- Representing the National Landscape in Irish Romanticism by Julia M. Wright
A highly engaging, richly researched study of the longstanding association between land, national identity, and Irish literary production, Representing the National Landscape in Irish Romanticism begins with traditional, Herderian-driven ideas of cultural nationalism only to overturn them. Against readings of the Irish nation as defined by way of the affective connection between the people and rural Irish geography, Julia M. Wright highlights the manner in which Romanticera [End Page 402] Irish literature consistently moves beyond the “insular” and “affective” to emphasize instead Ireland’s “relationship to other nations” and its fundamentally international nature in a period of increasing movement of people and goods through trade, tourism, migration, emigration, and exile (x). The resulting study presents a fresh and invigorating exploration of the varied uses of topography, both domestic and foreign, in a diverse selection of often overlooked Irish Romantic poetry and prose. In this, Wright’s study perfectly complements, while also expanding upon, recent considerations of the representation of land in Irish Romantic literature by Claire Connolly, Seamus Deane, Luke Gibbons, and Glenn Hooper.
Wright’s six chapters each trace divergent facets of what Connolly has perceptively called the “cartographic consciousness” of Irish Romantic writers (Connolly, A Cultural History of the Irish Novel, 1790–1829 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012], 48). Chapter 1, for instance, investigates the depiction of Killarney in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century texts, with particular attention paid to John Leslie’s Killarney (1772) and Robert Torrens’s The Victim of Intolerance (1814). Wright develops previous discussions of Romantic-era representations of Killarney, arguing, in particular, that Leslie’s topographical poem “uses classical and historical referencing to position Ireland within an imperial cartography and narrative” (6). More than that, Wright maintains, Killarney is “a key forerunner of the national tale in its representation of Irish reconciliation to English rule through a marriage plot,” though the national tale, in “its focus on plot and a resolution that is entrenched in the domestic,” ultimately “disables the cartographic potential of Leslie’s romantic interlude” (6, 45–46). Torrens’s later novel also provides an instructive comparison to the national tale, moving from conventional, if gothicized, depictions of Killarney in its first three volumes to “realist and even gothic transformations” of the national tale’s allegorical marriage trope in its often suppressed fourth volume (37). Shutting down both national reconciliation and Irish participation in international politics through its narrative of sexual violence, dispossession, and the hero’s final feminization, The Victim of Intolerance responds to the national tale with a brutal challenge.
Wright’s fertile linking of Leslie’s Killarney and Torrens’s The Victim of Intolerance to the national tale in this chapter reveals fascinating, if hitherto little recognized, interconnections. Throughout the study, Wright ably traces the relationships between genres and forms that have tended to be assessed primarily in comparison to British Romanticism, as noted in her introduction: “Irish topographical verse, for instance, is grasped in relation to British topographical models; the Irish national [End Page 403] tale is discussed in the context of the romantic-era novel, largely in Britain and especially through the example of Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels” (xxvi). As far as Wright is concerned, this solidifies the common perception that Irish Romantic writing interacted only with a more richly realized British tradition while it also occludes the wider, more varied, often transatlantic and transnational “influences on, and … influence of, Irish writing in this period” (xxvi). Her primary aim in the study then is to explore this more expansive, cross-generic, and internationally focused Irish literary tradition through the lens of “nonaffective understandings of the land” (xxvii).
Given the revisionary nature of Wright’s interests, it is entirely unsurprising that her study is especially strong in its probing consideration of long accepted understandings of categories of Irish writing that have tended to dominate scholarship of nineteenth-century Irish literature. The national tale, in particular, provides a frequent point of return. Chapter 1, as...