Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

Part I

  • Page ID
    29172
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    The Irish Gothic tradition is a central one in terms of Irish writing, and, according to many critics, one of the most important connections between many of the writers in this tradition is their inhabitation of an ‘Anglo-Irish’, ‘Ascendancy’ world, though we need to acknowledge that these terms elide much in the way of class, theological and political difference, and it is best to be more specific.2 In an influential formulation, Roy Foster argues that the Irish Protestant Ascendancy, especially Charles Maturin and Sheridan Le Fanu ‘pioneered the nineteenthcentury tradition of Irish supernatural fiction’ as an expression of their investment in ‘Protestant Magic’, which included Freemasonry, folklore and esoteric philosophies like Swedenborgianism.3 This is a view echoed by Terry Eagleton, for whom the ‘fact that Anglo-Irish writers . . . should have exhibited such fascination with madness and the occult, terror and the supernatural’ is explicable because the Gothic operated as that community’s ‘political unconscious . . . the place where its fears and fantasies most definitely emerge’.4 In a previous study, I, too, argued that the Gothic is best seen as an expression of what I called the ‘Irish Anglican Imagination’.5 Although this apparently obvious relationship between Irish Anglicans and Irish Gothic has been challenged in recent years, one possible reason for the attractiveness of the Gothic for the Anglican community in Ireland is that it is a genre peculiarly obsessed with questions of identity. As Robert Miles has argued, the Gothic is particularly concerned with ‘representations of the fragmented subject’,6 and Irish Anglicans had to tackle a great deal of such fragmentation in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a function of what T. C. Barnard has called this community’s ‘crisis of identity’.7 Indeed, the difficulties and upheavals in Irish Anglican identity throughout its history have been so great as to pose serious problems to historians who want to provide a convenient, short-hand term to label this community.

    ‘Finding yourself’ might be a rather irritating hobby of far too many in these post-modern times, but identity has always been a tricky problem for us humans. The inhabitants of Ireland are, of course, notorious and perennial navel gazers, perpetually asking what it means to be Irish and dogged in our desire to embrace (good football players) or reject (bad novelists) potential candidates depending on the national mood. Though clearly, ‘Irish identity’ means a great deal to us, we have not been without some helpful analysts who couldn’t see what all the existential fuss was about. In the early eighteenth century, Philip Yorke, later the first earl of Hardwicke, had a simple explanation of ‘Irishness’. As he explained in the House of Commons, ‘the subjects of Ireland were to be considered in two respects, as English and Irish, that the Irish were a conquered people, and the English a colony transplanted hither and as a colony subject to the law of the mother country’.8 This Manichean version of Irish identity was, however, unsatisfactory to most who lived on this benighted island, not least the ‘English’ colonialists who became almost tormented in their search for the Self. Barnard warns historians not to overestimate the existential unease of the Irish Anglican community and insists that ‘the inhabitants of eighteenth-century Ireland agonised less about their own identities than do the rootless and perplexed enquirers of the late twentieth century’,9 but of course, this goes without saying (not least because we are living in a post-Freudian age), and in no way mitigates against the kinds of uncertainties evident in the expressions of existential angst found in the ruminations of Irish Anglicans. Irish Anglicans certainly thought they constituted a discernible community in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Ireland, as Sir Richard Cox put it, was divided sharply into civilised Anglicans and barbaric Catholics, and he most definitely lived in Hibernia Anglicana (1689–90). William Molyneux explained the sense of a unity of purpose many within this community felt, pointing out that ‘Your Majesty has not in all Your Dominions a People more United and Steady to your Interests, than the Protestants of Ireland’.10

