Romancing the nation: Allegorical romance in nineteenth -century Irish and British novels
In Irish nineteenth-century novels, allegorical romances employ a love story between an Irish and Anglo character to enact Ireland's fraught position within Great Britain. While the overall arch of the plot with its message of love and compatibility emphasizes the incorporation of Ireland into Great Britain, writers articulate ambivalent messages that often expose or question the colonial project in Ireland. Such narrative ambiguity, which allows the allegorical romance simultaneously to suture and open the wounds of empire, makes the trope productive in a colonial situation. This dissertation examines such inconsistencies by exploring not only the narrative trajectory of the romance but also the generic modes and cultural forms that conceal or expose the workings of power in the novels.
These stories of cross-cultural romance evolve throughout the nineteenth-century Irish and British novel. Romantic allegory's most important predecessor, the native Irish aisling, a type of Irish political poetry that reached its zenith in the eighteenth century, gives the allegory an important valence in Irish literature and creates an audience receptive to specific literary patterns. Sydney Owenson's novel The Wild Irish Girl (1806) incorporates Gothic and epistolary forms to articulate anxiety regarding the proposed union between England and Ireland. Maria Edgeworth's The Absentee (1812), Charles Maturin's The Milesian Chief (1812), and John Banim's The Boyne Water (1826) all deploy pairs of characters to demonstrate the internal divisions as well as the complex allegiances within Irish society. In Castle Richmond (1860), Anthony Trollope uses an allegorical romance to support Ireland's union with England, yet the emotional register of the love story frequently contradicts the pro-British arguments that he embeds in the novel. The dissertation concludes by discussing the reasons for the popularity of the allegorical romance in Ireland and sketching out its development in late-nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish literature.