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

By Asier Altuna-Garcķa de Salazar


Considerations for further study and concluding remarks

In analysing the much-neglected discourse on the representation of Spain in Irish literature between 1789 and 1850, the use of New Historicism as a critical current and its concepts, tools and tenets as a methodological framework could be valid. This is relevant for the use of time and the dichotomy between the synchronic and diachronic axis of time; the introduction of the concept of 'thick description' in the critical study of a 'cultural cut', the joint analysis of literary works and other forms of expression manifesting an underlying causal principle, as a means of offering a more comprehensive view on Anglo-Irish discourse; the application of the concept of the 'circulation' of textual energy, that is, the interrelatedness of all kinds of texts; and the importance given to the anecdote, in our case Spain and Spanish references, as an 'effect of surprise', which does not try to exemplify the eternal truths of a literary period, but perforates narration in order to provide points of interaction. Indeed, our proposal is to put in contact those texts, literary and non-literary, that shed light on any analysis of the period with the intention of tracing the connections between them. The new-historicist-style critical subjection of every poetic text to a discursively historicised brand of interpretation will eventually enable us to see these writings in a new light, as all kinds of texts were 'fashioned' in the Irish discourse of the period. As a result, any approach should be concerned with the analysis of the creative power that shapes, or 'fashions' Irish literary works outside and inside those borders and boundaries in which they found expression.

Our division into three main paradigmatic guidelines for further study could lead us to some conclusions. There is more to the choice of Spain rather than Ireland than 'just a setting'. In the crucial relationship between place and people lie the controversial issues of Anglo-Irish and Irish continuities and identities. Moreover, most of the Irish writings proposed here account for an economic and political categorisation of place, due to the colonial and imperial position of Britain with respect to Ireland at the turn of the eighteenth century. Identity, in the Anglo-Irish case, is conditioned by a territorial boundary. This territorial boundary distinguishes the Anglo-Irish 'collective self' from the native Irish 'Other', when the Anglo-Irish cannot depend on other objective criteria such as race, common history, tradition and language. The Anglo-Irish failure in the conceptualisation of place is reflected in their maintenance of the dissociation between Ireland, conceived as a place of colonial penetration and exploitation, and Ireland as a mythical or aesthetic place.

The Anglo-Irish authors proposed here do not refer to Ireland directly, except for Charles Robert Maturin's Gothic description of the Anglo-Irish betrayal of land. Their references to Spain as a setting fill a gap. The Anglo-Irish have emptied the mythical and aesthetic component of Ireland, and therefore they cannot refer to or claim the land and the soil as participants of the Anglo-Irish 'collective self'. Their conceptualisation of land, of Irish land, does not fit with a tradition they could claim as their own.

All representations of the Spanish 'locale', such as stereotypical references to cities that had been theatres of war - especially Talavera de la Reina, where Britain and Ireland fought against Napoleon -; the depiction of Oriental Spain, which accounts for much Oriental and Ossianic enthusiasm in literature in the English language at the time; the use of Spanish colonial territories as an indirect allusion to British imperialist politics in Ireland and elsewhere; and the references to the trinity of territory, land and soil in the 1820s, have addressed the issue of place in a different location, Spain. In the case of Anglo-Irish writings rather than Irish ones, the lack of representation of an Anglo-Irish Ireland in the works proposed above could lead us to understand their relegation from the Irish canon. The Anglo-Irish 'politics of place', though an expression of social and political colonial power, fails in the conceptualisation of land as a category within Anglo-Irish 'cultural hegemony'.  Hence, it decreased in importance in comparison with, on the one hand, the nationalist conceptualisation of place, as the soil to which Irish people attach themselves, and, on the other hand, the Anglo-Irish ascendancy's betrayal of a land which is increasingly distant from them.

Like place, the issue of religion in Ireland experienced rapid changes, which included the relaxation of the Penal Laws, the annexation of the Church of Ireland to the Church of England and the passing of Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Through the representation of Spain and Spanish references, some of the Irish writings proposed here approach the conflicting discourse of religion in Ireland. The structure of our analysis of the 'politics of religion' into three periods: before the Union (1800), after the Union and before Catholic Emancipation (1829) and the period after Emancipation, could facilitate the study of this corpus of Irish writing with Spanish references.