    Commentators have tended to agree that the different communities inhabiting the island of Ireland encountered the world in often startlingly different ways, and that cultural differences became distinct ways of understanding reality, psychological divisions which made conflicts and tensions harder to resolve. For example, Oliver MacDonagh’s brilliant and seminal States of Mind: Two Centuries of Anglo-Irish Conflict, 1780–1980 (1983) ascribes very different views of time and space to different communities living in Ireland, discussing things such as ‘the Ulster Protestant sense of territoriality’,11 ‘the Irish nationalist . . . concept of space’,12 ‘the peasant’s view of property’.13 It is important to note that MacDonagh’s study is an attempt to trace mental states, to document not events but collective mental attitudes. In his seminal study of competing Irish cultures, F. S. L. Lyons, too, argues that much of the conflict in Irish history can be put down to the fact that its different communities understand the world in such different ways that they have become ‘seemingly irreconcilable cultures, unable to live together or to live apart, caught inextricably in the web of their tragic history’.14 Discussion of ‘mentalities’ is actually quite common in historical and sociological research. ‘Social memory’ has been brilliantly theorised by Paul Connerton as a communal memory which involves folklore, mythology, tradition and literature.15 In his study of ‘collective memory’ Maurice Halbwachs insists that individual memory is best seen through the prism of collective memory since the individual constantly depends on her version of the past being reflected and corroborated by the community to which she belongs.16 We remember the past not merely as individuals but as parts of a collective and community – ‘knowable communities’ have memories, and one way of getting at these memories is through an analysis of the literature that the community has produced. This book argues that the Irish Gothic tradition, for example, is one, very telling, way to examine the mental world of the community that (generally) produced it: the Irish Anglican community.

    Some critics have protested strongly against any resort to terms like ‘the Irish mind’, ‘the Irish Protestant mind’, or (worst of all?) ‘the Irish Anglican imagination’.17 For Richard Haslam, for example,

    the definite article should be treated with caution and caveats when employed categorically (‘the Irish Gothic mode’). Even more intellectual vigilance is necessary when ‘the’ prefixes prosopopœia . . . Extreme caution is required when dealing with hazardous materials like Freudianism, especially when hypostasized creations like ‘the . . . Ascendancy literary imagination’ are psychoanalyzed in order to expose ‘the return of the repressed’ . . . Thus, although presumably intended to function as historical shorthand, Killeen’s references to entities entitled ‘the Protestant character’, ‘the English mind’, and ‘the Irish Protestant mentality’ are distinctly problematic.18

    Let me acknowledge that there is a genuine problem in attempting to generalise and articulate a view about the mentalité and psychology, but also the general characteristics, of a given culture, and that it is not only inadvisable but impossible in the strictest sense to essentialise any given set of people because there will always be exceptions and differing versions of the same community. It is certainly strictly true to say that ‘the Irish mind’ or ‘the Protestant imagination’ or ‘the English personality’ do not exist except in the most hypothetical and abstract terms. There are a few more points to be made in respect to this, however, the first being the rather obvious one that substituting the prefix ‘an’, or ‘one version of’, for the definite article, does not really help matters, and that qualifications while useful can be not only cumbersome but very misleading. After all, surely only the paranoid reader would consider that terms such as these are meant to be treated literally in the first place. So, although I can easily concede the point that ‘the Irish Anglican imagination’ does not exist, I continue to insist that it is perfectly possible to discuss ‘the Irish Anglican imagination’.

    Finding the correct term(s) to describe the post-Cromwellian Protestant settlers in Ireland has always, of course, been a peculiarly difficult task. Not that people have been unforthcoming with suggestions: ‘the Anglo-Irish’, ‘the Protestant interest’, ‘the king’s Irish subjects’, ‘the English in Ireland’, ‘English Protestants of Ireland’, ‘the whole people of Ireland’, ‘the Protestant Ascendancy’. Deciding between these labels is not simply a matter of politics (usually explicit) but often of ontology (usually implicit), and all decisions are in the end self-defeating, not least because members of the community themselves couldn’t make up their own minds.

    Irish Anglicans constituted a community that was, to say the least, conflicted about its own identity, and often split by very public disagreements. Many were deeply attached to the English connection and asserted an English identity very strongly. Others quickly adapted to being in Ireland and appropriated an Irish identity – indeed, many styled themselves the ‘whole people of Ireland’19 (ignoring the substantial body of Catholics who had a rather different perspective on national identity). Others hesitated between Irishness and Englishness, walking the existential high-wire along the hyphen. Scott C. Breuninger usefully argues that many thinkers in the ‘transitional phase’ in the 1720s ‘displayed a bifurcated vision of “Irishness”: a type of dual identity dependent upon specific contexts’.20 Others adopted a different identity depending on the audience they were addressing: to one group they would adopt the tones of the English settler, to another they could speak as if they had deep roots in Ireland. Attitudes to the ‘native’ population (primarily meaning the Catholics) contributed to the identity crisis, as did the attitude of the ‘natives’ to the newcomers. Again, some Catholics saw the Anglican community as a gang of interlopers, invading aliens displacing the natural inhabitants of the country; others (though fewer in number) embraced the Anglican community more congenially. It is generally accepted that there is a historical dimension to the identity crisis: in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Anglicans in Ireland felt reluctant to call themselves ‘Irish’ for a variety of reasons – not least that they had inherited a view of the Irish as degenerate savages that would make anyone hesitant about adopting the term to describe themselves.21 However, slowly, over the course of the eighteenth century, and especially as Anglicans in Ireland began to realise that, from an English perspective, they were as Irish as the native Catholics, the term ‘Irish’ became more acceptable, and indeed, increasingly attractive, and many began to adopt the label with enthusiasm. Such a chronology is, of course, a largely theoretical construction and bears only strained resemblance to the social and psychological realities of living in this existentially confused community. The constant re-making of Irish Anglican identity should come as no surprise to those acquainted with sociological and philosophical theories of identity. As Steven Shapin, a historian of the seventeenth century, points out, ‘identity has to be continually made, and is continually revised and remade, throughout an individual career in contingent social and cultural settings’.22

