Allegories of Union in Irish and English Writing, 1790-1870: Politics, History, and the Family from Edgeworth and to Arnold

By Mary Jean Corbett | Go to book overview

Afterword

… we should not imagine that the world presents us with a legible face, leaving us merely to decipher it; it does not work hand in glove with what we already know; there is no prediscursive fate disposing the word in our favour. We must conceive discourse as a violence we do to things … 1

In the works selected for consideration in this study, I have chosen to read the making or breaking of domestic unions as, in part, allegorical figures for a colonial relation. Whether they appear in fictional or non-fictional writing, tropes and plots associated with the private sphere that enact familial intimacies do at least double duty, in that they “negotiate the figured distance between their fictional status and what we call history, ” as Theresa M. Kelley characterizes the work of allegory, operating “as though the barrier between reality or history and abstraction were a porous membrane instead of a guarded wall that protects what is true from what is not. ” 2 My practice as a reader of these tropes and plots has been to tease out their analogical implications, to read back and forth across the barriers or borders between historical fictions and fictive histories, perhaps because the critical and theoretical frames that underpin my work are themselves covertly allegorical. Feminist, materialist, and postcolonial modes of interpretation all teach us to look for “hidden” or “repressed” signs of the cultural and political embedded within representations of the private and domestic, to see them pointing to something outside or beyond the text, to be alert to what their doubleness may conceal or reveal.

What I want especially to emphasize in conclusion is that reading allegorically is not a means for shutting down the ongoing project of rereading across borders, but another method for keeping it open. The effort to locate aspects of political allegory within colonial discourse may create an unduly static or falsely stable ground for interpretation, whereby elements allegorized through domestic plots always refer to a

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