"Of another world entire": Past dreams and future imaginings in the novels of John McGahern and Colm Toibin

Grace N Ledwidge, Fordham University


The aim of my dissertation is to demonstrate how the realist novels of John McGahern (1934–2006) and Colm Tóibín (b.1955) respond to the history of twentieth-century Ireland and provide a means of assessing both the failure of social policies that plunged the post-independence Irish State into an era of economic and social stasis as well as the trans-generational effects of the negative conditions these policies engendered. This dissertation will demonstrate that in so doing, these novels augment the informal debate currently taking place between traditionalists who seek to preserve the nationalist code of identity (at least in part), and progressives who seek to re-define Irish identity in the twenty-first century with a new, more inclusive national code. ^ My dissertation will explore the dualism at the heart of McGahern's fiction which juxtaposes his searing depiction of the brutal effects of Church and State policies on Irish family life with the nobler aspects of traditional Ireland that he hopes will endure in some form: an appreciation for the rituals of Catholicism, an intense love for the land and its natural beauty, a reverence for the stoic goodness of traditional women, and a deep respect for the ordinary farming people. It will show that Tóibín uses the realist novel, not as McGahern does, to illustrate the way in which oppressive Church and State policies made a hell of an otherwise idyllic heaven, but to examine how and why this oppressive Irish society came into being. It will demonstrate that Tóibín's novels seek to re-examine the intertwined narrative of family and nation in order to truly understand the past and move forward to a more equitable future. It will illustrate the difficulty of this undertaking by showing Tóibín's protagonists' quest for truth thwarted by gaps and silences and lapses of memory, things not said and events not spoken of. Ultimately, my dissertation will show that while it is unlikely that McGahern's desire to preserve aspects of traditional Irish life will prevail in the materialistic, secular society of modern Ireland, Tóibín's desire for a new, ethnically inclusive code of nationhood is also open to question. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Ledwidge, Grace N, ""Of another world entire": Past dreams and future imaginings in the novels of John McGahern and Colm Toibin" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3353772.