    It is certainly understandable that Irish Anglicans reacted to English perceptions. After all, according to Charles Taylor, ‘our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others – and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves.’23 To be Anglican in Ireland meant to be considered too Irish by English commentators, yet generally not Irish enough by Catholic fellow inhabitants of the island, and this was not a comfortable existential position in which to be stuck. Being stuck ‘in-between’24 two antagonistic or at least sceptical interpreters, surely helped in the development of what Mary Douglas has called an ‘enclave’ mentality.25 An ‘enclave’ is a shared cultural space in which ideas about time and space, ethics, physical nature, metaphysical reality and human relationships are held in common so as to allow the individuals who occupy that space to negotiate their relationship to reality and to others outside the enclave as successfully as possible. The cultural ideas shared by the individuals and groups within the enclave have to be both flexible enough to allow genuine engagements with reality, the external world and changing historical circumstances but also static enough to ensure a robust understanding of where the borders of the enclave lie. The most important issue for the enclave is the mapping of its own limits and the policing and maintenance of its boundaries, keeping its members inside and blocking the entrance of detested outsiders.

    Although Douglas reserves the term ‘enclave’ for extremely tightly defined groups such as terrorist organisations and street gangs, the relatively small size of the Irish Anglican community in the eighteenth century, its obsession with a ‘black and white’ vision of insiders and outsiders and the nature of its rituals of inclusion and exclusion suggest that ‘enclave’ may be the best term to describe them. The important thing about enclaves is that in situations where a minority is overwhelmed in numbers by an outsider majority, and where the minority feels at least potentially under constant threat, membership of the enclave can help pacify fears and lead to a sense of security while being surrounded by threat. This helps us understand why although Irish Anglicans referred almost fetishistically to the fact that they were extraordinarily outnumbered by the murderous Catholic monsters that surrounded them there was also a sense of calm and security on display within the community itself. For example, while Archbishop William King could, in 1719, point to the fact that ‘we have six or seven Papists for every one of us [Anglicans]’, he was still reasonably secure and relatively unafraid: ‘’Tis somewhat to the honour of the Protestants of Ireland that notwithstanding . . . we have kept our country in quiet, while Britain is now under the fears of a second rebellion’.26 The tendency of Irish Anglicans on the one hand to see a potential 1641 around every corner while on the other hand to express relative peace of mind has led to a historiographical dispute over how best to characterise the dominant mentality of the community. For Tom Bartlett, ‘the fundamental insecurity of their political and social position’ was due to the fact that they always felt ‘under siege and threat of rebellion’, while to Sean Connolly a ‘general mood of confidence’ rather than anxiety can be detected Douglas has explained, however, how an enclave mentality can simultaneously alert its members to feelings of siege and external threat while also generating a sense of togetherness, mutual trust and confidence in internal resources, so such apparent contradictions can be reconciled. This Irish Anglican community was relatively stable and secure by the 1740s, especially after a generally stable period of political harmony in the 1730s.

