Luke Gibbon, “Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish University Review (Spring/Summer 1997), pp.7-23.

According to George Sigerson, moreover, the reason the “curse of Cromwell” haunted successive generations had less to do with supernatural solicitings than with the fact that it was continually revisited on the Catholic population, under the civilising mask of legislation buttressing the rule of landlordism. […&c.]. Ftn: ‘The first of the Melmoths’, recounts a ‘witch-like’ Biddy Brannigan, who administers her folk medicine at the death bed of young John Melmoth’s uncle, ‘who settled in Ireland, was an officer in Cromwell’s army, who obtained a grant of lands, the confiscated property of an Irish family attached to the royal cause.’ (Melmoth the Wanderer; Penguin Ed., p.64.)

[On Scott] Romantic nostalgia … was not a reaction against modernisation, but an extension of it, laying th basis for a sentimental nationalism … which is perfectly consistent with embracing the ethos of empire.

Quotes J. C. Beckett: ‘It is not altogether fanciful to suppose that the Anglo-Irish scholars felt, perhaps, subconsciously, that the further back they went the safer they were. They could be enthusiastic over the valour of ancient Gaelic heroes and the piety of the Celtic church without raising issues that might have an obvious relevance to their own day.... But this study of Gaelic antiquity proved more potent and more divisive than those who encouraged it could have foreseen.’ (The Anglo-Irish Tradition, Blackstaff 1982, p.102.; Gibbons, p.8.

Cites W J McCormack in the place of Gothic fiction in Ireland [see RX]

Kate Trumpener (Comparing Maturin’s The Milesian Chief, 1812, with Scott’s Waverley: If [Scott’s most acute critics such as Edwin Muir and Georg Lukacs] had written of Ireland and the national tale, instead of Scotland and the historical novel, they would have seen in Ireland’s political turbulence a sufficient explanation for the genre’s intermittent radicalism, its instability of tone, and its alternation between the formulaic and formal experimentation. Still affected by the desperate unrest of the 1790s, Ireland ... proved inauspicious for the birth of realism, but sufficiently shattered, tortured and self-defeating for the birth of a novelistic proto-modernism instead. (Kate Trumpener, ‘Natinal Cahracter, Nationalist Plots: The National Tale and the Historical Novel in the Age of Waverley, 1806-1930’, in English Literary History, 60, 3, Fall, 1993, p.690.)

.. it becomes clear that the “primitivism” assigned by Scottish social theorists to the remote past was in fact endemic to the Irish economy, a structural component of its integration into the first phases of British imperialism. [10]

It is this fraught interdependence between the “old” and the “new” in the material conditions of society, the conflicting claims of modernisation [11] and memory on an economy in crisis, which accounts for the persistence of the part in Irish culture. [Ftn., directs reader to more extensive treatment of this topic in its cultural implications, in Transformations in Irish Culture, 1996, and Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, 1996.

Quotes Sigerson [1871; here p.12; see RX].

‘The material act of dispossession had taken place, thus sundering the old social order, but the legitimacy of this had never been conceded, and the moral economy of the Irish countryside passed into the margins, into an alternative public sphere beyond the pale of “civility” and “progress”.’ [13]

‘The consequences of this geological model of the past are tellingly evoked by Bram Stoker in his remarkable first novel, The Snake’s Pass, set in the wilds of the west of Ireland in the late nineteenth century. [Plot summary ensues, with quotation, as infra]; cites comments by the geologist Dick Sutherland employed by Black Murdock to survey the land, who in turn cites Archbishop William King and Edmund Spenser on the Irish bogs in speaking with his friend Arthur, the narrator.

