A Very Strange Agony: Modernism, Memory, and Irish Gothic Fiction

Doctoral Dissertation


While there is very little criticism available on the relationship between the Gothic tradition and literary modernism, modernist authors found the Gothic particularly attractive for working through the experiences and upheavals of the early twentieth century. Unsurprisingly, given the especially turbulent modern Irish experience, Irish writers often turned to the Gothic for images and narratives which would enable them to find new ways of articulating a stable identity in the midst of tremendous change. This dissertation encompasses a wide chronological range, from Charles Maturin in the first half of the nineteenth century, through Yeats’ plays and Elizabeth Bowen’s novel The Last September in the middle of the twentieth century, in order to write a literary history which reassesses the relationship between the Gothic and the modern. In undertaking such a project the primary problem I face is the question of what the imperatives for sequencing the texts, other than chronologically, might be. In answering this question, I look to the texts themselves for relationships between the historical and social issues which they grapple with and the ways in which these concerns are manifested within the texts. The Gothic as a genre deals with historical processes of transition or change, and derives its gothic effects not simply from the presence of demons or haunted houses, but from the often violent interruption of the present by the return of the past, frequently depicted in supernatural form. The Gothic moment is therefore also a moment where a type of historical retrospect is attainable, a moment of crisis in which one mode of existence is being replaced by something new, and is facing extinction as a result. In focusing on the particular modes of representation, I argue that the Gothic is an essential component of Irish modernist writing.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-06032005-151104

Author James F. Wurtz
Advisor Seamus Deane
Contributor Maud Ellmann, Committee Member
Contributor Seamus Deane, Committee Chair
Contributor Christopher Fox, Committee Member
Contributor Luke Gibbons, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2005-05-26

Submission Date 2005-06-03
  • United States of America

  • Ireland

  • W.B. Yeats

  • Elizabeth Bowen

  • Oscar Wilde

  • Charles Maturin

  • Ghosts

  • James Joyce

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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