    Douglas emphasises that enclave identity is maintained by stressing the ‘saved’ nature of insiders, and the damned destiny of the outsiders, which can often spill over into monstering outsiders and representing the world beyond the enclave as dark and threatening and the inside as warm, embracing and rewarding.28 Obviously, the most basic outsider was the Irish Catholic. The Irish Anglican enclave was immeasurably strengthened by a sense of being in a country populated by aggressive antagonists, and indeed so great was this sense of Catholic exclusion that in attempting to define the Irish nation, most Irish Anglicans simply disqualified the descendants of the conquered ‘savage Irish’ entirely. The Penal Laws, whatever we may think of their more practical implications (about which much scholarly ink has been spilled)29 had the psychological consequence of sealing about three-quarters of the Irish population into a never-never land, quarantined away.30 Nor was there much love lost between the Anglican elite and the Irish Presbyterians, whom they regarded as a little better than the Catholics, and the passing of the Test Act in 1704 (which required the taking of the Anglican sacrament for every public office), effectively sent both non-Anglican groups to the political and civil wilderness – again, an action which had more psychological than practical effects (though the material effects should not be discounted).

    The enclave must keep others out and its own members in, and the most effective means of doing this is through a process whereby those outside the border are ‘othered’ – defined as inherently threatening and monstrous – and its own members are warned of moral and physical abandonment should any ‘betray’ the enclave through associating with, joining, or admitting the reviled Other. And, as Connolly points out, in Ireland, ‘the fear of internal betrayal was a central feature of Protestant political culture’.31 The basic discourse of the Gothic has proved very useful in sustaining the life of enclaves since the Gothic is very much about border disputes. Tzvetan Todorov divides fantasy (in which the Gothic is included) into two broad categories, that dealing with the ‘Not-I’ and that concerned with the ‘I’, and in both categories boundaries are central features. Fantasy of the ‘Not-I’ involves relations between Self and Other (such as between Irish Anglicans and Irish Catholics) and protecting the Self from external threats; fantasy of the ‘I’ concerns expelling the ‘Other’ hidden within the Self, expelling the treacherous aspect of the Self (defined sociologically or psychologically) and making the Self pure again.32 These disputes have been powerfully literalised in two basic Gothic plots. Typically, a small, tightly knit community is attacked by a monstrous invader who must be expelled and destroyed. Classic examples of such invasion narratives are Stoker’s Dracula, Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1954) and Stephen King’s ’Salem’s Lot (1975). In the alternative plot, an individual finds that they are internally fractured because of strange and unwelcome aspects of the interior mind or body. Obvious examples here are Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971) and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996).

    The Self whose borders are under threat in early English Gothic writing has been powerfully read as tied to a nationalist Protestant mentality which emerged from the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688, the threatening Other manifesting in the shape of monstrous Continental Catholicism.33 As an enclave, Irish Anglicans had, obviously, a threatening external group much closer to home, since they were surrounded and vastly outnumbered by Irish Catholics. Self-consciously enclosed by this threatening monstrosity, the Irish Anglican community sought numerous ways to protect itself and also sought to provide a coherent narrative of itself that would reassure and protect against invasion and internal upheaval. It found that the imagery of horror and terror was peculiarly equipped to do both, not only warning of the dangers of those outside righteous Anglicanism but also demonstrating vividly what transpired to those who happened to capitulate to the attractiveness of the Other. Horror offers to those who remain within the borders of the enclave moral purity and safety from annihilation, and while it might detail the surface attractiveness of the Other, its exotic seductiveness – hence the form’s preoccupation with licentious and sexualised versions of Catholicism – it does so only to reveal that beneath this veil of eroticism lies a rotting corpse: to give way to its attraction is to consign oneself to eternal damnation. At times, of course, the Irish Anglican community could offer its inhabitants material rewards for remaining within the enclave’s borders – political and social power – but as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries progressed, and rolling concessions were offered to Irish Catholics by the British government, such power came to seem increasingly ephemeral and illusory, and moral and religious purity was offered in exchange.

