never simply imitate. Rather, they respond to and transform both the national tale and the historical novel, insistently interrogating the uncomplicated equation of happy marriage with happy national Union often understood to underlie these forms. By way of introduction, this thesis offers a biographical account of Maturin, suggesting the ways in which the authorís background as an Irish Anglican clergyman resulted in a divided identity that goes some way towards explaining his attraction to literary forms concerned with the resolution of personal and national alienation. The thesis then proposes, through a detailed comparison of Maturinís novels with the national tales of Maria Edgeworth and Sydney Owenson, and the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott and John Banim, the ways in which these authors grapple with an implicit violence that ultimately undermines simplistic conclusions drawn from apparently blissful allegorical marriages. The following six chapters devote themselves to discussions of each of Maturinís novels, investigating the writerís methods for both employing and dramatically skewing the generic conventions of the national tale, the historical novel, and the Gothic in order to suggest, much more forcefully than do his contemporaries, the difficulties attendant to arriving at a reconciled identity, personal or national. The thesis concludes with an argument for increased critical attention to Maturin, given both his transformative effect on contemporary literary forms and his continued influence on Irish and European literature throughout the nineteenth century.

Contact: CISS Last updated: Feb 13 2008.