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Über dieses Buch

This collection is the first to examine how the city is written in modern Irish fiction. Focusing on the multi-faceted, layered, and ever-changing topography of the city in Irish writing, it brings together studies of Irish and Northern Irish fictions which contribute to a more complete picture of modern Irish literature and Irish urban cultural identities. It offers a critical introduction to the Irish city as it represented in fiction as a plural space to mirror the plurality of contemporary Irish identities north and south of the border. The chapters combine to provide a platform for new research in the field of Irish urban literary studies, including analyses of the fiction of authors including James Joyce, Roddy Doyle, Kate O’Brien, Hugo Hamilton, Kevin Barry, and Rosemary Jenkinson. An exciting and diverse range of fictions is introduced and examined with the aim of generating a cohesive perspective on Irish urban fictions and to stimulate further discussion in this emerging area.



Chapter 1. Introduction: Irish Urban Fictions

The first UNESCO ‘Cities of Literature Conference’ was hosted in Dublin in June 2016 presenting the Irish capital as a creative, literary city and celebrating Ireland’s literary icons. Claiming that Dublin ‘has words in its blood’, the project explored Ireland’s literary traditions across a range of urban settings and continued work on the importance of literature to Dublin which has been ongoing since the city was designated as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010. Literature is of great significance not only to Dublin but to all Irish cities. Each of Ireland’s ten cities, both north and south of the border, has its own recognisable literary heritage which has evolved over time and through a variety of authors and literary styles. Equally, the cities themselves have been and are important to Irish literature and have inspired some of the country’s finest writing.
Maria Beville, Deirdre Flynn

Whose City Is It Anyway? The City as Experience


Chapter 2. Whose Dublin Is It Anyway? Joyce, Doyle, and the City

Every year, Bloomsday is celebrated as a literary pilgrimage that reasserts Joyce’s ownership of Dublin. The fact that Joyce left Dublin and only wrote about the city from memory while abroad seems to make little difference. The centenaries of the writing and publication of Dubliners have been commemorated by The New Dubliners (edited by Oona Frawley in 2005) and Dubliners 100 (edited by Thomas Martin in 2014). Though these collections offer different portrayals of Dublin in the twenty-first century, both pay homage to Joyce and his legacy and reference themselves, if only by their titles, as reiterations of Dubliners.
Toronto’s The Globe and Mail describes Roddy Doyle’s short story collection Bullfighting as ‘probably the finest collection of Irish short stories since James Joyce’s Dubliners.’ When asked if The Deportees and Bullfighting are modern versions of Dubliners, Roddy Doyle is quick to disagree: ‘No, I don’t. … You see, the problem is it’s almost as if Joyce invented Dublin and everybody has to then be judged against Joyce and of course, he didn’t.’
Roddy Doyle’s insider and present-day version of Dublin does not measure itself against Dubliners or Joyce. Rather his short story collections The Deportees and Bullfighting stand on their own as time capsules of life in Dublin in the twenty-first century. By writing about the city on his own terms, Doyle liberates Dublin and its writers from the tyranny of one author’s masterful but static view of a city that he wilfully abandoned, but still controls beyond space and time, much like an absentee landlord who is still collecting his rent.
Eva Roa White

Chapter 3. That Limerick Lady: Exploring the Relationship Between Kate O’Brien and Her City

Born and raised in Limerick and then a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent school in the city, much of Kate O’Brien’s writing reflects upon the city, particularly the development of its social milieu over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as the expansion and commercialisation of the 1960s. Though she travelled and explored settings familiar in a European paradigm of modernism, Limerick remained a central concern and the influence of the city may be read across her life and works. This chapter will explore the ambivalent nature of the relationship between O’Brien and her home city, considering the social changes and tensions of modernity, the creation of the Catholic middle class, and the position of the woman and artist within it. It will also explore how O’Brien’s writings contribute to debates about the spatial and temporal boundaries of modernism, arguing that O’Brien’s emphasis on the regional as well as the transnational draws attention to multiple modernities and provides for expanding our understanding of Irish and women’s modernisms and the complexities of the modern.
Margaret O’Neill

Chapter 4. Migrants in the City: Dublin Through the Stranger’s Eyes in Hugo Hamilton’s Hand in the Fire

