Literature review

My thesis will focus on the marginalised voice in the Irish short story. Though Ireland is a small island, we have a proud tradition of short fiction. The richness that makes it such a fascinating area also makes it a challenge for research. The following literature review will investigate the scholarship on the subject with a view to narrowing down a more specific focus. I am still in the early stages of the research process so the following comprises only the most preliminary stages of my reading.

I will begin with a book I actually own and which was the first book which drew my attention to the short story as a distinct academic subject, apart from short stories themselves. Frank O’Connor wrote a book called The Lonely Voice, in which he writes about the form with regard to Ireland but also through a transnational lens. It started as a series of lectures he gave at Stanford University and it was published in a book in 1963. He cites writers from other countries, for example Gogol, Chekov, Maupassant and Hemingway. The title interests me because I am interested in marginalised voices in Irish writing. O’Connor cites Gogol’s story ‘The Overcoat’ as an example of a story which problematises the loneliness of its central character. O’Connor’s book, though it uses examples of Irish Writing and is written by an Irishman, is more about the short story in the wider world, rather than specifically Ireland. As a lecture series in a university in the US, he did have to account for his listeners, who may not all have been knowledgeable about the Irish Literary tradition. Each chapter of the book is named after an author and of these, only one is Irish (Joyce).

UCC’s Boole library has access to an ebook called Writing from the Margins : The Aesthetics of Disruption in the Irish Short Story, edited by Catríona Ryan. It has three parts, each named after an author: Samuel Beckett, Aidan Higgins and Tom MacIntyre. Each part includes a series of essays by different critics. I think this would give perhaps a broader view of the short story in Ireland than O’Connor’s. I have yet to decide what particular group of marginalised voices I would like to investigate, whether through a feminist lens, a queer theory lens, a class lens or perhaps a totally different one, so its difficult to gauge its usefulness. I had never heard of Aidan Higgins and only read MacIntyre for the first time in a module from last semester. Beckett is a writer of renown but it may be possible to examine him as an author marginalized from his own country or as an Irishman living in France. In that case, a book that includes four essays about him could be useful. Of these, Historical Trauma and Imprisonment in Beckett’s Short Prose interests me the most. In his bibliography, the essay’s author Timi O’Neill includes a number of books that I either have (Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland, Eagleton’s Heathcliff and the Great Hunger) or can easily access through the library.

The Irish Short Story is well represented among journals of Irish Studies. An article appearing in the Canadian Journal of Irish Studies in 2019, written by Michael Kenneally, opens by addressing how the short story is not a popular target of critical engagement, despite the continuing popularity of short stories written by Irish people and the Irish diaspora. The article is entitled Contemporary Irish Short Stories and it cites the 2009 book called A History of the Irish Short Story written by Heather Ingman and the 2012 book The Irish Short Story: Traditions and Trends, edited by Elke D’hoker and Stephanie Eggermont. Each of these books would be useful as an introduction to the general area. The UCC library has two copies of the latter book, which is a collection of essays. I feel that in general collections of essays will be more useful because of the breadth of critical opinion I can access in one volume. Again, I do not think there will be any dearth of material. The challenge will be to narrow down that material to my critical interests.

Looking at the selection of essays included in D’hoker and Eggermonts collection, I think it would be incredibly useful indeed. Compared to the collection edited by Ryan, the selection is more varied and is not limited to just three authors. Essays with particular promise in the area of the marginalised include:

Loneliness and the Submerged Population: Frank O’Connor’s The Lonely Voice and Joyce’s The Dead by Hilary Lennon. This would be a natural fit for my purposes since it would work in dialogue with O’Connor’s book.

Early Readings, Early Writings: Samuel Beckett’s Student Library and His First Short Stories by Veronica Bala. Pending further reading of O’Neill’s essay on Beckett, I may have cause to read some context for Beckett in his younger years.

The Female Writer in Short Stories by Irish Women by Heather Ingman. In the absence of Ingman’s own book, this essay might be a suitable alternative, especially since it focuses on a group that is universally marginalised.

A World of Strangers? Cosmopolitanism in the Contemporary Irish Short Story by Anne Fogarty. The imaginative title implies loneliness in a busy world, which may offer some insight into marginalisation.

This book is available in the UCC library.

I think the review process leaves me with some leads. I am looking forward to continuing the research process and to starting to write the thesis.

Works cited:

O’Connor, Frank. The Lonely Voice. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing, 1963.

Writing from the Margins : The Aesthetics of Disruption in the Irish Short Story, edited by Catriona Ryan, Cambridge Scholars Publisher, 2015.

Kenneally, Michael. “Contemporary Irish Short Stories.” The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 42, 2019, pp. 16–20. JSTOR, Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

Ingman, Heather. A History of the Irish Short Story. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

D’hoker, Elke, and Stephanie Eggermont, eds. The Irish Short Story: Traditions and Trends. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2015.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s