'Viaduct' and Trauma and Representation in Three Irish Novels

  • Mariah Whelan

Student thesis: Phd


This submission is comprised of two parts: a creative thesis titled Viaduct and a critical thesis titled ‘Trauma and Representation in Three Irish Novels’. While each is designed to stand independent of the other, over the past four years of writing and research there has naturally been some dialogue between the two. Both theses share a preoccupation with ideas of history, memory and expression. They are interested in how to represent experiences in the past that are forcefully felt in the present and yet often resist conventional notions of language, time and space. I. Viaduct Viaduct is a collection of poems that interrogates the intersection of personal experience and family history. The collection is divided into three sections each written in the voice of one of three personae who inhabit the book: Sylvia, Girl and Michael. Sylvia is a woman in her mid-sixties, sister to Michael and aunt of Girl. Girl is a woman in her thirties, niece of Sylvia and daughter of Michael. Michael is a man in his seventies, brother of Sylvia and father of Girl. The poems are interested in how the shared past has shaped these characters’ lives in both the past and the present. They grapple with themes of landscape and recollection, the body as a house of memory and the difficulty of expressing in language a history that is hedged in uncertainty and doubt. To access this past, the poems experiment with different formal strategies, exploring material culture as a stand in for the mourned body and the formal side-steps necessary to explore difficult sibling and parent-child relationships. II. Trauma and Representation in Three Irish Novels Since its inception in 2013, many Irish writers have been shortlisted for or won The Goldsmiths Prize for innovative fiction. Questioned about this phenomenon, Eimear McBride speculated that their success could be explained by the formal innovations necessary to accommodate the Irish language within the English prose novel. In thesis, I explore the innovations made in three Irish novels to not only accommodate the trace of the Irish language but Irish experience more generally. I argue that Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark, Anne Enright’s The Gathering and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing all participate in a legacy of formal innovation initiated by James Joyce. Departing from the conventions of the nineteenth-century realist novel, in his increasingly experimental texts Joyce sought to better map the traumatic impact of colonial history and discourse on the Irish subject. Positing the three texts by Deane, Enright and McBride as ‘trauma novels’, I argue that the novels take Joyce’s pattern of formal innovation as their common foundation. I argue that in Reading in the Dark, the novel’s linear narrative trajectory is deliberately installed only to be interrupted by transgenerational traumas that foreground Northern Ireland’s unresolved histories and ongoing political animosities. In my analysis of The Gathering, I posit that the traumatised body plays a key role in expressing Ireland’s ongoing history of misogyny. In my final chapter I contend that in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing the novel’s treatment of a traumatised narrative voice enacts a model of traumatic Irish girlhood that is ongoing and cyclical. While each text is different, I argue that they all rework the anglophone novel to enact the experience of traumatic Irish histories that are deeply complex, difficult to retrieve in language and always left unresolved.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLiam Harte (Supervisor) & Vona Groarke (Supervisor)

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