Ritualized Silence and Secret Selves: The Seal of the Confessional in Nineteenth Century Ireland

In: Silence in Modern Irish Literature
Willa Murphy
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Catholic clerical abuse scandals in Ireland have recently sparked animated media discussion over the secrecy at the heart of the Catholic sacrament of confession. The arguments strikingly reproduce debates in the 1820s, when the British State sought access to this most secret of spaces in modern Irish history. The fixation on the confessional is part of the attempt after the Act of Union to transform Ireland from silence and superstition to transparency and reason. A close examination of works by Gerald Griffin and the Banim brothers, John and Michael, in the 1820s/1830s, suggests that freedom and identity are not inimical to secrecy and silence, but intimately related. The confessional becomes the emblem of this paradox, whereby a space that is most secret is seen to enable a transformation of the self. This problematic fiction comprehends the power of a ritualized, secret self. In this aspect, the novels of Griffin and the Banims stand at odds with the progressive, Reformed selves in their surface narratives.

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