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Between Irishmen : queering Irish literary and cultural nationalisms Lapointe, Michael Patrick


This dissertation explores the relations between various strands of Irish nationalism and the homosocial/homosexual continuum as represented in texts by Irish writers Edward Martyn, James Joyce, Brian Friel, Thomas Kilroy, Frank McGuinness, and Jamie O'Neill. Drawing upon Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's theories of homosociality, the epistemology of the closet, and homosexual panic as well as Judith Butler's theory of melancholic gender performativity, I argue that the Irish representation of homoeros is not only a submerged counter-tradition within Irish writing, but also an integral part in the constitution of modern nationalist identity. Specifically, homosociality and homoeroticism, I argue, have affected the nature of Irish literary and cultural nationalisms insofar as homosocial desire resides in the heart of romantic nationalism's ideology and symbolism, and in its sacrificial interpellation of the homosexual figure. The first chapter looks at the influential impact of gender and homoeros on the histories of nationalisms by examining homosexual panic in the Irish Gothic, the influence of Dion Boucicault's sentimental melodramas, and by reading the Irish Revival through George L. Mosse's analysis of nationalism's creation of a respectable normative masculinity and through David Cairns and Shaun Richards's discussion of Irish familism and its regulation of sexuality. The Irish Revivalists' reaction to the discourse of Irish feminization informs their understanding of the model Irishman as both peasant and warrior. Also, a homosocial cultural imaginary, akin to romantic nationalism's, shapes Ulster Unionism as well, apparent in Loyalist marches and Orange fraternal organizations. The second section of the introduction consists of three case studies investigating the queer lives of Oscar Wilde, Patrick Pearse, and Roger Casement. Each man is an exemplary figure of the contradictory discourses of homoerotic desire in conflict with Irish nationality. My readings of selected literary texts in the following chapters elaborate upon the queer-inflected construction of masculinist nationalist identity. In Chapter 2, I show how Edward Martyn's play The Heather Field charts a tension between the physical and emotional yearning for men and a brand of Catholic asceticism, or hieratic homoeroticism. In the subsequent chapter, I turn to James Joyce's ambivalent strategies of representation and their imbrication within romantic nationalism. This chapter discusses A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses through theories of gender inversion and performativity and homosexual panic within male homosocial relations. In Chapter 4, Brian Friel's The Gentle Island and Thomas Kilroy's The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche dramatize Ireland's continuing disavowal of its culture's homosocial foundations through homophobic scapegoating. The fifth chapter reads Frank McGuinness's plays Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme and Carthaginians through melancholic gender as Northern Ireland's warring communities grapple with psychic and bodily wounds. The dissertation ends with a short epilogue analyzing the homosocial and homoerotic desires configuring the Easter Rising of 1916 in Jamie O'Neill's novel At Swim, Two Boys.

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