Re-Mapping Exile: Realities and Metaphors in Irish Literature and History

Re-Mapping Exile: Realities and Metaphors in Irish Literature and History

Re-Mapping Exile: Realities and Metaphors in Irish Literature and History

Re-Mapping Exile: Realities and Metaphors in Irish Literature and History

Excerpt

Political exile and economic emigration once formed a nexus that played a significant role for the construction of Irish patriotism and nationalism. But it was not until 1985, when Kerby Miller published his book Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America that the mental, cultural, and ideological connectives were empirically demonstrated. Miller challenged nationalist orthodoxy in so far as he showed how ‘exile’, far from simply denoting political banishment, was a social construct with multiple cultural meanings and connotations. Miller concluded that ordinary ‘exiled’ 18 -century emigrants to North America were victimized more by pre-modern cultural determinants, nationalist propaganda and a modernising economy than by British rule and alien, evicting landlords.

Miller’s conclusions fed into the resuscitated debate on ‘Irishness’ in the 1980s and 1990s. However, it took relatively long for this debate to affect Irish literary criticism. As Patrick Ward correctly points out, most literary critics and editors up to then had either wholly disregarded the subject of exile or dealt with it in a rather incidental and vague way (3). The only systematic monograph so far on this topic from a literary point of view is Ward’s own Exile, Emigration and Irish Writing, which is an investigation of thematic configurations of exile in the work of Irish writers since the Middle Ages. Ward examines the history of notions of exile in medieval, Gaelic tradition and demonstrates how they contribute to the formation of new meanings in the context of Irish nationalism, modernisation, and nation building in the 19 and 20 centuries.

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