    The parameters of the Irish Anglican enclave became a cause for concern after the 1641 rebellion (a revolt by both Old English and native Catholics against the ‘new English’ Protestants who had been granted land and political rights in the aftermath of sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury plantations), when the social and psychological walls dividing the community from Irish Catholics were fortified, but the isolation of the enclave was emphasised by the fact that many within it felt abandoned by their ethnic and religious ‘allies’ on the British mainland, a feeling that only increased in the two centuries that followed. Throughout the eighteenth century, sermons from Anglican divines spoke of ‘a Wall of Defence’ built by God around His elect community, and this wall was reinforced by the tropes and images used by Irish Anglicans to describe those who lived on the other side of this wall. In England, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563) had demonised Catholics and provided a basic source for the imagery of the monster in the later Gothic tradition; in Ireland, Sir John Temple’s historical ‘analysis’ of 1641, The Irish Rebellion (1646), fulfilled the same role. In it he explained that as agents of the great deceiver himself, Satan, Irish Catholics were literally contagious pollutants of the blood, evil fiends who could not be trusted and who were involved in a huge international conspiracy – effected through secret societies – to wipe out heretics, against which Irish Anglicans must enforce a social, political and psychological separation. Temple’s was one in a series of texts which produced and defended the notion that Irish Catholics were demons in need of policing (and perhaps exterminating), a series which prominently included William King’s The State of the Protestants of Ireland (1691). These texts operated as a proto-Gothic nexus that provided, in the shape of the evil Catholic, the template for the invading external monstrosity central to the Gothic tradition and reinforced the political panic that made the policing of enclave borders so compellingly attractive. Irish Gothic inherits from this proto-Gothic literature the version of Catholics as a morally defiled outsider group in opposition to a community of virtuous and righteous Anglican insiders, often a remnant left alone to proceed against the horrific monstrous foe, a trope basic to texts such as Regina Maria Roche’s Children of the Abbey (1796), Maturin’s Melmoth, Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Stoker’s Dracula. As well as instilling sectarian paranoia, these texts blamed the racial and theological impurity of the Irish Anglican enclave itself for the threat of 1641 and insisted that all such impure internal elements be cleansed.

    That the English came to be seen as another group of dangerous outsiders was more surprising, but a strong sense of betrayal had settled in terms of the Irish Anglican relationship with those in the ‘mother country’. In fact, this sense of betrayal is what partly caused the shift towards Anglican acceptance of the appellation of Irishness in the first place, since if you were destined to be treated as Irish by everyone else, you may as well act that way. As Swift put it, ‘Our Neighbours . . . look upon Us as a Sort of Savage Irish, whom our Ancestors conquered several hundred Years ago’.34 By the 1720s, when Swift was writing, this had been a long-standing complaint. Before the Treaty of Limerick was signed, one Irish Anglican was complaining that his ethnic and religious ‘allies’ in England regarded Protestants living in Ireland as the ‘scum of their Nation’, ‘People setting up for our selves’, and that their view of the entire population of Ireland had become so jaundiced that they ‘wish this Island sunk in the Sea’.35 There are deep economic ‘causes’ to the shifting of identity towards an Irish inflection. Irish Anglicans were deeply resentful of the fact that, whenever it suited English financial needs, Westminster politicians would vote for bills which had the effect of damaging Irish trade, and they were especially enraged by the suppression of the Irish woollen industry through the Woollen Act of 1699, which essentially prevented the Irish exportation of cloth. An Irish identity was also fostered by the fact that (partly because the parliament was empowered to vote for the ‘additional duties’ concerning the disposal of revenue and partly owing to an increased sense that the English parliament was likely to pass laws that would not be in their favour) the Anglican elite met on a much more regular basis in the Irish parliament which began holding very habitual sessions at the start of the eighteenth century. Although only four parliaments had met by 1692, from that year the Irish parliament began to meet about once every two years. The very act of meeting so regularly was bound to have a psychological effect on such a small group of people in any event, and from their joint activities as a politically active assemblage during parliamentary sessions it was an easy step to considering themselves a group. Given that they were doomed to find themselves being considered as possessing the ‘odious Character of an Irish-man’ by their English neighbours anyway, the Anglican community may have had little choice but to accept the title ‘Irish’ and do something positive with it (in a way quite similar to the appropriation of the term ‘queer’ by the gay community in the twentieth century).36

    By 1717 the Bishop of Kilmore was writing that he found ‘the distinction between English and Irish grows more wide’.37 Although the Anglican community in Ireland had been calling itself ‘English’ since the Reformation, because of the alienation from English sympathies they began to adopt more local terminology, like ‘the people of Ireland’. As Connolly puts it, ‘the people of Ireland, in the sense of those whose voices were entitled to be heard, were the Protestants of the kingdom, a minority, but possessed of the greater part of its commercial and landed wealth’.38 A growing affection for Ireland and a growing identification with the country was expressed in many ways, particularly through an interest in the ancient past of the country fostered by an incipient antiquarianism and a tree-planting fad that expressed the desired rootedness of the Irish Anglican community in the Irish soil. The Church of Ireland bishops William Nicolson of Derry and Francis Hutchinson of Down and Connor were busy in the 1740s claiming that Ireland had an ancient civilisation as great as that of Greece, and the Physico-Historical Society was founded to demonstrate that in the past Ireland had indeed been a crucible of culture.39 When Alan Brodrick decided in 1712 not to take up the offer of a seat in Westminster, he explained that he did it because he (more or less) thought of himself as Irish now: ‘I shall be thought of and perhaps find that I am (what of all things I would least choose to be) an Irishman’.40 In this he sounds like Jonathan Swift, a very reluctant ‘patriot’, forced to accept his Irishness after his ambitions for a political career in London were dashed. What we find, therefore, is a ‘growing consciousness’ of a ‘distinct group solidarity defined in opposition to England’ but also remaining outside other groups on the island.41

