Abstracts for tomorrow’s seminar, Tuesday 3rd November

While recovering from Halloween weekend and the onset of November, let’s meet to chat about McGahern and Banville.

Martin Keaveney


“The Narratological Problem in John McGahern”

The problem in the John McGahern oeuvre as seen through his archives at NUIG is an over-editing issue. Through this paper I will examine specific examples of over editing found in earlier drafts of Chapter 3, The Dark. I select The Dark as it is the book which contains his first published work.  Chapter 3 represents the first section of the work which appeared in X in 1961, and it was the publication of these ‘Episodes from a Novel’ which led to his contract with Faber. I treat this issue through the paradigm of Narratology, which I define as the study of the envelope of narrative from opening to closing of any narrative text, as this seems the best theoretical approach, given that the edits affect the work significantly in a narrative sense. More precisely, I focus on the composition of the material, citing examples as to where John McGahern executed amendments through the drafts and how this reorganised the published version. I consider the use of perspective in the material, integrating critical work in this area. I propose the source of this problem is the conscious or subconscious use of art as therapy. This misguided the writer in his editing strategy and subsequently led to a reduction in mimetic power. I conclude by withdrawing to assess the evolution of John McGahern from the earlier drafts of chapter 3 to the final product as it appeared in The Dark. This process leads to the conclusion that the work was over moulded and that this practice was to unfortunately hamper a writer of unusual talent for the rest of his career.

Doug Battersby 


‘The vivid thing’: Style and Experience in John Banville’s fiction

John Banville’s fiction is recognised by many readers as having a peculiarly philosophical character. The narrators and protagonists of the novels are invariably preoccupied by the nature of themselves and their experiences of the world – a quality reflected in the centrality of such concerns in the published scholarship. Banville is also recognised as an important stylist. However, though critics often acknowledge the significance of style in Banville’s fiction in general terms, the poetical effects of a given moment in a text tend not to play a privileged role in the analyses. This paper argues that an approach which brings the style of Banville’s prose into serious communication with its philosophical concerns can produce a new, and potentially more accurate, understanding of his writing.

The paper begins by considering one of the most heavily discussed passages in the oeuvre, the opening lines of Banville’s early novel Doctor Copernicus (1976), which describe Nicolas Copernicus’s infant experiences of the world. Many critics – including Rudiger Imhof, Joseph McMinn, Ingo Berensmeyer, Elke D’hoker, Derek Hand, and John Kenny – have characterised this apprehension in terms of a ‘purity’ which is later lost with the acquisition of language. By contrast, I show how the style of the passage inextricably interweaves Nicolas’s singular emotions, imaginings, beliefs, and sensory perceptions, evoking an experience which is both irreducibly singular and irreconcilable with the notion of a direct apprehension of the world (irrespective of language). The second section of the paper moves to the much later Ancient Light (2012), partly by way of illustrating that style continues to have serious philosophical implications across Banville’s corpus. I demonstrate how the move from free indirect discourse to the recollective memoir form of the later fiction enables Banville to incorporate questions of style into the narration.


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