"Blighted Beginnings": Coming of Age in Independent Ireland

"Blighted Beginnings": Coming of Age in Independent Ireland

"Blighted Beginnings": Coming of Age in Independent Ireland

"Blighted Beginnings": Coming of Age in Independent Ireland

Synopsis

Jonathan Bolton is also the author of Personal Landscapes: British Poets in Egypt during the Second World War (1997). His articles have appeared in such journals as Modern Drama, Journal of Modern Literature, New Hibernia Review, South Atlantic Review, Contemporary Literature, and Papers on Language and Literature. He received his PhD in English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is currently Associate Professor of English at Auburn University, where he teaches courses in twentieth-century British and Irish literature.

Excerpt

My interest in coming-of-age narratives in post-independence Ireland, the subject of this book, began around the turn of the millennium. At that time, the immense popularity of Irish hardship narratives, such as Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and Nuala O’Faoláin’s Are You Somebody, combined with the publication of Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry and my longstanding admiration for James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, led me to offer a course in Irish coming-of-age narratives. I added Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy, Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, and Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark to complete the syllabus. During discussion with students, some intriguing questions arose—queries that have long preoccupied me and that I seek to resolve in this study. Perhaps the most urgent question was this: why, in these novels, were the generic conventions of the bildungsroman so persistently reproduced only to be challenged and frustrated? For students accustomed to the marriage resolution, discovery of vocation, impending prosperity, and finding one’s way in the world in such familiar texts as David Copperfield and Jane Eyre, these novels simply did not meet their expectations. Instead, youth ended disappointingly in solitude, exile, even institutionalization and death, and yet we were consistently moved by the pathos of curtailed ambition.

These questions became more pressing when I began to compile a bibliography of Irish coming-of-age narratives after Joyce. I was astonished, first, by the quality and historical relevance of much non-canonical Irish fiction, and second, by the number of texts, loosely classified as bildungsromane, that reenacted the structure of the genre only to defy its con-

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