Material and Symbolic Geographies in William Trevor's Felicia's Journey

By Harts, Liam | Papers on Language & Literature, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Material and Symbolic Geographies in William Trevor's Felicia's Journey


Harts, Liam, Papers on Language & Literature


Few contemporary Irish novelists are so place-centered in their writings that the mere mention of their name summons up a distinctive fictional landscape. John McGahern is certainly one such. Even before his death in 2006, the arc of his fictional territory in the west of Ireland, which gives such verisimilitude to his novels and runs "from Carrick-on-Shannon to Boyle, then north to Geevagh, under Sliabh an Iarainn to Arigna, on to Drumshanbo and Ballinamore, then dropping down through Mohill to Dromod" (O Tuathaigh 19), had become deeply lodged in the national consciousness. William Trevor is arguably the only one of McGahern's compatriots whose name has commensurate totemic power. Beginning with the short story collection, The Ballroom of Romance (1972), and carrying right through to his latest novel, Love and Summer (2009), Trevor's fiction has meticulously registered the routines, rituals, and prejudices of a certain Irish social milieu, thereby giving narrative shape to a distinctive topography, "Trevor's Ireland," summarized thus by Dolores MacKenna:

This 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. Public events have little impact upon the inhabitants of the isolated farms, drab small towns, or, less often, dreary suburbs where individuals exist in states of unarticulated desperation. (139)

Intriguingly, however, this territory cannot be located with any certainty on a map of Ireland. Even though Trevor's Irish settings exude verisimilitude, he is a writer who, in the main, evokes a particular kind of Ireland rather than any particular Irish locale. Whereas McGahern's novels and short stories serially memorialize avery specific stretch of Leitrim-Roscommon countryside, Trevor tends to shy away from being quite so precise in his settings. Although actual place names and topographical landmarks anchor the novels and short stories in certain regions of Ireland--his native Munster and south Leinster are favorite locations--the novelist usually stops short of using named towns and villages as his settings. Why this is so is hard to fathom, though it may be Trevor's subtle way of expressing the metaphorical homelessness that afflicts so many of his protagonists (McDonald 3). But whatever the reason, this approach imbues his fictive landscapes with a tantalizing, paradoxical quality: "Trevor's Ireland" is at once uncannily familiar and yet somehow "atopical," "a place that is everywhere and nowhere, a place you cannot get to from here" (Miller 7) .

Inevitably, perhaps, one is tempted to regard this paradoxical treatment of place as a legacy of the author's peripatetic childhood, during which he came to know many Irish places while belonging to none. Born William Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork in 1928, he has frequently described himself as being part of "that little sliver of Irish life which is poor and Protestant" (Adair 8). In his introduction to Excursions in the Real World (1993), a volume of occasional essays, he situates himself more precisely:

I was fortunate that my accident of birth actually placed me on the edge of things. I was born into a minority that all my life has seemed in danger of withering away. This was smalltime Protestant stock, far removed from the well-to-do Ascendancy of the recent past yet without much of a place in de Valera's new Catholic Ireland. (xiii)

This sense of being on the cultural periphery was compounded by the family's circumstances. Trevor's father worked for Bank of Ireland, whose policy was to relocate its employees on promotion, which meant that young William's childhood was spent in a succession of small towns in counties Cork, Tipperary, and Wexford during the 1930s. Although Trevor's fiction is much too complex and nuanced to be explained by reference to his biographical background alone, he nevertheless seems less interested in rooting his stories in a named geographical location than in evoking an idea of place. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Material and Symbolic Geographies in William Trevor's Felicia's Journey
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.