Embodying Ireland: Representing woman as nation and community in Irish literature

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Patrick Mc Carthy - Committee Chair


This project examines how female metaphors are used to justify, resist and transform the impact of colonization in Irish writing. At the beginning of the early-modern period in Irish language literature, figurations of the woman/nation function as a commentary on the growing threat which the Elizabethan conquest posed to native tradition. The body of the woman/nation becomes a figurative battleground upon which to externalize anxiety about colonization in both Irish and English-language traditions. In early-colonial English language discourse, contamination or union are the functions which the body of the Irish woman performs as a signifier of ethnic/racial boundaries; the woman/nation is either characterized as the dangerous medium of racialized contagion which imperils the English colony, or she is presented as England's fickle spouse "granted" in an act of Papal authority. A Jacobite tradition of verse production draws from the aisling tradition of Irish language poetry and sexualizes visions of the woman/nation dependent upon the arc of expectation for Jacobite victory. After the French revolution, the verse of the United Irishmen couples antiquarian signifiers such as the "harp" with figures for the woman/nation who become harbingers of revolution; by so doing, the United Irishmen create an ecumenical vision of the woman/nation out of the symbology of sectarian traditions. Such work is utilized by the Young Ireland movement in the 1840s to model their own ecumenical versions of the woman/nation mobilized in support of the repeal of the Union with Britain, and other related movements. Novelistic and dramatic uses of metaphor for woman as nation and community in the nineteenth century demonstrate anxiety concerning union with Britain in the early part of the century, as well as anxiety about cultural hybridity at mid-century. By focusing on how sexualized visions of a female nation and/or community communicate anxieties about conquest, identity and societal change from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, the inquiry presents a foundation for radically rereading the woman/nation metaphor in twentieth-century Irish literature.


Literature, Modern; Women's Studies; Literature, English

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