    Another crucial factor in the bonding process was what Sean D. Moore has called the ‘Irish financial revolution’, which involved a small group of important Irish Anglicans providing a ‘national security loan to the Irish Treasury’ to enable it to raise enough troops to resist should there be an invasion by Jacobite forces. As Moore emphasises, ‘this public loan formed a political and economic community, what amounted to an informal republic based on the shared risk of mutual investment, in which each lender depended on the others for protection of existing property and future investment payments’.42 The loan was to be repaid by taxes gathered by the Irish Treasury and authorised by the Irish parliament, in which many of the original lenders actually sat, so the incestuous (and frankly corrupt) nature of this financial agreement reinforced psychological ties and enclave self-reflection. Both inter-personal loyalty and financial interests meant that the Irish Anglican community became particularly threatened any time English interference in the financial regulation of Ireland became possible, which partly explains why declarations of Irish patriotic sentiment by the enclave became particularly loud during moments when English colonial control was expressed in fiscal meddling. The Declaratory Act of 1720, for example, made clear the right of the English parliament to enact tax legislation for Ireland, and it inspired a host of patriotic pamphlets in defence of Irish financial independence and a scheme to establish a national bank, a bank which would not have deposits but would be concerned with debt – in the first place, the loans given by Irish politicians to the Irish Treasury, and in the second place the repayment of the interest on these loans in perpetuity. Using the terminology first applied by the Irish philosopher George Berkley about this group of Irish Anglican politicians and speculators, Moore calls them the Irish Monti, since they depended for their financial security on the continued repayment of interest, and indeed the Irish Anglican community was easily mobilised against any threat to this financial security, and developed a patriotic discourse and literature designed to protect against any English interference in the payments of interest.43 The interconnection of the Irish financial system with Irish Anglican patriotism was to have serious consequences in the 1750s, when a political crisis was caused by a dispute over a money bill, and this crisis would result in the development of the Irish Gothic novel.

    The ‘changing perceptions of national identity’ in the Anglican community in Ireland have been the subject of much useful commentary.44 One thing it is important to acknowledge is the provisionality of any (and indeed all) statements of identity in the period because a radical uncertainty plagued all attempts or gestures towards definition, although the shift towards acceptance of an ‘Irish dimension’ to the community’s identity was probably more or less complete by the 1760s. What is traceable is a sense of Irishness which is exclusively Anglican (rather than just Protestant, given that Dissenters are positively disqualified), with a sense of being a chosen people inherited from the writings of Sir John Temple. This Anglican community occupied a kind of mental ghetto, sealed off by a (porous) membrane from the outside world, including their nearest neighbours.

    The ritualistic nature of the Irish Anglican state is also explicable in an enclave context since, as the sociologist Emile Durkheim has pointed out, without such ritualistic re-enforcement of group identity, individuals will begin to weaken and break away from the collective.45 Rituals are a form of social glue which allows individuals to merge their identities with the larger (and personally re-enforcing) one of the group.46 For Irish Anglicans, the intense community togetherness was strengthened by the public rituals that promoted the national consciousness, including the celebrations of 4 November (birthday of William III), 5 November (Gunpowder Plot and William’s arrival at Torbay), 30 January (beheading of Charles I), 29 May (Restoration of the Monarchy), 1 July (Battle of the Boyne), and, most importantly, 23 October (anniversary of the 1641 rebellion). As Douglas points out, enclaves are maintained by constant invocations of the origins of the community, re-enactments of the past which emphasise the assaults that the community has suffered from external groups. Indeed, organisations such as the Boyne Club and the Protestant Society were formed to ensure the adequate commemoration of the Williamite victory and the security of the Anglican establishment. What Ian McBride calls a ‘culture of patriotic commemoration’ was a key ingredient of the ritualistic adhesive which held together a group otherwise in disagreement about almost everything.47

