During the height of the Celtic Tiger, Irish studies scholars recognized a renegotiation of gender roles, resulting from the dramatic shift in the socioeconomic nature of Ireland. While these changes challenged [End Page 213] previously normative notions of gender, women’s roles have received the lion’s share of scrutiny. Still, as other critics have claimed, these new norms mean men must also renegotiate traditional gender roles. And yet, these changes become all the more dramatic when they are understood in the social, political, economic, and literary contexts that formulated and buttressed the preceding notions of masculinity and manliness. It is to this task that Joseph Valente sets himself in The Myth of Manliness in Irish National Culture, 1880–1922.
Such a task—challenging a larger narrative of sexuality in Irish literary studies— is no easy undertaking. Thus, Valente situates this complicated study within a broader and even more fundamental complication of manliness that he defines as “the double bind of Irish manhood” (1). His metaphor of the double bind of manliness operates here on several levels: Valente defines Victorian manliness as “both the consummation of the masculine condition, its perfection if you will, and a sublation of the masculine condition into a loftier form” (2); in other words, Victorian society defined its ideal man in the phrase “strong passions strongly checked” (3). This replicates an imperialist ethic of self-government that leads into and reinforces the second form of the double bind. Not only did manliness act as a shibboleth for the “rights and privileges of democratic citizenship,” it emerged “as a leading trope of national self-determination” (9). As such, the state of manliness became inextricably bound to and fulfilled by the identity of a metropolitan, bourgeois, and English man.
This leads to the second aspect of the double bind of manliness. The claims of subaltern groups—whether colonial others or the “metrocolonial” British subjects of Ireland—to have achieved manhood were subverted by the metropolitan manipulation of the gender construct’s ‘discordia concours of animality and spirituality” (11). Here Valente refers to the long tradition of representing the Irish as both a feminized and a bestial and simianized race. Following land agitations in the middle part of the nineteenth century, this new theory of racial difference enabled British thinkers to change the premise of their relationship with the Irish from a gendered one to a new hierarchical relationship that questioned whether, because of their lower evolutionary status, the Irish actually had any viable claim to political rights in the first place.
It is in this context that Valente begins his analysis of Charles Stewart Parnell, both the man and the myth, a figure whom he describes as a “masterful enigma” (30). The specter of Parnell continues to hover throughout the images, texts, performances, and thoughts of Irish Literary and Cultural Revival as well as in the more physical force nationalist movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Parnell was “a public figure, the site of mass identification” [End Page 214] whose “appeal turns out to reside neither in the romantic elements of an heroic personality nor in the realpolitik of stratagem and policy but in the manner of their articulation, or rather their double articulation” (30). It is in this “double articulation” that Parnell produced a specifically Irish embodiment of the “imperialist bias of the manly ideal” (31). Working through public speeches, the political cartoons, and the intensely private personal life of Parnell, Valente charts the development of “a whole generation of Irish literati including Yeats, Robinson, Gregory, Martyn, and Joyce, who could be counted on to reproduce and refurbish his legend” well into the twentieth century (37).
The remainder of Valente’s Myth of Manliness analyzes key institutions and organizations of the Irish Cultural Revival as well as core texts of the Irish Literary Revival in terms of their engagement with this mythic construction of Parnell. His chapter on the afterlives of Parnell reveals the logical inconsistencies through which organizations like the Gaelic Athletic Association and Sinn Fein contorted...