Gibbons comments, ‘It is in the latter’s [King’s] essay that we find the most succinct expression of the sbuversive associations of bogs in the colonial imagination [p.14]

‘The bog, in fact, stands for those aspects of the Irish past which will not go away, but whose threats to the social order are actively reproduced by the forces of modernisation which consigned the poorest of the peasantry to these outlying areas.’ [14]

[Further quotes Chris Morash, ‘thought his fiction and journalism written after the first two Home Rule bills [Stoker continually expresses] the fear that atavism is not something which decreases in proportionately as modernity increases, but that the two nourish each other’ (Morash, ‘Ever Under Some Unnatural Condition’, 1995 [as above], pp.109-10) [14]

This dysfunctional form of modernisation, which reactivates rather than repudiates the past, was bound up with the anomalies of the landlord system, a caste which, while aspiring to anachronistic pretensions of aristocracy, yet presided over the unrestrained commercialisation of the Irish economy.’ (Gibbons, p.14.)

Notes that ‘history’ in Ireland does not become ‘song’ as in Scotland, but remains alive: ‘[T]he past in a crucial sense was over and done with in Scotland, in Ireland it was still unresolved, and could not et be viewed through the rear window of nostalgia.’ [7]

”Mystery is the shadow of guilt”, wrote the Gothic novelist Sheridan le Fanu, and, as Roy Foster has argued, the line of Protestant supernatural fiction which links Yeats to other Dublin Protestant writers such s Bram Stoker, Le Fanu and Charles Maturin, is haunted by spectres from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (‘Protestant Magic: W. B. yeats and the Spell of History’, in Paddy and Mr Punch, 1993.) Foster, however, sees the supernatural as a form of escapism, an imaginary refuge from the beleaguered condition of nineteenth-century Protestant Ireland, but it may well be that the ghosts of the past were not so enchanting and were rather what the Irish gothic was trying to escape from.’ [18]; Further, charges Foster with failing to mention that the Faustian pact from which Melmoth is fleeing is the Cromwellian confiscations [18]

See ftn., ‘Foster cites the exemplary trope in Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) where the memory of a centuries-old corrupt bargain condemns its beneficiary to wander the world, but does not mention that the Faustian pact in question originated in the Melmoth family’s involvement in Cromwellian confiscations.’ (ftn.).

Luke Gibbons, “Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish “Mystery is the shadow of guilt”, wrote the Gothic novelist Sheridan Le Fanu, and, as Roy Foster has argued, the line of Protestant supernatural fiction which links Yeats to other Dublin Protestant writers such as Bram Stoker, Le Fanu and Charles Maturin, is haunted by spectres from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (‘Protestant Magic’, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and History (London: Allen Lane, Penguin 1993; n.p. [recte p.220) Foster, however, sees the supernatural as a form of escapism, an imaginary refuge from the beleaguered condition of nineteenth-century Protestant Ireland, but it may well be that the ghosts of the past were not so enchanting and were rather what the Irish gothic was trying to escape from.

Relates George Sigerson’s treatment of the symptoms of Irish historical trauma with those of the victim of acute shock or stress, in whom the stages of the hysterical body are enumerated (tonic rigidity or enervation; spasms or convulsions; intense physical representations; final delirium .. heralding return to the real world). [20]

According to Gibbon, Sigerson is not arguing from analogy but ‘attempting to re-interpret the racial mystique of the Celt by bringing it into line with with enlightened language of modern medical discourse’ [20]

Cites Lecky’s History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe as probable source for Freud’s interest in hysteria. [20]

The Easter Rising of 1916 represented such a convulsion for yests, and it is striking tht he uses the hysterical swings between rigidfity and recklessness, inertia and delirium, to explain the fatal condensation of terror and beauty which he projected onto Maud Gonne as an emblem of Irish nationalism [quotes ‘… terrible stone doll …’] [21]

Though strongly associated with modernity - “the great modern ailment” in the eyes of one nineteenth-century physician - the figure of hysteria testified ultimately to the persistence of a troubled past, whether it be secreted in the body or in the petrified violence of the landscape. The Literary Revival may be seen to an attempt to give a cultural voice to this mute condition, but whether it effected a talking cure remains to be seen. [END]

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