In Hugo Hamilton’s 2010 novel Hand in the Fire, the first Irish novel written from an Eastern European perspective, Serbian immigrant Vid Ćosić is a witness to and conduit of Irish shame amidst revelations of abuses of institutional power during the Celtic Tiger period. As a migrant worker in Dublin, Vid’s position outside of citizenship allows him to register the fundamentally unequal treatment of both migrants and women in Ireland and the reversion to colonial hierarchies that shape his exclusion. The city is figured in the novel as a site of tension between insiders scrambling for power and outsiders desiring integration and access to resources. As he renovates his friend’s family home, seen through his eyes as a set of beams and nails, so too does Dublin emerge as a house with ‘good bones’, so to speak, that urgently needs renovation. Relatedly, Hamilton suggests that, despite Dublin’s increasingly cosmopolitan character, gender inequities continue to structure the capital city. Both of these sociopolitical and gendered forms of exclusion, I argue, produce a sense of shame pervading all relationships in Dublin specifically and the nation more generally. Hamilton’s narrativisation of these distinct but related forms of exclusion and stratification are most effectively viewed through six affective public and private spaces—the home, the pub, the court, the pier, the street, and the church—that structure the city and, ultimately, the Celtic Tiger nation.
Molly Ferguson

Chapter 5. Phantasmal Belfast, Ancient Languages, Modern Aura in Ciaran Carson’s The Star Factory

Ciaran Carson’s writings about his native city of Belfast focus on its unreality. This project began with the poetry collection Belfast Confetti (1990) and reached its apotheosis in his prose memoir The Star Factory (1997) and, most recently, continues with the philosophical novel Exchange Place (2012). Carson’s introspective fascination with Belfast’s inscrutability links him to mid-nineteenth-century writers about cities, such as Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire, and to theories about the city in the era of rapidly expanding capitalism. In grappling with post-industrial and sectarian Belfast, Carson adopts a two-tiered rhetorical strategy. Firstly, his writings borrow from archaic knowledge, especially problems within the linguistic and taxonomic components uncertainly encoded into city maps, place-names, competing idioms (Irish, English), religious iconography (Catholic, Protestant), and ancient oral Irish narratives, many of them recorded by Carson’s father and transposed into his own memoir. Secondly, Carson interweaves this archaic knowledge with a late modernist view of Belfast as phantasmagoria and aura, concepts that German critic Walter Benjamin developed from the cultural phenomenon of the panoramas and magic lantern theatres that arose in European cities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and from interpretations of commodities. Following Benjamin’s investigative model, Carson’s The Star Factory surveys the merchandises, found objects, and cinematic representations of mid-twentieth-century Belfast to recover his idiosyncratic memories and time-defying experiences. By scrutinising and interpreting such languages, genealogies, etymologies, and infrastructures, Carson’s autobiographical texts about Belfast replace static and misleading historical narratives with intimate, open-ended reflexive approaches.
Tim Keane

Disturbing Phantasies and the Uncanny City


Chapter 6. ‘Neither This nor That’: The Decentred Textual City in Ulysses

After his permanent flight from Ireland in 1904 at the age of 22, for four decades James Joyce obsessively rebuilt with meticulous hyperrealism his native habitat, urban Dublin. He boasted that were Dublin to disappear, it could be reconstructed from the blueprint he created in Ulysses, a virtual guide to its streets, buildings, and commerce. Geographical criticism of Joyce treats each of his works from Dubliners onward as the ultimate realist urban fiction, a unique one-dimensional object, the epitome of the mimetic mode of reading. The revolutionary montage of multiple ‘Dublins’ through a range of historical juxtapositions and varied styles has taken a back seat in Joyce studies. This chapter addresses that neglected underlying cityscape and proposes a reading of one of the multifarious countenances of Dublin in the eighth episode of Ulysses, ‘Lestrygonians’, as a decentred metropolis represented through an accumulation of place names, an exuberance of a monotonous style, and torrents of Leopold Bloom’s interior monologue.
I will show how Dublin is portrayed from the point of view of the rambling Bloom, a practical Dublin user. Special attention will be paid to two cruxes of the episode, the surplus of place names and the lack of descriptions, to argue that on the one hand they create the effect of reality, ushering the reader into the real world more intensely than any novel; on the other hand, they problematise the production of meanings, making the reader suspect the textuality of real life as well as the authenticity of fiction. This problem will be further explored through an examination of the repetitious and distancing style that depicts Bloom’s walking patterns and denies the reader any chance of imaginative enactment of Dublin. I will also discuss how the modern Dublin inundates Bloom’s mind with stimuli, conflating the past and present with various locations, thus subverting the traditional notion of wholeness in time and space. The city transforms into a signifying field in which proper names and what they trigger become signifiers and signifieds, rendering reality multidimensional. I will conclude by demonstrating how the text abandons the representational coherence of the classic novel in favour of a textual urban space rejecting totalisation.
Quyen Nguyen

Chapter 7. Urban Degeneracy and the Free State in Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds

