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Spain in Irish Literature 1789-1850: An Approach to a Minor Representation

By Asier Altuna-García de Salazar


However, this unification brought with it the dependency of Ireland, and along with that the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, for the British government. It is therefore not merely coincidental that elements in the works that are dubbed Spanish and within the Spanish tradition are adapted to reflect on Anglo-Irish and Irish issues at large.

In approaching this minor discourse, some distinctive paradigms and preconceptions are evident. Firstly, any student or researcher should delineate the main controversies that the terms 'Anglo-Irish' and 'Irish' entail, especially in the field of literary criticism and literature, which is of great importance to our approach. The term Anglo-Irish presents specific connotations with regard to key issues, such as race, place, religion and polity. These have also conditioned the character of Irish literature over time. In this light, the appropriateness of the term Anglo-Irish for a greater part of the bulk of writing proposed here is adequate. Secondly, any paradigmatic classification of the period proposed for study should take into account issues such as colonialism, patriotism and nationalism, which informed the Irish case at the time. In the intersection of these three paradigms we would also advance three main aspects - place, religion and characterisation - which are seminal in the representation of Spain and Spanish references within the Irish literary discourse.

In what could be termed the 'politics of place' in those writings for which the Spanish locale is significant for the development of the work, some aspects are worth considering. The settings of the plays and poems of this introductory approach seek a place outside physical Ireland and have recourse to cities of importance in Spain. Indeed, there are references to cities such as Madrid, Salamanca, as places of learning and faith with closer links to the Irish religious diaspora at the turn of the fifteenth century, Barcelona, Granada, Burgos, Saragossa and Seville. We have also found interesting references to the image of Oriental Spain - which coincides with a general current of Irish orientalism prevalent during that period [5] - and the accompanying estrangement of land and religion. Of interest also are the allusions to the issue of imperial locality through the approach to Spanish colonial territories and a final consideration of the differentiation between land, territory and soil as national entities. The authors chose these particular settings with an underlying purpose: the exposition of their approach to Ireland and even Britain within the contemporary social and political context in Europe. It should be remembered that most writers never visited Spain. What they knew about Spain was largely from accounts by former travellers and periodical publications. Much first-hand information was gleaned from soldiers or men of importance in the Dublin Pale or at the British Court. This latter issue has not been researched sufficiently and a thorough analysis of these varied sources is still pending.

Another paradigmatic section could be termed the 'politics of religion'. As we have stated above, religion was part and parcel of the Anglo-Irish and Irish discourses at the time and the representation of religion through Spanish references merits investigation. Many of these works make closer reference to the duality of Spanish religious history epitomised in conflicts between two creeds, mainly the Moorish and Christian religions. This representation, in turn, contextualises many of the features that also characterised the Irish religious conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism during the period. For a better understanding of the development of the issue of religion as it is depicted in these works, three distinct time periods should be specified: the period before the Act of Union in 1800, that between the Union and Catholic Emancipation in 1829, in which we have located most Anglo-Irish and Irish writings on the politics of religion, and the period from Catholic Emancipation to 1850.

Thirdly, the central focus of the analysis is that of the 'politics of characterisation'. Indeed, the Spanish representations constructed by Anglo-Irish and Irish writers reflect the contemporary preoccupation with issues such as the character of the nation, at a time when national identities were being re-addressed. Furthermore, the variety of Spanish characters provided these authors with a continuous history and tradition that helped in the 'invention' of their own narrative in Ireland. Any approach to the use of characterisation of the period under study should consider aspects like the study of colonial Ireland through the approach to the Spanish conquistador Pizarro, the substantiation of the unionist discourse through recurring references to the Anglo-Irish Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War, an overview of the romantic nationalist novel, characters in translation by James Clarence Mangan, and historical and legendary Spanish characters, such as the Cid, King Pelagio and Don Roderick, among many others. The representation of the Spanish hero is evident, as a hero who withstands different conflicts with Moors, French and even amongst Spaniards themselves in an idealised glorification of the concept of race and national character.

In The Ballad Poetry of Ireland (1845) Charles Gavan Duffy refers to Spain and the historical character of the Cid as a beacon for the recovery of ancient ballads and heroes of the Gaelic past. He states that 'in Arragon and Castile the chronicles of the Cid, and the ballads of their long and heroic struggles against the Moor, still feed that noble pride of race which lifts the Spanish people above the meaner vices, and makes them in spirit and conduct a nation of gentlemen.'(Duffy 1845: 37) Attention should also be paid to the study of stock characterisation, which somehow finds inspiration in the Spanish picaresque tradition, particularly in plays, short comedies and sketches, followed by an introduction to the presence of female characters and their connections with Spain in Irish literature between 1789 and 1850.

In sum, the object of any approach to this period and its works should be the examination of history, literature, textuality and ideology as the main tenets in the constitution of the Anglo-Irish and Irish socio-historical subjectivities at the turn of the eighteenth century with the reference to Spain, the 'anecdote' in Irish literary discourse between 1789 and 1850. To take historical events and record them is an exercise in ideological inscription. All these events are ultimately transformed into history and canonised when they are inscribed in the narrative. Catherine Gallagher provides a definition in which our purpose of a collective approach through contextual and textual practices is best described:

…it [new historicism] entails reading literary and nonliterary texts as constituents of historical discourses that are both inside and outside of texts and that its practitioners generally posit no fixed hierarchy of cause and effect as they trace the connections among texts, discourses, power, and the constitution of subjectivity (Gallagher 1989: 37).

In the Ireland, or rather Anglo-Ireland, between 1789 and 1850, state power, be it from London or the Pale in Dublin, extensively merged with cultural forms in an attempt to impose a sense of tradition and identity, so as to furnish the Anglo-Irish discourse and assert the Anglo-Irish position of influence at the time. We have found that many of our writers' works with Spanish representations were produced with clear propagandistic purposes, mixing or 'fashioning' to use Greenblatt's terminology, literary aesthetics with effective 'material practices'.

Most of the Irish writings proposed in this brief approach had as their aim the re-creation and re-enactment of the historical, social and, principally, political contests of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish predicament. It is therefore not a coincidence that the depiction and analysis of historical and cultural stages such as the Volunteer movement of 1798, the development of events on the European continent, especially in Spain, and the later Union between Ireland and Great Britain in 1800, with the attendant self-extinction of the Anglo-Irish parliament, were relegated to 'silence' in the formation of the Irish literary canon, because they were regarded as instances of the Ascendancy and as such 'too English' in their postulates. This brief approach seeks to support and assist in the analysis of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Irish literature, so as to supply a 'small grain' for the discontinuous subject of the Irish literary tradition.

Any approach to the minor representation of Spain in Irish literature between 1789 and 1850 should be concerned with the study of the nature of the re-inscription of literature in history, in this case Irish history, and the consequent formation of the Irish canon of literature. In Ireland the production of a so called 'national' literature in English sprang from a series of direct historical events which were highly charged with ideology and power, and as Said proclaimed 'these realities [power and ideology] are what should be taken into account by criticism and the critical consciousness'; mainly because these are the realities 'that make texts possible' (Said 1983: 5).


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 31 August 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Altuna, Asier, 'Spain in Irish Literature 1789-1850: An Approach to a Minor Representation
' in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5:2 (July 2007), pp. 96-101. (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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