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  • Transnationalism, Ireland, and The Bell
  • Niall Carson (bio)

The relationship between the transnational writer, the national canon, and a “world literature” has particular implications for the study of Irish literature in the twentieth century. There are many good reasons to think more transnationally about Irish literature. While Irish historians and Irish-language scholars have begun to do so in earnest, it is arguable that the study of Irish literature lags behind in this respect.1 The nation-state remains the principal lens through which we study Irish literature.2 The seminal text in this respect has been Seamus Deane’s three-volume Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, published at a time when the concept of the nation-state had already been drawn into question.3 Such was the centrality of national identity in defining the scope of Deane’s work that other important social classifications, most notably gender, were omitted from the first three volumes—an omission that would have to be rectified in two subsequent [End Page 171] editions. Although Deane’s work did much to reclaim what could be considered Irish writing, using nationality as a marker is not without its pitfalls. If recent scholarship has helped to reclaim Irishness as central to Samuel Beckett’s writing from internationalist and modernist readings, other critics have been quick to point out the difficulty in pigeonholing authors within any restrictive categorical definitions.4 The transnational could expose a fruitful seam for Irish literary studies to explore, and there are several examples of scholars choosing to approach the work of first- and second-generation Irish writers in a more globalized, transatlantic, or archipelagic context.5 By prioritizing the flow of ideas, attitudes, and cultures over and above those of individuals or of power relationships, transnational literary studies can help to show how artistic production itself is “constructed in the movement between places, sites, and regions.”6 Such a methodology within literary studies need not eschew traditional methods of analysis nor deny the importance of national, gender, or identity politics within a writer’s work. Rather, it is a question of emphasis, a focus on examining the liminal, the gaps, and the transitions within literature in order to paint a broader picture of the ways in which writers and artists have engaged with the world of their time. Seen in this light, Ireland is not just an island on the periphery of Europe and outside the metropolises of London or Paris. Instead, Ireland becomes the center of exchange in a nexus of ideas and texts—one of many nodes in a transnational interchange of artistic expression.

Perhaps one of the most obvious ways in which the transnational in Irish literature can be examined is through the burgeoning area of periodical studies. Literary periodicals, or little magazines, are transnational in composition and identity by their very definition. [End Page 172] They are often “worldly” in their outlook, co-created by writers from across the globe, and engaged in debates around art and culture that traverse national boundaries; they offer the ideal format for study of the transnational within Irish literature. The literary magazine has seen a rise in scholarly interest in both Britain and America that has culminated in some substantial contributions to transnational literary studies.7 The scrutiny of Irish literary periodicals has also developed considerably in the previous two decades, and periodical culture itself has become a subject for serious academic debate.8 Ireland’s place in this history, however, remains relatively underexplored. This essay will discuss the Irish literary magazine The Bell (1940–54) in order to trace the transnational element within Irish letters and to show the current of ideas, writers, and debates that flowed across borders within this publication. In doing so, it will focus on the work of its first editor Sean O’Faolain, who set the tone of the magazine as aspiring to the highest global standards and who gave it, in Peadar O’Donnell’s memorable phrase, its “recognisable gait of going.”9

That magazines such as Cyril Connolly’s Horizon (1940–49) would rely on Irish authors such as Louis MacNeice, or that O’Faolain’s first successful venture in fiction would...


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