    This entrapment between opposing viewpoints, between Ireland and England, Catholics and Presbyterians, further helps to explain why Irish Anglicans have been so attracted to the Gothic throughout their history. Tzvetan Todorov has influentially associated the Gothic with a psychological ‘hesitancy’ between a supernatural and a natural understanding of the events of the narrative, and has plotted the ‘fantastic’ in a crucial formulation:

    In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is the victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination – and laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality – but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us . . . The fantastic occupies the duration of uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighbouring genre, the uncanny or the marvellous.48

    This mode of hesitation, this psychological ambivalence, which Todorov believes central to the fantastic, is also what defines Irish Anglican mentality. There were no greater cultural hesitators on these islands than the ‘Anglo-Irish’; so deep was their sense of cultural ambiguity that Julian Moynahan has rightly called them a ‘hyphenated culture’.49 As hybrid figures, Irish Anglicans were in a perfect position to develop an important tradition in a genre that emphasises hesitancy over certainty and which refuses to dissolve binaries such as living/dead, inside/outside, friend/ enemy, desire/disgust.50 W. J. McCormack has identified the ‘verbal intricacy . . . represented by complicated oaths of loyalty, arcane or antique documents, and compromising last wills and testaments’ as central to the Irish Gothic,51 and this is only fitting given the ethnic and national complexities involved in the construction of an Irish Anglican identity in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Given their constant attempts to renegotiate their identity, the tortuous verbal and plot convolutions of the typical Gothic novel were powerful representations of the existential gymnastics forced upon Irish Anglicans by history.

    The Gothic ambivalence highlighted by Todorov was irresistible for such pathological prevaricators and compellingly represented the hesitancy of Irish Anglicans between an ‘English’ realist embracing of the technological, the future and the rational on the one hand and an ‘Irish’ Catholic superstitiousness, anachrony and atavism on the other. For, if most Irish Gothic novels do, as Christopher Morash insists, end with the expulsion of the primitive past and the horrific,52 that expulsion is never really complete because these Gothic writers, like the people they represent, were not fully convinced of the desirability of the rational. Dracula, for example, does not conclude with the death of the Count but rather the birth of Jonathan and Mina Harker’s baby. This baby is burdened with the ‘bundle of names’ of the men of the Crew of Light as if to guarantee his role as a symbol of a bright future in which the atavistic has been fully laid to rest.53 However, in a text which revolves so importantly around the circulation of blood, one name has been conspicuously left out of this new baby’s title. After all, Dracula has bitten Mina, and she has partaken of his blood in a perverse parody of the Eucharist. Van Helsing himself confirms that such a sharing of blood is tantamount to sexual consummation, and if Dracula’s blood courses through Mina’s veins it must surely have been transferred to her new son. This possible survival of the primitive in the new is part of a wider attraction to Dracula throughout the novel, an attraction felt by Mina – the moral exemplar of the plot – herself, who tells us that when confronted by Dracula in her bedroom she did not want to ‘hinder’ his bloodsucking.54 This is unsurprising, perhaps, when Dracula operates at times as an ultra-masculine embodiment of all that her now white-haired and presumably impotent husband Jonathan cannot provide. In fact, a refusal to completely exorcise the atavistic is a recurring feature of Irish Gothic, from the entirely ambiguous ending of Melmoth the Wanderer, where it is unclear if the Wanderer has actually disappeared for the last time, to the final line of Le Fanu’s Carmilla, in which the now dead narrator Laura writes that she sometimes thinks she hears ‘the light steps of Carmilla at the drawing-room door’55 – an ending which suggests that perhaps Laura is dead because Carmilla has finally come to claim her. An inability to decide what side of the existential hyphen to inhabit can help explain why certain groups and communities are more attracted to the ambivalence and ambiguities of the Gothic than others, and the Irish Anglicans are a very useful test case for this argument.56

