London Irish Fictions: Narrative, Diaspora and Identity

London Irish Fictions: Narrative, Diaspora and Identity

London Irish Fictions: Narrative, Diaspora and Identity

London Irish Fictions: Narrative, Diaspora and Identity

Synopsis

This is the first book about the literature of the Irish in London. By examining over 30 novels, short stories and autobiographies set in London since the Second World War, it investigates the complex psychological landscapes of belonging and cultural allegiance found in these unique and intensely personal perspectives on the Irish experience of migration. As well as bringing new research to bear on the work of established Irish writers such as Edna O'Brien, John McGahern, Emma Donoghue and Joseph O'Connor, this study reveals a fascinating and hitherto unexplored literature, diverse in form and content."

Excerpt

So for what seems a long time London remained partly a not quite
convincing fiction, partly a symbol of ambiguity, partly an overcast physical
fact.

For centuries, London has occupied a powerful place in the imagination of artists of all kinds. Writers, in particular, have profoundly influenced popular perceptions of the city. This has especially been the case for people who have visited or migrated to London from elsewhere. New arrivals, whether from the provinces, continental Europe or further afield, have all formed relationships with the city in the light of work by writers such as Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Zadie Smith. For arrivals from other parts of the former British Empire or the Commonwealth, coming to London has often been a wholly recognizable yet profoundly unsettling experience. This is nowhere better illustrated than by the case of the Irish. The long entangled history of Britain and Ireland has resulted in a mutually familiar but deeply ambivalent relationship between its peoples. The often passionate yet sometimes conflicted attitudes to questions of cultural identity that this has provoked are at the heart of the literature I examine in this book.

Writing has been one of the traditional ways in which the Irish have negotiated such matters. Obliged, as a consequence of colonization, to communicate through a foreign tongue, the Irish made a virtue of necessity and produced some of the greatest literature in the English language. This facility with words has been commonly attributed to a Gaelic oral tradition which held the skills of good storytelling in high regard. Certainly, for the Irish in London, a facility with words was a quality which helped smooth the process of adjustment to a new environment and society. Writing about this in 1801, one commentator observed: β€˜In almost every tavern or coffee-house you may meet with one or more . . .

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