Sights of conflict: collective responsibility and individual freedom in Irish and English fiction of the Second World War
Schaaf, Holly Connell
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This dissertation explores Irish and English fiction before, during, and shortly after the Second World War, a period of complex change in the relations between England and Ireland as British imperial control in Ireland ended. Ireland's neutrality in response to England's declaration of war intensified the nations' apparent differences, yet as my study brings to light, the War also fostered new affinities between England and Ireland, despite each country's inclination to define itself against the other by contrast. Each country's tendency toward xenophobic self-definition gave rise to policies and perspectives that resemble thinking and life in a fascist state. The fiction that I discuss responds to those tendencies by revealing possibilities for collectives that are more dynamically constituted around forms of vision and engagement involving shared responsibility and individual freedom. Chapter 1 reads Virginia Woolf's novel Between the Acts (1941) as a working through of contrasting responses to dictators from a 1938 diary entry and her manifesto Three Guineas, published the same year. I argue that character interactions and self-reflection in response to a play performed in the novel allow characters to recognize fascist tendencies in their own thinking and discover collective visions contrary to the total allegiance prized in Nazi spectacle and English propaganda. Against the mostly ahistorical critical treatments of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman (written 1939-1940, published 1966), Chapter 2 traces affinities between the narrator's deluded belief in his own superiority in a milieu of suppressed violence and the psychological environment Irish neutrality created. Focusing on Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Heat of the Day (1948) and wartime short fiction, Chapter 3 argues that her characters' behavior challenges stereotypes about English and Irish residents promoted by the other country. Rather than offering the escape from the War that some English visitors desire, Ireland provides a vantage point for seeing their London lives in new ways. Chapter 4 takes Nazi narratives of German history as reference points for interpreting Samuel Beckett's Watt (written 1942-1945, published 1953) and Molloy (1955), in particular the narrators' attempts to hide their control over the narratives they shape and the collectives that surround them.