Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Claire Keegan's Use of Satire

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Claire Keegan's Use of Satire

Article excerpt

Introduction

Irish writers have demonstrated their commitment to the short story genre through experimentation with varied stylistic techniques. In an insightful essay, Ingman (2009: 227) underlines this assumption of experimentation and focuses on Irish women writers, noting, for example, that their short stories present "a vignette to contemplate" and that the genre ignores "causality in favour of conveying a moment of insight". In this same essay, Ingman (259-260) argues that in every period the Irish short story seems to have perceived the shortcomings of everyday reality and that in the latter part of the twentieth century many anthologies highlighted Irish women's contribution to the quality and range of the genre. This essay explores this urge in Irish women writers to experiment with the short story form by focusing on Claire Keegan's distinctive satirical understanding of the inadequacy of quotidian reality in rural Ireland in three stories from her second collection, Walk the Blue Fields (2007): "Walk the Blue Fields", "The Forester's Daughter" and "Night of the Quicken Trees".

My discussion is prompted by three related questions: why is it that Keegan feels attracted to the short story form? Why is it that her perceptions about the failings of daily life in rural Ireland are best expressed in the satirical mode? And is the overall impact of her stories only rational and satirical, or emotional and tragic as well? In an interview with Declan Meade (2008), Keegan answers the first question by saying that "there is a strictness about it which I really admire [...] the short story is like a poem in that there is nothing lost. Everything is savoured." Keegan describes the genre as synonymous with suddenness, intensity, visual impact, contemplation and imagination. In other words, the short story allows the writer to show glimpses of changing Irish social mores, and to achieve a rapid and incisive insight into these changes, particularly when compared to the more leisurely procedures of the novel. Bearing in mind these aspects, as Ingman (2009: 255) explains, it is striking that "in contrast to many of her female predecessors of the 1970s and 1980s, Keegan eschews the short story as a vehicle for socio-cultural messages, concentrating instead, like McGahern, on the quality of seeing." This defining feature of Keegan's technique explains why her way of writing is cold, externalist and non-emotional. Keegan usually selects one case of typical behaviour or misbehaviour in order to bring out the full-blooded responses of which her characters are typically capable. In "Night of the Quicken Trees", for example, a goat called Josephine usually sleeps with its owner, Stack, who rubs "Palmolive on her teats and always remember[s]to bring her fig rolls from the town" (134). Keegan's introduction of these scatological elements into the story contributes to highlighting the sense of detachment that satire conveys. The writer uses satire in order to depict Stack as a very unattractive and grotesque character. Furthermore, Stack is depicted as a tragic character, because his eccentric behaviour is rooted in unfulfilled passions in the past ("He wished he hadn't wasted all those years on the farmer's daughter" [...] [he had] "never been in love" (155)). Nor are their long-term psychic effects overcome in the present, even though Stack is emotionally fulfilled by his partner Margaret, and they have a child called Michael at the end of the story. Keegan favours an amoral (2) type of satire. As she herself acknowledges, "In a way I am amoral with regard to what I write about. I just write. If there are repercussions on a personal level with my writing, then I will deal with them on a personal level. I will not be bound by some kind of self-imposed censorship" (Meade 2000/2001). Keegan's stories imply that Irish men and women must change and that it is a moral matter. In the discussion that follows, I shall explore Keegan's satirical procedures in the three stories specified, in relation to her peculiar representation of Irish rural life. …

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