Friday, March 25, 2016

Marilynn Richtarik

Marilynn Richtarik is a Professor of English at Georgia State University and the author of two books on Northern Irish history and literature—Acting Between the Lines: The Field Day Theatre Company and Irish Cultural Politics 1980-1984 and Stewart Parker: A Life, a biography of the late, great Belfast playwright. Next spring she will be a Fulbright Scholar at Queen’s University Belfast, researching a new book about literary reactions and contributions to the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland.

Not so long ago I asked Richtarik about what she was reading. Her reply:
This spring, as Ireland commemorates the centenary of its 1916 Easter Rising, an event comparable in national importance to the U.S. Bicentennial, I am reading and thinking about the periods of cultural ferment and struggle that precede milestone events like the Rising or the social revolution represented by last May’s marriage equality referendum, when Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by popular vote.

Certainly no one could have predicted such a result in 1995, when Emma Donoghue first published Hood, a novel about a young lesbian woman in Dublin who loses her partner suddenly and must learn to negotiate widowhood without ever having enjoyed the privileges of a wife. Set in 1992, the novel depicts an Ireland before the Celtic Tiger boom and later economic crash, and most definitely before sexual liberation—homosexuality was not decriminalized there until 1993, and divorce only barely became legal in 1995. Donoghue tells a universal story of love and loss to help readers who might imagine they have never met a gay person understand the human cost of enforced secrecy.

Marriage equality still seemed a distant dream when Jamie O’Neill’s novel At Swim, Two Boys first arrived in bookstores in 2001. O’Neill depicts a romance between two adolescent boys, set against the backdrop of the Irish nationalist agitation that would culminate in the Rising—which is, itself, memorably depicted in the novel, in all its chaos and confusion. Joycean in its sweep and generosity of spirit, the book might seem at first to result from an attempt to emulate Joyce’s style as well. The going gets easier as the plot develops, however, and the occasional prolixity of the prose only reinforces the period feel. Reading this book is an immersive experience that brings Ireland’s revolutionary era to life.

Readers desiring facts instead of, or in addition to, fiction will enjoy Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923, published in 2014 by Roy Foster, Oxford University’s Carroll Professor of Irish History. This group biography explores the pre-history of the Rising, the interconnected networks of avant-garde thinking and cultural activity in which often unlikely middle-class young people were radicalized in the years leading up to 1916. These included, in addition to Irish nationalist groups such as the Gaelic League, elements not always associated with physical force Irish republicanism, including feminists, socialists, vegetarians, and secularists. This diversity of sources informing the radical thought of the revolutionary generation is worth remembering in the multicultural Ireland of today, Foster suggests, because “The mature revolution was far more monocultural, and more ethnically defined, than the pre-revolution.” His book should appeal to anyone with an interest in Ireland, politics, history, literature, biography, and the process by which cultural agitation can lead to outright revolution—and revolutionary movements can become reactionary ones.
Learn more about Stewart Parker: A Life at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue