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The Novel in Ireland and the Language Question: Joyce’s Complex Legacy

Barry McCrea

The undiminished impact of Joyce in world literature, as well as the great critical and commercial popularity of contemporary Irish fiction, can blind us to the fact that the novel has an uneasy place in the Irish literary tradition. For more than a century, Irish fiction has enjoyed popularity and esteem on the world literary stage out of all proportion to the size of the country’s population. But whereas in poetry and drama one can easily discern relationships and lineages amongst Irish writers, and identify shared concerns, influences, and practices shaping their work, it is very difficult to describe the contours of “the Irish novel” or to account, collectively, for its success. There is very little, on the surface, to connect the linguistic experimentation of Anna Burns’ Milkman, the satirical comedy of Claire Kilroy or Paul Murray, the unadorned, quasi-didactic prose of Sally Rooney, and the vernacular flights of Patrick McCabe. It is harder still to perceive a clear connection between contemporary Irish novelists and their pioneering forebears in the twentieth century. Moreover, while Irish novels continue to win prizes and acclaim, and abroad Ireland is viewed as a veritable fiction factory, in the Irish popular imagination at home, in a way unimaginable in France, England, the United States, or Italy, the emblematic image of “the writer” has stubbornly remained (or at least did until very recently) that of a poet or a playwright rather than a novelist.

Leopold Bloom sees a woman, but the tram blocks his view in Ulysses

The sense that there is something un-Irish about the novel has a long and concrete history. A Marxist analysis considers that the toxic socio-economic relations which prevailed under colonial rule made it impossible for a robust tradition of novelistic realism, with its plots of social reconciliation and development of individual sympathy, to take root in nineteenth-century Ireland. An Irish Middlemarch or Buddenbrooks or Comédie humaine was simply an impossibility: it was a society unintelligible in those terms. Even though – an argument which has been made persuasively in recent years – the nineteenth-century Irish novel offers riches which have been overlooked, it remains the case that the Irish models whom Joyce responded to or the Irish rivals he competed with in his mind were not novelists, but rather poets and playwrights; compare this with his fellow modernist novelists, Woolf and Proust, who found predecessors and competitors in, respectively, Dickens and George Eliot, Balzac and Flaubert.

None of the emblematic works of the Irish Revival took the form of the novel. It was a revolution of playwrights, poets, critics, and intellectuals – not of novelists (and this was overwhelmingly the case, almost a century later, of the Field Day movement of the 1980s and 90s). Joyce’s adoption of the novel as his chief form of expression was in itself a statement of distance from the Revivalists. But, like an architect who buys and renovates old houses, Joyce had to re-invent the genre from the ground up in order to make it fit for his ambitious Irish purposes. Starting with Joyce, the landmark contributions Ireland went on to make to the novel form, were very often tricksy, form-breaking works which dazzled and awed but did not easily admit of a response, or heirs, even of imitation. Unlike poetry and drama, the landscape of the modern Irish novel does not present mappable mountain ranges, but rather sporadic, sudden peaks of inimitable originality which tower and glitter in isolation on a plain. 

There are many brilliant Irish novels, but no obvious tradition of “the Irish novel”.

Leopold Bloom eats a gorgonzola sandwich in Ulysses

This cannot be attributed to external material conditions, since it has persisted through vastly different economic cycles in Ireland. Nor can we consider it be a quality inherent to the genre of the novel itself, since in other places – Latin America, Italy, France, North America, etc. – one can readily trace clear, self-conscious lineages, schools, traditions and counter-traditions amongst novelists. 

I am referring here to Irish novels written in English (or, in the case of Beckett, French). However, one way to understand the puzzling nature of the novel in Ireland might be to look at the minor strain of what Thomas Kinsella called the “dual tradition” – the novel in the Irish (Gaelic) language. Modern Irish, amongst the many struggles it faces as an endangered language, has always had an overtly troubled relationship with the novel form. In his seminal study of the subject, “An tÚrscéal nár tháinig”, [“The novel that never came”], Cathal Ó hÁinle shows that over the course of the seventeenth century, romances and tale collections in Irish were developing along the same lines as those in other European languages, becoming less formulaic and florid, de-emphasizing the fantastical and the miraculous, gradually taking on continuous narrative frames and centering individual psychological motivation.[1] It looked like a language whose literature was headed, like its western European siblings, for the novel. This organic development was prematurely cut short for material reasons arising from colonialism: lack of access to the printing press, exclusion of Irish-speakers from institutions of higher learning, the absence of a bourgeoisie literate in the language. In the eighteenth century, when the novel was starting to boom in other European languages, Irish, although still widely spoken, was falling rapidly out of use as a written medium. By the middle of the nineteenth century, even though Irish counted several millions of native speakers, literacy in the language had become a rarity. Other than occasional political or religious tracts, the only literary production was in the form of song, verse, and folklore. The result was that the only novels written in Ireland were in English. Two of the most popular novelists of nineteenth-century Ireland, William Carleton (1794-1869) and Charles Kickham (1828-1922) were native speakers of Irish, but it never occurred to them to write in their native language; even if they had, there would have been few able to read what they wrote. 

