Irish Writing and History since 1798
Edited by Patricia A. Lynch, Joachim Fischer and Brian Coates
A Historical Thesaurus
Maps and Narratives of Spanish Exploration (1567-1606)
Mercedes Maroto Camino
Mercedes Maroto Camino presents a cultural analysis of these journeys and takes issue with some established notions about the value of the past and the way it is always rewritten from the perspective of the present. She highlights the social, political and cultural environment in which maps and narratives circulate, suggesting that their significance is always subject to negotiation and transformation. The tapestry created by the interpretation of maps, narratives and rituals affords a view not only of the minds of the first men and women who traversed the Pacific but also of how they saw the ocean, its islands and their peoples. Producing the Pacific should, therefore, be of relevance to those interested in history, voyages, colonialism, cartography, anthropology and cultural studies.
The study of these cultural products contributes to an interpretive history of colonialism at the same time that it challenges the beliefs and assumptions that underscore our understanding of that history.
The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering
Edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben
Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) enacts a narrative return to the violent trauma of Aboriginal dispossession and destruction upon which Australia is founded, situating its reader complexly, as both witness to and complicit in the events it retells. Her use of fiction to represent this trauma made Grenville the focus of heated public debate about the role of fiction in representing the past, a debate that repeatedly cast her project as historically dubious. However, rather than approaching the novel as a corrupted form of history’s reconstruction of past events, it seems more useful to situate this text as an act of memory in the present, which shapes both past and future. Even as it represents the past, Grenville’s novel addresses a present both deeply divided and in danger of forgetting its history. It uses the affective power of fiction to reinscribe and reactivate Aboriginal Australian history in the contemporary historical imaginary.
Recent scholarship on British neo-Victorian fiction has presented contemporary authors’ returns to the nineteenth century as an expression of nostalgia for this period and for the work of their Victorian literary predecessors. In the context of non-British texts however, those returns to bygone times of Victorian ‘literary greatness’ may be used to different effect: that of re-appropriating and challenging, rather than confirming, these typical nostalgic drives. This is the case in Jane Urquhart’s novel The Whirlpool (1986), set in the wilderness of Niagara Falls, Canada, but framed by a narrative sequence focused on Robert Browning’s death in 1889 Venice. The use of irony and the presence of ‘postmodern gaps’ in the novel’s quotational process serve to highlight and undermine the lingering effects of the Victorian canon on new poetic voices. The novel’s focus on issues of death and decay in the old world of Europe also emphasises the renewal potential present in the Canadian wild. By presenting the act of mourning as a specifically Victorian cultural expression and ideological by-product of the British Empire, the novel successfully challenges the political and historical legacy of colonisation in Canada. In this context, mourning is used as a commemorative process to inscribe otherwise silenced histories, and thus contributes to the establishment of a Canadian historical consciousness.
Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben
Increasingly, the nineteenth century has become a significant locus of investigations into historical trauma, in terms of the retrospective analysis of actual catastrophic events and their long term after-effects, as well as their fictional re-experience and belated ‘working through’ in literature. The neo-Victorian phenomenon both reflects and contributes to crucial developments in trauma discourse and cultural memory, both at national and global levels, constructing competing versions of the past that continue to inform the present. Crucially, the neo-Victorian also problematises the politicisation and appropriation of trauma and resulting ethical dilemmas vis-à-vis the suffering other, especially relating to the notion of trauma’s unrepresentability and the figurative language used to convey the central paradox of the unspeakable.
Celia Wallhead and Marie-Luise Kohlke
David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004) opens with a 39-page neo-Victorian section that suddenly ends in mid-sentence, after which the novel progresses through various temporal settings before returning to the initial narrative frame. The reader is invited to follow the clues that bind the whole together, a technique reliant on the thread of trauma that links distinct historical sufferings in interwoven virtual pasts, presents, and futures. This chapter investigates how Mitchell’s starting-point, a travelogue of an American notary in the Chatham Islands in the mid-nineteenth century, informs the rest of the novel, introducing its main themes: the relations between powerful and powerless, memory and forgetting, free and slave, and how these traumatically translate into physical and mental violence. Mitchell’s Darwinian-inflected vision plays with ideas of fitness and dominance, altruism and the survival of individuals and cultures, both as he looks back to Darwin’s day and as he explores how these ideas continue to inform our present and a future that may or may not become our own.