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Irlande, écritures et réécritures de la Famine

Bertrand Cardin
Claude Fierorbe


Texte intégral

Maryvonne Boisseau

Language and memory. Literature and the Great Famine
Langue et mémoire. La Grande Famine et la littérature

1Despite an abundant documentation on the 1845-1849 Famine in Ireland, historians and writers alike have had difficulty in coming to terms with the complexity of the event. It can be said that to this day no definitive historical or literary narrative of the tragedy exists. This article proposes to try and assess the reasons for this difficulty which has resulted in the quasi-absence of great authoritative works. Examining recent works from a linguistic perspective, it will show that, although the past might be best forgotten, literature can help reconstruct the memory of the famine by challenging the truth of its many interpretations through the diversity of re-imagined discourses, albeit in English. What is at stake in these texts therefore is not so much historical truth as a certain idea of truth, neither lie nor truth but something in between.

Jean Brihault

Lady Morgan. Chronicles of daily hunger
Lady Morgan. Chroniques de la faim quotidienne

2Considering herself as a « national novelist », Lady Morgan does not restrict herself to describing the effects of hunger, she offers a detailed description and analysis of the social and economic systems generating poverty and famines in nineteenth century Ireland. She attributes responsibilities and suggests remedies. Her style combines the lyrical and the technical and the novels at times become « fictions of fictions » in that literary composition is but a mask hardly hiding the author’s political purpose.

Claude Fierobe

The Great Famine and the threat of chaos. William Carleton’s Black Prophet
La Famine et le chaos. The Black Prophet de William Carleton

3The Black Prophet (1847) is now accepted as the first literary representation of the Great Famine. Donnel Dhu’s apocalyptic prophecies come true : Ireland is « a vast lazar-house », where chaos reigns supreme, in nature and in man ; and the state of the country is « frightful beyond belief ». The unresolved crime, committed twenty years earlier, is the powerful metaphor of the iniquitous landlord system and its government of terror. A reformist at heart – he condemns « the insane spirit of violence » – Carleton speaks courageously on the behalf of a people facing complete annihilation.

Sylviane Berger-Azidrou

Of nature and men. The Famine according to O’Flaherty’s Famine
De la nature et des hommes. La famine selon O’Flaherty dans

4This article offers a reading of Liam O’Flaherty’s Famine, published in 1937. It first considers the novel as a comprehensive chronicle of the ravages of the famine in the small community of Black Valley in County Galway. It then successively studies nature and society as the causes of this unprecedented disaster against which the population fights in vain. It finally examines Black Valley as a dying world in which the struggle for survival gradually undermines the very idea of collective destiny as it relentlessly crushes individuals except, however, for Mary and Martin, whose exile to America looks as a hope for a new life in a new world. All through the novel, there is a significant shift from a writing which discusses the famine to one which ultimately concentrates on showing its dehumanizing effects, in both a realistic and epic way. Famine can therefore be seen not only as an accurate historical document but also as an almost biblical narrative.

Fabienne Dabrigeon-Garcier

From ellipsis to silence. Remembering the Famine in Walter Macken’s The Silent People
De l’ellipse au silence.
Mémoire de la Famine dans The Silent People de Walter Macken

5The Silent People (1962), the central piece of Walter Macken’s fictional trilogy dealing with major tragedies in Irish history, is but partially devoted to the Great Famine. Only the final chapters focus on the first two years of the potato blight, whereas the preceding ones concentrate on the emergence of Daniel O’Connell as leader of the oppressed Catholics in the course of the Clare election in 1828. Curiously enough, the 1829 Catholic Emancipation is completely left out of the scope of the novel, as are the last two years of the Famine. This essay investigates the reasons for these two ellipses. It also attempts to account for Macken’s popular success by looking at the rhetoric of euphoria and dysphoria put to dramatic effect in the novel, and at the nationalist agenda informing his otherwise well-documented emplotment of the Famine.

Thierry Dubost

O’Grady’s The Famine, or melodrama as a cure for tragic wounds
The Famine
de Hubert O’Grady. Un mélodrame, ou le tragique à l’épreuve d’un baume guérisseur

6This essay explores some of the issues at stake in the staging of the Famine by a nineteenth century Irish playwright. Focusing on O’Grady’s play, The Famine, it examines the difficulty of resorting to dramatic modes to represent this national tragedy. The political nature of the subject implies that censorship has to be taken into account in the analysis of the play. Beyond immediate social hindrances connected to the staging of the Famine, this paper also focuses on the links between aesthetics and ideology. O’Grady’s The Famine attempted to provide spectators with a vision which could heal the wounds of the past, while paying a respectful tribute to the dead. The analysis of O’Grady’s dramatic modes leads to a series of questions. How could the playwright stage the Famine without betraying the dead, or offending the authorities, while remaining within the frame of a genre which may not have been the most adequate for this purpose ? In other words, how could O’Grady represent a tragedy, while resorting to the aesthetics of melodrama ?

Clíona Ní Ríordáin

Writing history, reading history. Seamus Heaney and the Great Famine
Écrire l’histoire, lire l’histoire. Seamus Heaney et la Grande Famine

7This article offers a close reading of Seamus Heaney’s poem « For the Commander of the Eliza ». It examines the way in which Heaney incorporates historical material and quotations into the body of the poem, offering a multiple perspective on a historical event which occurred during the Famine. The article examines the nature of the text itself and debates the issue of genre (document / poem), suggesting that through the subversion of genre Heaney wishes to indicate that history is multiple and truth difficult to pin down.

