- Traveling Irishness in the Long Nineteenth Century ed. by Marguérite Corporaal, Christina Morin
Representations of Irish people in the nineteenth century often emphasize their love of the land and attachment to home. In Vanity Fair (1847–48), for instance, William Makepeace Thackeray mocks Mrs. Major O’Dowd for comparing various European sites unfavorably to her Irish homeland. In the middle of the Battle of Waterloo, O’Dowd prattles on about the various Irish locations from her youth—Ballinafad, Glenmalony, Dublin—suggesting that Irishness is place-bound and provincial, even when it travels. Given this tendency to define Irishness as a static attachment to place, Traveling Irishness in the Long Nineteenth Century is a welcome collection. As the editors Marguérite Corporaal and Christina Morin explain in their introduction, these essays provide an important supplement to accounts of the Irish diaspora that focus on famine migration and Irish dislocation by exploring Irish people and Irish culture on the move before, during, and after the Great Famine. What results is a picture of Irish cosmopolitanism, as many of the essays explore voluntary travel and transnational aesthetics.
In some essays, the phrase traveling Irishness means Irish travel narratives: Anne O’Connor, Peter Gray, and Joachim Fischer consider the ways in which Irish writers interpret Italy, Germany, and County Clare. Because scholars are more likely to read travel narratives about Ireland than travel narratives by Irish writers, studying this somewhat neglected genre is interesting, in part because Irishness both appears and does not appear in these texts. Irish travel narratives often address English readers, use English and Irish reference points, and speak on behalf of a British identity. Yet precisely because the Irishness of these texts requires interpretation, Fischer argues, they capture the contradictions and hybridity of Anglo-Irish identity. It is a very provocative point: namely, that Anglo-Irish identity—an identity position most frequently associated with literary genres such as the big house novel or the gothic, which dramatize a resistance to history and a troubling commitment to staying put—can best be understood through Anglo-Irish narratives about other cultural locations.
Other essays study genres on the move. Tracing William Orpen’s contributions to the foundation of the Dublin Municipal Gallery, Anne Cormican demonstrates the importance of French and international art to the development of an Irish school of painting in the midst of the Irish Revival. Corporaal considers Irish local-color narratives translated for continental European readers, suggesting an interesting relationship between regional identity and transnational circulation. Jason King shows the ways in [End Page 663] which the national tale travels to the United States and Canada in order to consolidate distinctly different diasporic identities. While Irish-American narratives favor romance and tend to celebrate republicanism and revolution, Irish-Canadian authors dramatize the dangers of revolution and romance: when this so-called national genre travels trans-nationally, it is made to serve distinctly different political ends.
Many of the essays show the importance of considering publication and book history when studying Irish literature. Morin spends the most time on this point, explaining the ways in which many Irish writers moved to England in order to pursue a writing career. Studying Irish authors who published with Minerva Press alongside better-known writers like John Banim, Gerald Griffin, and Maria Edgeworth, Morin suggests that the travel of authors and texts helps us better understand the travel in texts. Meidhbhín Ní Úrdail’s fascinating account of Thomas O’Connor, a Cork scribe who worked as a tailor in London, shows the ways in which literature written and translated into the Irish language travels through handwritten books.
In turn, Jim Shanahan and Matthew L. Reznicek focus on representations of travel in novels. Shanahan offers a useful taxonomy for understanding travel in Charles Lever’s novels, which depict “soldiers of fortune,” “civilian tourists,” and “Irishmen in reverse” to grapple with Lever’s own feelings of exile (165). Reznicek provides a new reading of the role of the Théâtre François in Maria...