Cities have long been associated with leisure and the freedom of modernity in literature, appearing as characters in a range of Victorian to modernist European fictions which depict liberatory flânerie and metropolitan idleness. In the nation-building discourses of early twentieth-century Ireland, however, the urban was often positioned as a site of moral degeneration. During the Free State period in Ireland (1922–1937), social problems such as idleness, prostitution, and corrupting modern entertainments were increasingly framed within discourses of degeneration by authorities who turned their scrutinising gaze inward following independence. Dublin in particular emerged in the most influential religious and educational discourses of the 1920s and 1930s as a locus of cultural decay and contagion, a contaminating space which endangered the entire nation. According to prominent champions of social and moral hygiene, Dublin was the chief headquarters of vice, a location which spawned indecent literature, showed immoral films, and housed the largest concentration of prostitutes in Ireland. The early twentieth-century social reform discourses which positioned Dublin as a modern forum of iniquity are precisely those under assault by Flann O’Brien in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds (1939). The novel’s portrayal of a morally squalid 1930s Dublin satirises the worst fears of the Free State’s most vocal social purity advocates. In At Swim-Two-Birds, the city becomes a site of corruption and defilement for the young male narrator, drawing him further away from the idealised visions of robust, athletic, masculinity against which he is measured. This chapter explores how O’Brien’s fictional representation of 1930s Dublin skewers contemporary Catholic discourses which constructed the city as a locus of sin and degeneration, illustrating the novel’s focus on the teachings of the Irish Christian Brothers as a particular target. O’Brien’s subversive portrayal of the moral topography of 1930s Dublin toys with the specific social anxieties which shaped the moral landscape of the Free State period as he presents the city as a site which permits rebellion against Catholic moral instruction.
Laura Lovejoy

Chapter 8. Putting the ‘Urban’ into ‘Disturbance’: Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane and the Irish Urban Gothic

Welcome to Bohane: a lawless, retro-future city in a parallel-universe west of Ireland—a seething mass of spud-aters, scobes and gombeens with ‘bumfluff taches and suicide eyes’.
Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2011 and operating within a lineage of writers including Anthony Burgess and Irvine Welsh, City of Bohane is an exuberant depiction of a violent and lawless city, a genre-bending blend of Urban Fantasy, post-industrial Gothic and ‘weird retro-fitted future-Western’, amongst others. Set in the west of Ireland city of Smoketown in the mid-2050s, Barry’s novel explores the fractures and tribalism between Logan Hartnett and his family, whose legacy of criminal activities has made for a scarred and troubled community, and Harnett’s nemesis, Gant, whose return threatens a new period of instability.
A notable constant amongst the reviews identifies an almost consciously Lovecraftian technique at work within Barry’s novel, whereby the ‘plot’, a straightforward return of a former hero and a bloody conclusion to an inter-city conflict, functions as the window-dressing for Barry’s real love; in this instance, the languorous linguistic play and atmosphere are the key desiderata underpinning Barry’s novel. The process is akin to the strategies devised by pulp novelists which produces the strange and unsettling sensation where you are reading ‘a pulp bricolage where texts concatenate out of scattered scraps, in what looks like a deliberate undermining of “plot”’ (Mieville 512).
The city represents a distinctive space which functions as a site of Gothic decay, disorder and dissent, a sequence of heterotopic nodes around which individual communities gather and merge, as well as a layered construction of historical entities in a state of continuous flux. This heterotopia is a city constructed of oddly connected, confusing, chaotic and ‘outlandish chronotopes’ (Smethurst, The Postmodern Chronotope: Reading Space and Time in Contemporary Fiction. Atlanta, GA: Editions Rodopi B.V., 2000, 117).
Bohane thus presents an inspired melange of the decaying post-industrial Gothic and Dickensian Victoriana. It stands thus that the zones of hybridity radically transform the Lovecraftian ghettoisation of the foreign, the disparate and the heterogenous, the heterotopic into a space for redemption, potential and rebirth: ‘a haunted Bohane reveals the manifest layers of voices, the polyphonic and echolalic city that will be forever in debt to its own ghosts’.
Martyn Colebrook

Chapter 9. John Banville: The City as Illuminated Image

John Banville has always strongly asserted that his work has no social or political messages, doesn’t directly engage with the material landscape of his personal experiences, and repeatedly conjures resonant topological literary metaphors rather than offering representations of actual urban settings, with the topos of the house acting as an acutely self-reflexive metaphorical frame in many of his novels. Nonetheless, all of the novels after Kepler (1980), except The Untouchable (1997) and Shroud (2002), are nominally located in Irish settings, with many of them set in urban environments ranging from Dublin to Rosslare, Co. Wexford. Banville’s treatment of these urban spaces mirrors his representation of reality, more generally, which is always only accessible via the language-obsessed subjective consciousnesses that dominate his fictions. As he has indicated in an interview, ‘The world is not real for me until it has been pushed through the mesh of language’ (McKeon, The Paris Review), and the texture of that aestheticised reality, in turn, is feasible only as an artefact. The result is a process of doubling that, in Banville, projects a highly aestheticised surface that bears traces of the materiality from which it is derived and in turn leaves an afterglow in its wake.
This chapter will demonstrate the manner in which Banville’s illuminated aesthetic images of his urban centres send back ghostly traces of their origins while always implicitly insisting on their essential invented otherness. Or as the philosopher Gordon Graham argues: ‘… a novel is not to be thought of as providing us with a faithful reflection of experience or a skillful summary of it, but as obliging us to view some aspect of experience through an image which allows us to attain an illuminating perspective upon it’ (144). Banville’s aesthetic illuminations, like those of Calvino in Invisible Cities, may ultimately permit one to gain a more resonant sense of the contexts from which they are derived, and they may also enhance or illuminate the merely material.
Neil Murphy