Nineteenth-century Ireland was a diglossic society in the throes of a rapid and traumatic language shift. The now rarely written Irish language, as Margaret Kelleher and others have shown, haunted the fiction that Irish writers were producing in English. But it was always a force external to narrative voice, unassimilable to the novelistic world (in the words of Tom Dunne, the Irish novel in English “could draw attention to, but not fully integrate, the Gaelic dimension that made Ireland exotic and interesting for English readers”).[2]

With the nationalist language movement at the close of the nineteenth century, Irish began a second, revived life as a written literary medium. By 1922, the restoration of the language was one of the two key aims of the newly independent state; Irish was compulsory in schools, required for many government jobs, and a central part of official national life. Now that it was being acquired in schools and universities, literacy in the language became common. Irish was the object of utopian hopes in the new state, including literary ones. It was also beset with problems. Irish had survived as a native language only in a variety of highly divergent dialects, and even though it was being written and read more than perhaps at any other time in its history, it did not have a stable written standard with which all speakers could identify. 

In my book, Languages of the Night, I argued that the ragged, unstable character of the language in the early twentieth century, and its complicated relationship to daily speech, turned out to offer a unique and valuable medium for modern poets.[3] Post-independence Irish, however, could not lend itself to fiction in the same way, producing an odd situation whereby poetry has been the dominant mode in modern Irish-language literature, not just in volume of output but also in impact and influence. This imbalance has been a source of explicit worry and complaint within the Irish-speaking cultural establishment. It is not that there were no novels in Irish: there were a number of true masterpieces produced during the twentieth century, but these felt like the exceptions rather than the rule. The frustration about the Irish-language novel stems rather from a bafflement the novel had remained inexplicably peripheral to the project of Gaelic literature. Novels in Irish existed in isolation rather than being part of a recognizable, ongoing “tradition” – quite unlike the situation in modern Gaelic poetry which had schools, generations, rivalries, and a recognizable economy of influence, interpretation, and interaction.[4]

The problem for the Gaelic novel after independence was no longer material conditions – there was a large pool of middle-class readers, a captive audience in schoolchildren following a set national curriculum, and substantial state support for publishing in Irish. The trouble was at least in part a sociolinguistic issue, a set of narratological difficulties thrown up by the way the language had survived. There are only a few, small communities where Irish remains the spontaneous language of everyday interactions. The challenges created by this situation for the creation of a fictional universe – who, in real life, speaks Irish to whom and when – are in evidence in Irish-language television drama, where writers come up with a variety of different devices to explain the fact that characters are speaking to each other in Irish rather than English. The same challenges are apparent in a different way in the Irish-language novel – and they illuminate aspects of the novel itself, as a genre, which are present but much harder to detect in major languages.  

Chief among these is the relationship between narrative, literary language, and socio-economic class. The novel as exemplified by Austen, Dickens, Eliot, and Balzac, is the genre of change, of moving from rags to riches, and, in parallel with this alteration in material circumstance, social and psychological transformation. In colonial situations this process often has an explicit linguistic component. In Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1981), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o describes the function English – as opposed to what was called “vernacular”, in his case the Gikuyu language – had in the Kenya of his youth: “English became the main determinant of a child’s progress up the ladder of formal education … English was the official vehicle and the magic formula to colonial elitedom.”

This linguistic dynamic is not confined to colonies or post-colonies. Less explicit versions of it are an essential structural feature of novels even in the most metropolitan contexts. Oliver Twist, brought up in workhouses, brothels, and criminal dens, inexplicably speaks the Queen’s English, whereas those around him, who share the same upbringing – the Artful Dodger, Charley Bates, Nancy, Bill Sikes, Fagin – all speak a colourful cockney. Through his respectable speech, the novel is letting us know that Oliver’s inner self is already at odds with the social class he has been born into, and that his rise into another class is inevitable; the plot will match him up with his appropriate linguistic sphere. 

