William Trevor's Felicia's Journey: Inherited Dissent or Fresh Departure from Tradition?

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Abstract. The purpose of this essay is to refute the fairly usual critical pronouncement that William Trevor's view of Ireland as reflected in his Irish fictions is static, ahistorical and outdated. While acknowledging that at first glance this may be so and that other aspects of his work, such as his style, narrative techniques or literary influences, may appear to support the view of Trevor's status as a conventional writer and as a perfect candidate to the phenomenon of "inherited dissent" discussed by Augustine Martin (1965), it is my intention to show that a close examination of one of his novels, Felicia's Journey (1994), contrasting it with the tradition that Trevor is supposed to be uncritically Repeating--in this case Joyce's short story "Eveline" (1914)--will reveal the extent to which his fiction clearly responds to a contemporary social and artistic sensibility. In my opinion, and as I hope will come through, Trevor is not a writer weighed down by tradition but rather one still capable of puzzling the reader by offering unexpected solutions for the plights of his characters.

Key Words. Felicia's Journey, "Eveline", William Trevor, James Joyce, tradition, 'inherited dissent'.

Resumen. La intencion de este articulo es la de refutar la idea, bastante difundida entre los criticos, de que la vision de Irlanda que William Trevor ofrece en su obra es estatica, ahistorica y anticuada. Inicialmente se reconoce que a primera vista esta puede ser la impresion general y que hay otros aspectos de la obra de Trevor, tales como su estilo, tecnicas narrativas o influencias literarias, que parecen reforzar el caracter convencional del escritor y que lo acercan al fenomeno de "disidencia heredada" discutido por Augustine Martin (1965). Sin embargo, un estudio atento de una de sus novelas, Felicia's Journey (1994), contrastandola con la tradicion que Trevor supuestamente se limita a repetir de forma irreflexiva en su obra -concretamente una comparacion con el relato de Joyce "Eveline" (1914)- revelara que la obra de Trevor responde claramente a una sensibilidad social y artistica contemporanea. En mi opinion, y como espero demostrar, Trevor no es un escritor para el que la tradicion es una carga sino un artista que es capaz todavia de asombrar a sus lectores y de ofrecer soluciones inesperadas para los problemas de sus personajes.

Palabras clave. Felicia's Journey, "Eveline", William Trevor, James Joyce, tradicion, 'disidencia heredada'.

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Different critics have remarked upon William Trevor's "peculiar" view of Ireland (Deane 1986: 226; Mackenna 1999: 133-58; Fitzgerald-Hoyt 2003: 31-53). There seems to be quite a general consensus in this respect that Trevor's Ireland, even in short stories or novels set in contemporary times, owes more to the backward social and cultural panorama of the 1930s, 1940s or 50s than to the buoyant and liberated spirit of the 90s and early years of the new century.

That is, it would seem that Ireland became fixated in Trevor's imagination around the experiences and realities he himself lived and knew first hand before emigrating to England for economic reasons in the late 1950s, and that his narratives are not capacious enough to accommodate the more cosmopolitan and progressive atmosphere of Celtic Tiger Ireland. According to Dolores Mackenna, for example, Trevor's Ireland "is rural and small town Ireland, a bleak place where people endure life rather than live it; a place of loneliness, frustration and undramatic suffering. Timeless, except in its details, its moral climate remains constant whether its people live in the 1940s or the 1990s" (1999: 139).

In the critical literature on Trevor, his classification as a portraitist of a static and outdated Ireland is coupled and seems to accord with his placement as a writer who "has not worried himself about 'making it new'" (Allen: 1996: 54), who is frequent-ly defined as a traditionalist, as a moral realist (Bonaccorso 1997: 113) or a naturalist (Cleary 2004: 233). …