Danielle Jacquin

« How Long Lord ? ». Desmond Egan’s Famine
« How Long Lord ? ».
Famine de Desmond Egan

8Famine, a sequence with drawings by James McKenna, obviously a personal contribution to the national commemoration since it was published in 1994, includes most of the themes that have been running through the poet’s work for the past thirty years : compassion, the denunciation of violence and injustice, the attachment to the Irish land, the thirst for harmony, the past viewed as the inexorable weaver of the present. The poet’s vision and fierce message about centuries of British rule and the stylistic features, among which the diptych form and the rhetorical devices play a prominent part, are analysed in the four sections of this article – time and memory, space, the vehemence of the outspoken message, and empathy. In this committed Famine, the poet also dreams of an undivided, better Ireland, with man – not economy – at the heart of her society.

Jean Guiffan

Places of remembrance of the Great Famine
Les lieux de mémoire de la Grande Famine

9The aim of this paper is to show that a large number of memorials were erected in the Republic of Ireland, both to commemorate and highlight places of remembrance linked to this tragic event. It is noticeable though that this was not done until the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Great Famine. In Northern Ireland, this commemoration has taken on a political and identity aspect, which can be seen on murals in many republican areas.

Lorie-Anne Rainville-Duech

Jane Urquhart’s Away. Variations on the hunger theme
Away de Jane Urquhart ou les déclinaisons de la faim

10This paper examines how Canadian writer Jane Urquhart develops the Irish Famine theme throughout her novel Away. If in Ireland, the famine affects the body, in Canada, different forms of famine, notably forms of spiritual, intellectual and more generally cultural hunger, are experienced by the newly settled Irish. This study also explores the historical background which is at once based on the Great Famine and the birth of the Canadian confederation. All along the novel, Yeatsian traces are perceptible, and the numerous allusions to his poetry contribute to bring together these two national experiences.

Bertrand Cardin

Fluctuating boundaries in Colum McCann’s « Hunger Strike »
« Hunger Strike » de Colum McCann ou la fluctuation des frontières

11Colum McCann’s novella « Hunger Strike », focusing on the 1981 events in Long Kesh, can be considered as a rewriting of the Great Famine, the literature of the Famine being read as a process of claiming the dead, according to Christopher Morash. This article examines the fluid boundaries which are at work between fiction and history or between life and death, but also in the genre of the novella itself. With these blurred boundaries, the text is in line with postmodern historiographic metafiction.

Élisabeth Delattre

Writing about absence in Nuala O’Faolain’s My Dream of You
My Dream of You de Nuala O’Faolain. Une écriture de l’absence

12This article aims at showing how, in My Dream of You, Nuala O’Faolain has used the event of the Famine as part of a contemporary woman’s life and aspirations. By digging into the past, the novelist and her fictitious character try to discover certain filiations which turn out to be problematic. Writing the Famine, or rather rewriting about it, becomes a seemingly fruitless task which finds its echo in a desolate landscape.

Stéphane Jousni

Joyce and plethora in Finnegans Wake. A post-colonial rewriting of the Famine
Joyce et la pléthore dans Finnegans Wake. Une réécriture post-coloniale de la Famine

13From Dubliners down to Finnegans Wake, the motif of food in the Joycean text grows more and more obsessive. Via the analysis of the « dairy products » in the Wake – particularly in chapters vi and vii of book I –, this paper aims at reading Joyce’s choice of overabundance as a form of post-colonial rewriting of the Great Famine.

Thierry Robin

Rewriting the Irish Famine. When a founding national tragedy in History rhymes with parody in Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth and Slattery’s Sago Saga
La Famine et son double.
Échos parodiques d’une tragédie fondatrice dans The Poor Mouth et Slattery’s Sago Saga de Flann O’Brien

14Flann O’Brien is an author intent on playing with identities, establishing dogmas and appearances. His protean narrative strategy – quite in keeping with contemporary French thinker Clément Rosset’s philosophy – is evidenced by his numerous pennames and also testified to by his treatment of reality, be it scientific, psychological, physical or historical. O’Brien revisits Irish history and puts it into a dynamic perspective. This article analyses the parody, tautology and excess unexpectedly characterizing echoes of the Great Famine in The Poor Mouth, the unfinished novel Slattery’s Sago Saga and various other writings by Myles.

Sylvie Mikowski

Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea and the contemporary historical novel
Star of the Sea
de Joseph O’Connor. Quand la fiction nous mène en bateau

15This paper examines how in his latest novel, Joseph O’Connor has recourse to most of the devices defined by Linda Hutcheon as « metafictional historiography », insofar as the book, instead of offering the reader a realistic account of the Irish Great Famine in the manner of Liam O’Flaherty’s Famine, questions the reliability of any historical discourse, including those on the Famine. The novel plays with archetypes, each character alluding to a specific social position, but also to previous literary representations. The whole cultural context of the Famine is evoked, thanks to intertextual allusions to English or Irish authors, such as Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde, but also to forms of « popular » culture, namely songs, ballads, legendary figures such as Jack the Ripper, or popular magazines such as Punch. The inclusion in the world of fiction of extracts from real archives aims at blurring the lines between history and fiction, thus foregrounding the verbal, constructed nature of both forms of narration. This way of questioning the capacity of historical discourse to depict the complexities of the past must be set in relation with a long line of so-called Irish « historical novels », which each in its own fashion, deviates from the rules of the genre such as Georg Lukács defined it through his analysis of Walter Scott’s novels. O’Connor’s ironic, metafictional mode is also inspired by the prevailing intellectual debate going on in contemporary Ireland, revolving around the critique of the nationalist transformation of history into myth, a critique which has led to the rise of the « new History » of Edwards and Moody to a revision, or rewriting, of Irish history, a revision which has itself been lately criticised and corrected. The result is O’Connor’s most brilliant piece of fictional writing so far.

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 2007

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