The key point is that this sphere is not just that of certain respectable characters in Oliver Twist. It is also the language of the novel’s narrating voice; the language, by implication, of the reader to whom the story is being told. Oliver is one of us, he speaks our language. When plot removes him from those who speak marked, proletarian forms of English and delivers him to Mr. Brownlow, it is returning him to us, to the linguistic regime of the novel and of the bourgeoisie. 

Oliver Twist is a particularly extreme demonstration of the way in which the novel is, linguistically as well as otherwise, the genre of the middle classes. The more normal (and realistic) version of this, of course, is for the protagonist to have started out life speaking a proletarian variety and to have exchanged it for the standard in parallel with his or her rise into a higher class. This concomitant linguistic and socio-economic transformation is necessary for the novel to be narrated at all: the protagonist must learn the language and attitudes of the bourgeoisie in order to tell their story intelligibly. In the classic novel of social advancement, we rarely hear much of the way the protagonist used to speak before their elevation. They address us, the reader, in the bourgeois standard; they have moved into “our” implied social sphere and speak to us from there. Their new language allies them with us, the readers, and emphasizes the clear water they have now put between themselves and the humble origins they are telling us about, whose language is, for them, now forgotten.

This socioeconomic connection between plot and language is more starkly visible in Italian fiction where there is a clear binary between “dialect” and standard. In countless works of modern Italian prose, from the stories of Verga to the novels of Fenoglio, conversations that are reported to have happened in dialect are retroactively “dubbed” for us by the narrator into standard Italian. A particularly telling example – because the movement from dialect to standard Italian is a key component of its plot – is Elena Ferrante’s four-volume Bildingsroman, L’amica geniale (2011-2014) (often called the Neapolitan Novels in English).

Ferrante’s long novel of social ascent begins with an impoverished childhood in a deprived neighbourhood in 1950s Naples, where, we are told, the family and neighbours speak Neapolitan, (“dialect”), and Italian is a foreign language that only those with some schooling have mastered. All of the dialogue from this world, however, is rendered for the reader in standard Italian, with just the occasional tag “disse in dialetto”, “he/she said in dialect”, or “disse in italiano to let us know what language the characters were “really” speaking. In fact, across the four volumes of this novel, there is barely a single word of dialect. The language of the protagonist’s proletarian childhood has been translated for us.

The effect of this strategy is naturally not visible in English translation. In the original Italian, however, it is an unavoidable reminder that, now that the narrator has entered the social class that writes novels, the world of her working-class childhood is accessible only indirectly, its language has been effaced. As in Oliver Twist, the protagonist’s voice can speak to us only in the middle-class, educated standard, which we are presumed to share. The language of Ferrante’s novel is the sign of the outcome of its plot: the protagonist has left the proletariat and its language for the middle class. The absence of dialect in the narrating voice is thus part of the novel’s meaning (this is one of the reasons why the television adaptation, in which, naturally, we can hear whether characters are speaking Italian or dialect, is in some respects a wholly different work).

A linguistic trajectory like this one is impossible to conceive of in Irish. No middle-class register exists in the Irish language for a protagonist to acquire as she climbs a social ladder, no lower-class dialect or accent for her to abandon and erase. There are many varieties within Irish, but they are regional inflections, not class gradations. Every form of native Irish reflects, by necessity, the speech of a particular, geographically locatable rural community. There is no bourgeois idiom of native Irish: one can be more or less local in one’s speech, or more or less idiomatic, but one cannot sound posher or déclassé (without importing English words).

This imposes huge constraints on the Irish-language novelist, and the major achievements of modern Irish-language fiction have usually come about because of these constraints rather than in spite of them. Flann O’Brien’s An Béal Bocht (1941), [The Poor Mouth, (1973)], for example, feels uncomfortably, if hilariously, like a novel about the impossibility of writing a novel in Irish at all. It is written in a mixture of dialects; characters spout chunks of Revival Irish which no person would ever naturally utter; some of the dialogue is meaningless unless back-translated into English. The novel’s plot proceeds as though the scattered enclaves of Irish-speaking Ireland – pockets in reality hundreds of miles apart – were a single, contiguous territory. The novel, this is to say, rearranges the physical geography of Ireland in accordance with the ideology and hopes of the language movement. This imaginary topography is illustrated in a frontispiece of the novel (“The Big Wide World as seen by the People of Corca Dorcha”). 

