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Title: Questioning agency : Charles Maturin, the national tale, and the cultural production of identity
Author: Kelly, James
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2005
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In my thesis I look at the works of Charles Maturin, focusing particularly on four novels (The Wild Irish Boy, The Milesian Chief, Women, Melmoth the Wanderer). I argue that in these works we can see Maturin in effect offering a materialist critique of an emerging discourse of Irish Romantic nationalism. Maturin was concerned with how constructions of national identity and their expression in literature were intimately bound up with questions as to the role of culture, and the level of agency, it has within the public life of the modern nation/state. In his fiction we can see a conflict between a residual aristocratic ‘high’ culture and an emerging mass culture. The role of the novelist comes under scrutiny, as maturing points out the complicity between the ‘National Tale’ and the mass-market novel, a form of cultural production which was critically suspect by his fellow Romantics. For Maturin the central irony of the national tale is that its culturally determined notion of nationality is presented within the most commercial and, for him, materially determined form of literary production. Maturin in these novels engages with not only Owenson’s fiction but also with Madame De Staël’s important novel Corinne, or Italy as a foundational text in the Romantic construction of national identity. Women in particular questions whether female cultural agency is transferable to other ‘fields’ (to take a term from Bourdieu). The process by which the woman of genius helps to create a national sphere which then proceeds to marginalise her, reducing women to the status of purely aesthetic objects without political agency, is commented on in both the Milesian chief and, especially so, Women. In Melmoth the Wanderer, the focus changes to the role that folklore and ‘traditional history’ (a term from the novel) have in the national imagination. Melmoth engages with different forms of historical narration and memory, ultimately finding no one way of transmission – rather than appropriating folk culture in an auto-exoticist mode as other novelists of the time did, Maturin comments on the actual process of appropriation. The distinction between an aristocratic culture and a popular culture continues, as the appropriation of folk culture is linked with the selective appropriation of folk culture for a polite audience. The dialectic between oral and textual authority is developed and shown to be a false opposition, both forms of narration ultimately drawing on the other for legitimacy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available