Farming in contemporary Irish fictional narratives: A critical, comparative and creative response
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This practice-in-research dissertation combines creative writing and literary criticism to explore the farm narratives that arose in Ireland due to expansionist agricultural ideologies, and by extension considers what is at stake both economically and culturally when farmers are forced to participate in productivist agriculture. In particular, the academic research investigates the extent to which the Irish writer John McGahern’s That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) and Icelander Halldór Laxness’ Independent People (1934) can be read as responses to specific agricultural policies practiced at the time of their publications. Iceland provides an intuitive counterpoint in considering Irish agriculture as both nations once shared similar farming systems, but have seen the lived experiences of farmers—and subsequent narratives regarding them—diverge dramatically at key points in their policymaking histories. When presented as an act of political intent, McGahern’s Rising Sun becomes the first of a new kind of Irish farm narrative, one that is often marked by the economic conditions of agriculture. To add to current Irish farm narratives and further examine the circumstances of small agriculture, I completed the novel draft The Beasts They Turned Away. The lyrical gothic novel presents an aging Irish farmer who stubbornly refuses to give up farming until death takes him, despite losing a grip on his senility and physical health. In addition, he cares for a small boy who is mute and burdened with a curse that turns the natural world against him, including the landscape and the wildlife on it. He must protect the boy from the ire of the local town, all the while struggling to keep his small dairy farm. Ultimately, The Beasts They Turned Away and my academic research are unified by their fundamental objective: to suggest that the transition from small to large agriculture was not inevitable as a symptom of advancing technology or growing populations, but rather the result of specific policy decisions that had momentous consequences.
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