The maintenance of the distinction Protestant-Catholic, represented through Spain by Christian/Catholic-Muslim, accounts for the construction of an exclusive definition of the Anglo-Irish, especially the Protestant Ascendancy, versus the Catholic majority in Ireland. We can perceive this religious exclusivity in the representations of colonial superiority through stock characterisation. With the advent of the Union, the Churches of Ireland and Great Britain united. The fear of a French invasion and the introduction of a secular state in France made Christianity the central principle of confluence both in Britain and in Ireland. Accordingly, Spanish references in which Christianity, and not an exclusive Catholic creed, is alluded to, facilitates the inclusion of both Protestant and Catholic creeds. The reference to Catholic Irish forces in the British army and the allusion to the pre-Anglican saints and heroes in many of the works with Spanish references evince attempts to include all different religious creeds in the discourse of the period.

Much pamphlet and literary writing has addressed the threat of Republican thinking, exemplified in the revolutionary ethos that the United Irishmen wanted to infuse in Irish people. What seemed a moment of religious equality and encounter was engulfed by the advance of unionist writing. The unionist literary discourse favoured the reality after the Union in Ireland, but enhanced the presence of an exclusive unified Anglican Church in Ireland.

Thus, the era of the Act of Union sheds light on the circulation of historical, political and literary texts with the issue of religion as a backdrop. R.B. Sheridan's and Matthew West's versions of Pizarro show that even the religious discourse partook of the representation of the mechanisation of power. The communion between land, people, king and God - mainly the Anglican God - represented in some of these works, refers to the relegation of the Catholic majority in Ireland. The circulation of Anglo-Irish and Irish literary and non-literary texts tended to praise the figure of the King - and a contemporary loyalty to kings is a central feature of Irish Catholic people. This despite the fact that the British monarchy kept postponing the passing of Catholic Emancipation, as it contradicted the very essence of the British, and therefore Anglo-Irish, character.

The representation of Spain and Spanish references between the Act of Union and Catholic Emancipation in 1829 is suggestive of the thirty-year delay in granting Emancipation. Tom Garvin equated this delay with the failure of the Union to be accepted by the Catholic population in Ireland. Much Anglo-Irish unionist writing adhered to the Irish reality after the Union. If the social and political - not to mention religious - acceptance of the Union by the Catholic majority in Ireland failed, the literary discourse which was essentially Anglo-Irish also failed to be accepted and maintained. The canonical silence, that is, the absence of a traditional literary periodisation of the writings dealt with here, was also a result of the politics of religion through the representations of Spain and Spanish references between 1789 and 1850.

The fight for Catholic Emancipation was tantamount to the affirmation of a national identity. This started to gain ground around the 1820s when Daniel O'Connell campaigned for Catholic rights. Most writings with Spanish references do not portray Catholic Emancipation in a favourable light. Instead, they allude to the religious discourse in terms of differentiation and Protestant superiority. Besides, when advances for emancipation are made, the literary discourse these works display attacks Catholicism and Popish influences, best exemplified by the Anglo-Irish Gothic genre.

Traditionally, Spanish Catholicism has helped to produce examples of fierce British Anglican responses, which intertwine issues of politics, society and religion. Hence, the references to the Spanish religious discourse corroborate a particularly Anglo-Irish fear of a future expansion of Catholicism both in Britain and in Ireland, which influenced institutions such as the monarchy, parliamentarian structure, the composition of the army and the Church. The decrease of Anglican influence, due to the extension of Catholic rights, diluted the Anglo-Irish national identity, which finds no solid representation in the literary discourse. The 'abnormality' of this particular issue of religion in Anglo-Irish politics can therefore extend to Irish literary discourse between 1789 and 1850. The impact of emancipation on Irish literary discourse aided in the transformation of Irish cultural nationalism into a more noticeably Catholic and even sectarian issue. This could account for the telling reduction in the number of Spanish references on the issue of religion between 1829 and 1850.

The 'politics of representation' of Spanish characters - historical, stock and female - is a key element in the study of the Irish literary discourse between 1789 and 1850. The authors approached here refer to and 'imagine' an Anglo-Irish community, which could claim a continuity constituted by history-makers, heroes and personae. Through this re-creation of the literary discourse they try to establish the basis of a continuity, a proper tradition, which conceptualises their historical, political and religious discourses.


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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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