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Irish Catholic Writers and the Invention of the American South

Linda Barnickel

Publication Year: 2013

In this expansive study, Bryan Giemza recovers a neglected subculture and retrieves a missing chapter of Irish Catholic heritage by canvassing the literature of American Irish writers from the U.S. South. Giemza offers a defining new view of Irish American authors and their interrelationships within both transatlantic and ethnic regional contexts. From the first Irish American novel, published in Winchester, Virginia, in 1817, Giemza investigates a cast of nineteenth-century writers contending with the turbulence of their time—writers influenced by both American and Irish revolutions. Additionally, he considers dramatists and propagandists of the Civil War and Lost Cause memoirists who emerged in its wake. Some familiar names reemerge in an Irish context, including Joel Chandler Harris, Lafcadio Hearn, and Kate (O’Flaherty) Chopin. Giemza also examines the works of twentieth-century southern Irish writers, such as Margaret Mitchell, John Kennedy Toole, Flannery O’Connor, Pat Conroy, Anne Rice, Valerie Sayers, and Cormac McCarthy. For each author, Giemza traces the influences of Catholicism as it shaped both faith and ethnic identity, pointing to shared sensibilities and contradictions. Flannery O’Connor, for example, resisted identification as an Irish American, while Cormac McCarthy, described by some as “anti-Catholic,” continues a dialogue with the Church from which he distanced himself. Giemza draws on many never-before-seen documents, including authorized material from the correspondence of Cormac McCarthy, interviews from the Irish community of Flannery O’Connor’s native Savannah, Georgia, and Giemza’s own correspondence with writers such as Valerie Sayers and Anne Rice. This lively literary history prompts a new understanding of how the Irish in the region helped invent a regional mythos, an enduring literature, and a national image.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Literary Studies


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-15

In one form or another, this book has been nearly a decade in the making. In preparing it I was faced with the classic paradox: any time one sets out to do something, something else must be done to get halfway there. Without the help of many others, I could not have taken up a task that seemed to veer to infinitude. And so goes my gratitude. It extends to the many unmen-tioned and to those whom in carelessness I may have forgotten to mention, but ...

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1. Introduction: Mavericks of Religion

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pp. 1-36

When the bestselling humorist Irvin S. Cobb (1876–1944) stepped to the podium before the Catholic-leaning American Irish Historical Society in January 1917, he flashed some of the familiar chutzpah that would make him a crowd favorite. He began with a curious blend of southern and Irish nationalism...


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pp. 37-53

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2. New Irish, Old South: Revolution and Its Discontents

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pp. 39-74

The very first Irish American novel was published in the American South, and it was the product of a failed revolution. It issued not from the crowded, ink-stained chambers of some gritty center of northern manufactures but from—of all places—Winchester, Virginia. The Irish Emigrant, An Historical Tale Founded on Fact, published in 1817, was signed by an unnamed “Hibernian,” who has...

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3. Old Irish, New South: A Bridge to the Moderns

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pp. 75-110

This chapter alights toward the end of the long nineteenth century, really, and considers four writers—Joel Chandler Harris, Kate Chopin, William Marion Reedy, and Lafcadio Hearn—who encountered widely variable circumstances. To generalize about them is to fla"en. But if there is a common thread, perhaps it is this: from the first, encounters with American conceptions of race defined them...


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pp. 111-127

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4. Staging Irishness

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pp. 113-152

How many famous gun-toting western outlaws had the benefit of a southern cousin in a nunnery who would write regularly and serve as a moral adviser? In fact, John Henry “Doc” Holliday had one, and Billy the Kid, likely the son of Irish Famine immigrants, was supposedly steered from murder by a young Sister of Mercy in Trinidad, Colorado, a tale recounted in N. Scott Momaday’s ...

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5. Flannery O’Connor’s Dear Old Dirty Southland

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pp. 153-192

It should be easy enough to tell what sort of creature Flannery O’Connor was: her family roots traced to Ireland, her accent was pure coastal Georgia, and she counted meeting the pope a highlight of her European vacation, if not of her life. Irish, Catholic, southern—more or less the end of the story. If only it were so simple. She liked to refer facetiously to the “Wah Between the States” and once wrote Be"...


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pp. 193-209

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6. Cormac McCarthy, An Irish Southerner among the Heresiarchs

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pp. 195-240

God made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness shows through.“He,” saith the Buddhist text, “who discerns that nothingness Actually, you’ve lower-cased all such designations. The Greek, the Nigger are capped, but they’re used as names. As I see it, only Sunday, Christ, God, At 4:00 p.m. on June 5, 2007, Cormac McCarthy set the literary world on its ear. He rapped with Oprah....

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7. After Mary Flannery, More Strange Hatchlings

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pp. 241-271

Some rather colorful candidates for inclusion in this study specifically declined its terms of identification. Before his death, I wrote to William F. Buckley Jr. His mother was a debutante from (German) New Orleans, a significant part of his childhood had been spent in Texas and Mexico, and his writings admitted no doubt that he identified strongly with his father’s Irish Catholic ancestry. Could...

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8. Coda

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pp. 272-280

The twists and turns of Anne Rice’s writing career and the drama of her journey in faith perhaps serve to illustrate why it is impossible to speculate about what the future holds and why it is irresistible to do so: can a church that goes against the current of modern opinion at every turn retain its numbers, even in the conservative South? As the demographic center of the American Catholic population...


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pp. 281-312

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 313-344


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pp. 345-361

E-ISBN-13: 9780807150917
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807150900

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Southern Literary Studies
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OCLC Number: 845248589
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Irish Catholic Writers and the Invention of the American South

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Southern States -- History and criticism
  • Authors, American -- Southern States -- History and criticism.
  • Irish American Catholics -- Southern States.
  • Southern States -- Civilization -- Irish influences.
  • Southern States -- Intellectual life.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
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