John McGahern's house of vision: From darkness to the rising sun
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John McGahern (1934-2006) believed that books could act as mirrors. They can also act as windows on the world. Such windows, however, necessarily frame our fields of vision, alter and shape our perspectives. Far from being static, the artist’s perspective must continually evolve. This thesis, then, is a literary analysis of the development of John McGahern’s artistic and poetic vision – his ‘ways of looking’ – across his novels. It examines the shifting focus of this vision: how and why it develops, what effects such developments have on the novels’ forms, and how these forms evolve, at what times and in response to what stimuli. The thesis demonstrates that such developments mirror an analogous social expansion, during the latter half of the twentieth century. It suggests that the novels’ literary spaces relate to McGahern’s efforts to realise a more accommodating form to envelop the structureless society. The number of critical studies on McGahern has increased markedly in recent years. Yet, research still tends to fall into the well-established camps of social realism or literary aestheticism. This study explores the common ground between the material context and social worlds of each novel and the hermeneutics of a ‘traditional’ literary investigation. It traverses such divides through close readings of McGahern’s novels, with attention to the topopoetical production of images of the house, the home, and the family unit. The thesis ultimately suggests that attention to McGahern’s literary spaces provides a greater understanding of the aesthetic, vision and form of each novel, and allows us to understand those aspects relative to the social, cultural and political undercurrents of the novels individually and collectively.