Cities of Change: Re-writing the City


Chapter 10. The Haunted Dublin of Ulysses: Two Modes of Time in the Second City of the Empire

In Ulysses, and in the ‘Wandering Rocks’ episode specifically, James Joyce depicts the events occurring in Dublin on 16 June 1904 as unfolding according to the logic of two different temporal orders. On the one hand, coincidence structures the narrative to position individual characters alongside others and to render their shared moments significant in a style typical of national imagining. On the other hand, figural time marks Joyce’s Dublin as a colonial city rooted in older forms of social order and structural power than the dictates of modern capitalism and national belonging that epitomise citizenship in the capitals of independent states. These two modes of time collide when the ghost of Charles Stewart Parnell returns to Dublin in ‘Wandering Rocks.’ At one and the same time, the Irish of this novel connect to one another through the imaginative work that characterises national belonging, and they relate to one another through a type of city life that has developed according to the logic of colonialism. As Joyce’s Dubliners go about their day together, their inner lives follow a figural pattern structured by memory and expectation. When Parnell’s ghost becomes the focus of this temporal order marked by insistent recalling and constant waiting, the novel suggests a form of political longing in the colonial city that parallels the forms of sexual and commercial desire motivating and disappointing so many of the characters in Joyce’s text. By setting Dublin, the second city of the British Empire, within two different modes of time in Ulysses, Joyce presents the view of Dublin that he has at the time of the novel’s publication—a national capital that has yet to give up the ghost of its colonial oppression.
Nikhil Gupta

Chapter 11. ‘It’s only history’: Belfast in Rosemary Jenkinson Short Fiction

This chapter analyses the ways in which the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement impacts upon conceptions of Belfast, history, and identity in Rosemary Jenkinson short story collections Contemporary Problems Nos. 53 & 54 (2004) and Aphrodite’s Kiss and Other Stories (2015). Jenkinson is an acclaimed playwright, but she has been writing stories for much longer and her short fiction remains underexplored. She problematises notions of contemporary Belfast as a ‘post-conflict’ space by exposing entrenched socio-political tensions and considering how these inflect exchanges between locals and tourists, as well as with the city itself. Her portrayal of the contemporary city also functions as a commentary on the commercialisation of Belfast and its history. The economic subtext of the Agreement signals a break with the city’s ‘troubled’ past in order to align with a global capitalist future. Therefore, the ‘new’ Belfast is circumscribed by its own corporatised, ‘post-conflict’ image in a process which is paradoxically violent, for the progressivist discourse of the Agreement dismisses fraught identitarian narratives as anachronistic. In Jenkinson’s tales this disjuncture manifests as a crisis of narrative, and her characters remain adrift. She emphasises the complexities of Northern Irish identity in her Belfast stories, thereby reasserting the local in a culture that has become globally entangled.
Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado

Chapter 12. The City of the Farset: Portrayals of Belfast in Three Novels by Glenn Patterson

This chapter discusses three novels, by Glenn Patterson, Burning Your Own, Number 5 and The International, all set in the city of Belfast, the first two in suburban areas, illustrating an often neglected but very important aspect of urban living: the areas away from the centre of a city, areas where in fact most of the inhabitants live. All three novels highlight the sense of urban districts as shared spaces with their own complex power structures and power struggles, which are reflected in Burning Your Own in the struggles for dominance within the gang formed by the local youngsters. For the inhabitants of these shared spaces, their locality forms the context of their daily activities, which are framed by their subjective observations of the streets within which they live: central and well-known areas in The International, which find their echoes in the mind of the reader. The modern city is seen as impermanent, in a constant state of flux. This is particularly noteworthy in Number 5, with its focus on a single house, built on an estate which was originally an extension of the city boundary but, eventually, several decades later, formed an integral part of the city. All three novels demonstrate the importance of political, social and economic power, the last of which is particularly significant, with its power to change the landscape of the city. Particularly in The International there is an ethnic mix, more likely to be found in urban than rural communities. The novels do not ignore ‘the Troubles’ but convey a broader interest in the city of Belfast, both its distinctive elements and its typicality, and connections with other parts of the world.
Terry Phillips


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