Dissolute Characters

Irish literary history through Balzac, Sheridan Le Fanu, Yeats and Bowen

By Bill McCormack

Dissolute Characters

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8563-5
  • Pages: 265
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £15.99
  • Published Date: August 2011
  • BIC Category: Literature, Literature: history & criticism, Literary studies: general, HISTORY / Europe / Ireland, LITERARY CRITICISM / Gothic & Romance, Ireland, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: general


Irish literature in English commands world-wide respect, but it is rarely discussed in a comparative light. This study of the making and unmaking of character commences with Balzac's impact on nineteenth-century Irish fiction. Sheridan Le Fanu links Balzac and Swedenborg to Yeats, and anticipates Elizabeth Bowen's deployment of ghost story conventions in the 1940s.

Through painterly imagery, biblical quotation and the distortion of proper names, Le Fanu shows character to be a self-consuming project. Yeats's Parnell emerges as a modernist gothic hero of the 1930s. Bowen's The heat of the day anatomises the problems of identity, bequeathed by Yeats.

Radically revising the idea of a gothic tradition and traversing two centuries of Irish literary history, Dissolute characters gives a fluent and detailed account of the emerging relation between Irish culture, modernism and politics.


Part One: On Literary History
1. Cashiering the gothic tradition
2. Between Balzac and Yeats
3. Swedenborg's ghost

Part Two: Le Fanu and his Art
4. Mediating the Past: The House by the Church-yard
5. The parochial and exotic: two tales of 1891
6. Beginning the English novels
7. Characters beheaded with mottoes
8. Towards a theory of public opinion
9. 'Freezing brightness'
10 Gottfried Schalcken in history and fiction

Part Three: The Great Enchantment
11. In a Glass Darkly
12. Serialism?
13. Gladstone and Ascendancy: or, here we go round the upas tree
14. Yeats and gothic politics

Part Four: Elizabeth Bowen and The Heat of the Day
15. Is the novel properly entitled...?
16. Indefinite articles
17. 'The neutral island in the heart of man'

Epilogue: The Disinherited of Literary History


W. J. Mc Cormack is Keeper of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.

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