In this way, the novel highlights the enormous gap between the fragmented, isolated geography of the Irish-speaking world and the territory and market towns which can host the plots of Eliot or Hardy:

“The Old Grey Fellow was in Dingle one day buying tobacco, when he heard news which amazed him. He did not believe it because he did not trust the people of that town. The next day he was in the Rosses and heard the same news from them there; he then gave half-credence to the story, but still did not believe it fully. He was in Galway city on the third day and the story had got there before him.” [my translation]

Even though the novel’s overriding tone is one of sharp satire, there is also a hint of longing in the way O’Brien’s parody evokes a counter-factual Gaelic utopia in which there would be a large, varied, cohesive Irish-speaking territory; he is showing what would be needed for it to be possible to build a novelistic world in Irish – the map of what kind of real-life linguistic territory could carry a Gaelic Middlemarch.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille (1949) is widely considered to be the greatest work of modern prose fiction in the Irish language. Like An Béal Bocht, it is a novel whose set-up seems deliberately to evoke the impossibility of conceiving of a realist fictional world in Irish. For a start, Cré na Cille consists entirely of dialogue (avoiding the problem of a neutral-sounding written standard). Moreover, all of this dialect is uttered by corpses buried in a graveyard squabbling and gossiping amongst themselves. These characters are going nowhere, in all possible senses of the term, yet right from its first lines the novel insists on social climbing as its principal narrative preoccupation. The opening sentences is a pointed satire on the great question that shapes realist fiction from Dickens to Ferrante: that of where on the social ladder one will “end up”:

“I wonder am I buried in the Pound Plot or the Fifteen-Shilling plot? The devil possessed them if they buried me in the Half-Guinea plot …” [my translation]

Narrative suspense comes in the form of fresh corpses being lowered into the earth who are bombarded with questions as soon as they arrive. What Ó Cadhain’s dead want to learn from them, however, is not the outcome of the Second World War, or descriptions of thrilling new technologies, but obsessive questions related to their own place on the socio-economic ladder: the amount of money collected at their funeral mass, how much was spent on their wake, and, especially, the size and cost of headstones that lie above them. It is a novel of social striving and ambition in a situation where this is absurdly futile. One of the voices in the graveyard is a woman called Dotie from an Irish-speaking area on the other side of Galway, where she says the land is better and the customs of the people more gracious and the Irish more refined. Dotie’s repeated encomiums to her home place, and her bitter regret at having come down in the world to be buried where she is, provide yet another parodic gesture on the novel’s part towards the plots of development and change that are no longer possible in the Irish-speaking world. The extraordinary linguistic richness of the language used in Cré na Cille (the reason for its unparalleled status in Irish-language prose) is in contrast with Dotie’s imaginary linguistic snobbery: she harps on the supposed superiority of her east Galway dialect over that of the local corpses, remarking that her people have more elegant ways of saying a host of things, from “prophesy” to “fire-irons”. The effect is to highlight the fact that the Irish language is in truth a medium incapable of registering social difference, that its internal variety can be used to dazzling effect, but cannot indicate gradations of social class.

Leopold Bloom enters Davy Byrne’s Pub in Ulysses

The limitations which the Irish-language novelist has to work around (with, as is the way with literary constraints, some spectacular results) are a consequence of writing in a small, embattled language. Nonetheless, something of the same predicament as it relates to social class also applies to the Irish novel in English. Starting in the late nineteenth century, and then with increasing intensity through to the middle of the twentieth, Irish writers were expected to grapple, in some shape or form, with the “language question”, and were thus faced with a linguistic choice which their counterparts from other parts of the English-speaking world did not. For most of them, of course, writing in Irish was not an option, since they did not know the language well enough or even at all; nonetheless, every writer was considered obliged to make some sort of implicit acknowledgement of their decision: to write in English was still to not write in Irish. More importantly, they had to find a way to write in not-Irish, come up with a form of English that offered in itself a justification for itself. In drama and poetry there were many options available, including a myriad of ways to write in a form of English that longed for Irish: in drama, Hibernicised vernacular dialogue in the manner of Synge and O’Casey, in which Gaelic syntax and rhythms were palpable; in poetry, lyrical language infused with the Gaelic poetic tradition; and so on.

