Literature Review

Currently remaining under the term ‘working title’, my thesis endeavours to anaylse the role of education within the writings of John McGahern; stretching the length of the author’s nearly forty year career as one of Ireland’s most influential contemporary writers. Through my in-depth analysis of the novels, short stories and non-fiction essays of the late Leitrim native, I intend to explore the role played by various aspects of education (e.g. religious influence, reading for pleasure and education in a functional society) throughout the entirety of McGahern’s published works. Through this academic interpretation and analysis, I wish to pose questions regarding the accuracy of McGahern’s depiction of mid-twentieth century Irish attitudes towards education and the relevance of McGahern’s works to his modern readers as they reflect on the overall intimation of the importance of education within an evolving society.

Within my thesis, I endeavour to place McGahern’s works within the private and public spheres of Irish society of the mid-twentieth century – that being in relation to the Roman Catholic church, Irish society as a Utilitarian, functionally obsessive entity, and the individual’s private relationship with education. This seperation between the various levels of mid-twentieth century Irish society within my discussion of education will also be an aspect which will be developed in relation to each chapter theme throughout my thesis.

Firstly, I wish to place McGahern’s engagement with the theme of education within the

Pamphlet published by the Catholic Truth Society (1961)

context of reading for pleasure. In order to do this, I will draw on Stanley van der Ziel’s, John McGahern and the Imagination of Tradition (Cork UP, 2016), with particular involvement in van der Ziel’s introductory chapter in which Auden’s pleasure principle is introduced as a source of explanation with regards to McGahern’s illustrations of reading outside of the schoolhouse/university setting. The subsection titled ‘Books that act as mirrors’ will also be useful within this discussion for its engagement with the idea of an informal and personal education found in reading. Van der Ziel sees McGahern’s character (especially those within The Dark and The Barracks) as finding “metaphysical, social and moral consciousness surrounding the nature of human life as it is lived in solitude or in company” through an individual’s personal reading.

To engage with McGahern’s depiction of the influence of religion on education, I will draw on the work of Denis Sampson in his publication entitled, Outstaring Nature’s Eye: The Fiction of John McGahern. I will also include documented interviews with the late author such as those found in Ireland in Writing: Interviews with Writers and Academics (Brill Rodopi, 1998). In particular, with analysis of Rosa Gonzaléz’s interview with the author, and Writing Irish: selected interviews with writers from the Irish literary supplement (Syracuse, 1999) in which Eileen Kennedy documents a 1983 interview with McGahern at the mid-point of his career so as to include discussions of religion and education within McGahern’s non-fiction essays collections (e.g. Love of the World). I will also refer to more contemporary interviews with the author before his death so as to illustrate the progression of opinion both within the author’s fiction and non-fiction publications. Also included as academic support for this chapter will be Eamon Maher’s work entitled The Church and Its Spire: John McGahern and the Catholic Question (Columba, 2011) so as to provide a more general overview of Catholicism within Irish society of the time. My discussion of religion will not however, focus solely on the influence on the Catholic Church but will also incorporate aspects of Irish-Protestant attitudes towards education (e.g. as seen within The Solitary Reader).

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Catholic Politics in Catholic Schools

To explore McGahern’s depiction of the role of education within the functional society of mid-twentieth century Ireland, I will also include Denis Sampson’s Outstaring Nature’s Eye: The Fiction of John McGahern within this discussion so show that the formal Irish Catholic education may be seen as “a microcosm of the authority of Ireland”, alongside his more recent publication title Young John McGahern: Becoming a Novelist (Oxford UP, 2012) so as to combine both formal education and reading for pleasure with the societal issues of McGahern’s post-independent Ireland. With the use of the relevant sources, I will discuss the role of education within post-independent function society as a means of gaining financial security. I will also use works of historic background so as to contextualise the overall sociocultural, historic and economic positioning of Irish society of the time. This aspect of discussion will also prove to benefit, once again, from Eamon Maher’s academic work on McGahern with his text, John McGahern: From the Local to the Universal (Liffey Press, 2003) discussing  the social behaviour of Ireland as being “ruled like a theocracy” and by the Catholic Church.

In order to contextualise the role of education within the society of the writings of John McGahern, I will refer to Luddy and Smith’s edited collection of essays titled Children, childhood and Irish society, 1500 to the present (Four Courts Press,2014) whilst making special reference to Ciaran O’Driscoll’s chapter,  “‘In my father’s house’: renegotiations of boyhood in life writing by John McGahern” alongside other elements of the collective text in order to draw upon educational behaviours and attitudes of the Irish populous throughout the past century. I will also refer to the second volume of A Companion to Irish Literature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) edited by Julia M. Wright, with a focus on Eamon Maher’s chapter “Holding a Mirror to a Society in Evolution: John McGahern” to further my discussion on the difficulty present in the seperation of the Irish education system from the Catholic Church (e.g. The Dark and The Leavetaking along with numerous short-stories and essays) and the challenges this poses to my discussion of education.

With regards to my use of IT within my research and thesis composition, I endeavour to use the databases made available to me through the Boole Library website including JSTOR, Academic Search Complete and ProQuest. I will also refer to various internet sources such as Youtube to watch relevant interviews and RTE’s 2005 documentary on McGahern entitled ‘A Private World’ along with any other relevant media I uncover in the course of my academic research.



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