 But in the novel there was no easy answer. What kind of English was available for narration that not sound like foreign standard imported from abroad? What tone could be struck that would sound both unmarked and Irish at the same time? The English of the regime of the novel – the “high” bourgeois standard – had and still has no comfortably native-feeling version in Ireland. Middle-class English has always felt to some extent artificial and inauthentic in Ireland, not a tool fit for artistic purposes. During the apogee of modernism, novelists in other places, such as Woolf, or Proust, created singular, signature prose styles within the standard language. No major Irish writer (with the possible exception of Elizabeth Bowen) has felt able to do the same with standard English, because to write the standard, even if it does not sound like an imitation of England, risks sounding contrived or stuffy, a language of bureaucracy and journalism rather than fiction.

What was distinctive about Irish modernist prose in English was not the forging of new styles but rather the development of a relationship to style and idiom as things to be manipulated and deployed at will. This is perceptible even in a writer as early and as apparently disconnected from Ireland as Oscar Wilde. Unlike Yeats, Wilde never cultivated agrand style of his own; instead, he developed a method of staging style itself. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, while the scandalous paradoxes of the dialogue sparkle and seduce, and while the outrageously allegorical plot certainly engages the reader, the narrative voice which recounts the story is curiously blank and colorless, sounding at times almost embarrassed at the banality of its job. Wilde’s understanding of the literary possibilities of style takes a leap forward in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), in which the characters and the plot do not produce style but are produced by it.

Although Joyce had a vexed and still debated attitude to the Gaelic revival, all of his work was thoroughly affected, right from his earliest essays through to the final experiments of Finnegans Wake, by the ideology of the language movement. The oft-quoted postcolonial predicament in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) in which Stephen Dedalus reflects during a conversation with an English priest that “the language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine has a closely related socio-economic component too, in the sense that English in its standard written form feels to an Irish writer like something acquired, borrowed, pretentious, even imposed – even for writers who do not know the Irish language at all.

This is part of the background to Joyce’s adoption and realization of the possibilities of free indirect style, whereby an apparently objective narrative voice is shaped and coloured by the world-view and diction of the character being talked about (the example often given is the first line of ‘The Dead’: ‘Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet,’ where ‘literally’ is something Lily herself would say, even though she is not actually speaking). For Joyce, free indirect style was not just a technique. It was the key to part of what he wanted to achieve in Dubliners, because it shows enacts the fact that language and material reality are inseparable. There is no external reality or register available within the stories for Joyce’s Dubliners to elevate themselves into, no bird’s eye view available outside from which to survey their own circumstances. Their economic, cultural, and political environment is woven into the very fabric of thought and language, into the possibility of narrating it at all. 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, similarly, although it is a novel of change and development, does not have a single style or voice, but rather several different ones, according to the age and circumstances of the protagonist. This method is developed to its extreme logic in Ulysses, a work without a style, but which rather works as a machine which internalizes and then showcases a dizzying gallery of linguistic manners, registers, idioms, and rhetorical cloaks in order to generate its meaning and situate Ireland in the broader world.

Even in their most straightforward narrative moments, both Ulysses and Portrait are predicated upon the impossibility of an Irish novel having a single “native” idiom which a writer might adapt and stretch for all of his purposes, as Yeats did in his poetry, or as Proust or Woolf did in their novels. There is no natural or native idiom in Ulysses from which the pastiche departs; as in Portrait, the style is the content. 

Stephen Dedalus smashes a lamp while imagining his mother’s ghost in Ulysses

This linguistic uncertainty that stalks – and enlivens – Irish fiction in English is in great measure what is really being referred to in the commonplace that all Irish novelists write in the shadow of Joyce. It might even be more accurate to think less of a shadow cast by Joyce himself and more of the original, decolonizing “language question”, having being refracted and amplified by Joyce’s work, continuing to exert its troubling influence and productive constraints. 

The linguistic strategies of some of the best-known Irish novels in English from the past thirty years offer ample evidence for this: first-person narratives in spoken, more or less dialectal idioms (Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy, or his recent novel-in-verse, Poguemehone; Roddy Doyle’s use of Dublin dialogue to carry the narration; Kevin Barry’s wry, at times Beckettian tone). These represent forms of the novel which are at their heart dramatic monologues and in some respects have more in common with the theatre of Synge or Friel or O Casey than with the novels of Zola or Dickens. In circumstances where a non-standard, working-class or rural dialect cannot plausibly work for the narrative voice, novelists routinely avoid the standard by taking recourse to artificially distorted forms of English. The many examples of this strategy include Emer McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing or Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Perhaps the most remarkable and inventive example of this in the twenty-first century is Anna Burns’ Milkman, in which the narrative, including dialogue from Belfast in the 1970s, is given to us in a weird, schoolroomy language that no-one ever spoke. Burns’ novel leaves the reader with an uncanny feeling of reading a work in translation, something which heightens the sense of an unbridgeable gap with the world being narrated, a traumatic reality accessible only indirectly, part of the subject matter of the novel itself. 

There is still no sense of ownership amongst Irish writers of the high register of written English. What writers and readers expect from Irish prose in English is linguistic fireworks. This is not true elsewhere. We have seen the example of Ferrante, where dialect, though mentioned constantly, is never transcribed in the text itself. In France, the novels of Édouard Louis and Annie Ernaux, which similarly narrate stories of social ascent from the provincial French proletariat to the high bourgeois circles of Paris intellectuals, refer to the fact that patois was spoken around the protagonists in their childhood, but it is wholly absent from the narrative voice. 

This Joyce-effect can also be detected operating in reverse in another, equally successful strain of contemporary Irish writing, in novelists, who, whether consciously or otherwise, wish to free their work from the Irish expectation of style as meaning, and go to great lengths to avoid style at all, carefully avoiding any hint of linguistic spectacle, vernacular enchantment, or stylistic trickery, almost as though these things were a dangerously prolific species, which, once let in, would over-run the work entirely. This carefully wrought style-lessness is an art in itself, the flip-side of Burns or McCabe or McBride. The novels of Sally Rooney, for example, are rooted in classic novelistic questions of class conflict and aspiration, but in Rooney’s work, these issues are not registered through stylistic strategies. Instead, they are outsourced, as it were, into explicit, themed conversations and debates amongst the characters themselves. The spoken idioms of the novels’ social and geographical hinterlands (Sligo, Dublin etc.) are barely present; the class differences on which the plots hinge are not registered at the level of language. The style of both narration and dialogue is homogenous and neutral, and include long passages of sober epistolary exchange in which linguistic flourish would not be expected to appear. Nor does Rooney attempt, however, to forge a signature style in high, standard English. Her artistry is instead in montage, in the way one scene cuts to another, temporal and locational jumps; it is as though there is a suspicion that style itself is an easy, falsifying trick, a preoccupation evidenced by its scrupulous absence. In this way, surprising though it may seem, Rooney, too, is still, in her way, writing not-Irish.

Irish novelists do continue to write under the sign of Joyce, but only indirectly. For contemporary Irish novelists, Joyce himself is not, it seems to me, either a model who is being slavishly followed nor an overbearing parent who must be slain. Rather, what looks like an inescapable entanglement with Joyce on the part of Irish writers, is really the long, lingering after-effects of the language question itself. The Irish language, pushed in its native form ever further to the margins of Irish society, increasingly confined to classrooms and hobbyists, barely known or consciously regarded by the great majority of Irish writers, nonetheless remains a sort of dark matter invisibly shaping the Irish novel in English, a silent source of energy which gives it much of its otherwise inexplicable power in the world.

Barry McCrea is the Donald R. Keough Family Professor of Irish Studies and Concurrent Professor of English, Irish Language and Literature as well as Romance Languages and Literatures the University of Notre-Dame. He is author of the novel, The First Verse. His scholarly works include In the Company of Strangers: Family and Narrative in Dickens, Conan Doyle, Joyce and Proust and Languages of the Night: Minor Languages and the Literary Imagination in 20th-Century Ireland and Europe.


[1] In Promhadh Pinn (Maynooth: An Sagart, 1978).

[2] Culture and Society in Ireland Since 1752: Essays in honour of Gearóid O Tuathaigh (Dublin: Lilliput, 2015)

[3] Languages of the Night: Minor Languages and the Literary Imagination in 20th-century Ireland and Europe (New Haven: Yale UP, 2015)

[4] In the twenty-first century, Irish-language fiction has continued to expand in quantity and range, and could in some respects be considered to be flourishing; nonetheless, the fact that a conference in Dublin in 2015 set out deliberately to establish a “canon” of Irish-language novels suggests in itself that it was hard to feel an instinctive sense of a coherent, interactive tradition.