    Running alongside this sense of being a liminal community trapped in a liminal space, Irish Anglicans began to experience a profound fear that real power was slipping away from them. Roy Foster has persuasively argued that there is an intrinsic connection between a growing sense of Irish Anglican political and social displacement and the turn to writing Gothic fiction. In a response to a reading of W. B. Yeats as having ‘remembered’ his Protestantism only in the 1920s, when he tried to implicate himself in a liberal Irish Protestant tradition of Edmund Burke, Jonathan Swift, George Berkley and Henry Grattan, Foster pointed out that Irish Protestantism had been an aspect of Yeats’s identity from the very beginning. Foster reminded the reader that, although Irish Protestantism has a proud tradition of rational philosophising and healthy scepticism, another, darker, side to the Protestant character has always existed and finds expression in an obsession with the occult and the Gothic. He linked this attraction to occult process and marginal states of being to a realisation by Irish Protestants of their increasing marginalisation in the new Ireland that was emerging throughout the nineteenth century. As the Catholic middle class grew and began to occupy traditionally Protestant positions in municipal government and local structures of power, Protestants compensated for their loss of power in the real world by re-investing their energies in another, more obscure, and yet more powerful, domain. He argued that all the major Irish Gothicists were marginalised figures ‘whose occult preoccupations surely mirror a sense of displacement, a loss of social and psychological integration, and an escapism motivated by the threat of a takeover by the Catholic middle classes’.57

    Tracing a connection between the neo-classical castellation of Ascendancy houses in the eighteenth century and the Gothicising of Protestant fiction in the nineteenth century, Foster illustrated how, in both cases, the cultural fashion was protective: by investing in the neoclassical Protestant Ireland laid claim to a superior intellect beyond the vicissitudes of political reality; the Gothic enclosed the Ascendancy in a highly codified and stratified world requiring rites of initiation, secret knowledge and a sense of esoteric entitlement. Moreover, both modes stretched into the distant past and thus pre-empted the emergence of Catholicism, thus rooting Irish Protestants in a history longer than that of their political rivals.58

    Roy Foster’s explanation of the Irish Gothic persuasively links politics, religion and culture, and his depiction of the Protestant Irish as a cultural group obsessed with their own impending extermination and determined to find methodologies by which to circumvent such an annihilation by escape into other realms of power is certainly convincing. Yet, we should not push this explanation too far as it could be read as absolving Irish Protestants of any involvement in nineteenth-century history itself. This is more clearly the problem with Julian Moynahan’s analysis of the Irish Gothic: ‘The Gothic seems to flourish in disrupted, oppressed, or underdeveloped societies, to give a voice to the powerless and unenfranchised, and even, at times, to subvert the official best intentions of its creators.’59 This, I think, is a rather forced argument, especially since England, the locus of the Gothic tradition in this period, could hardly be considered a particularly ‘underdeveloped’ country, and we must remember that the Anglican writers of Gothic in Ireland formed a part of the (relatively) powerful rather than the powerless, and it doesn’t really make sense to view them as marginalized in anything other than purely psychological terms. The Anglican elite was still in social and political control; this was, though, a control that was coming under increasing threat, and which always seemed on the verge of slipping away, especially in the nineteenth century. Gothic, in truth, may not belong to the dispossessed but to the paranoid possessors, the out-of-control controllers, the descending Ascendancy. I think we need to be careful in rushing too quickly to endorsing an argument that would somehow render Irish Anglicans so marginal to power in nineteenth-century Ireland that the realm of the Gothic and the occult substituted for real influence in the real world. Such a view is in danger of distorting the picture of Anglican power in Ireland; it may have been on the wane through the nineteenth century but its demise was long in gestation and longer in arrival.

    Moreover, what Foster’s argument slightly overlooks is that Irish Gothic has a longer history than the nineteenth century, longer, in other words, than the actual marginalisation of Anglican interest in Ireland. McCormack has traced it back to the last decade of the eighteenth century, and in my own work, I have located the ‘origin’ of Irish Gothic in the use of horror and terror in historical texts from the midseventeenth century. If we take into account the tropes and themes that preoccupy Gothic literature in general, then an Irish tradition can be followed at least back to Sir John Temple’s response to the 1641 rebellion.60 In his The Irish Rebellion, Temple codified in horror many of the images and arguments that would reappear again and again in poetic and fictional texts that would later be termed Gothic. The 1641 rebellion was certainly configured by its major historian as a moment when extermination appeared to be on the cards for the Protestant ‘race’ in Ireland, but paranoia does not marginalisation make. It is not legitimate, in other words, to trace feelings of fear and terror on the part of the Anglican enclave in Ireland and come to the conclusion that this fear was therefore indicative of a genuine diminution in real power. ProtoGothic literature which utilised a variety of ethnic horror and terror flourished during the period of the Penal Laws when Anglican power was consolidated, and traces of a heightened fear of extermination can be found in the work of some of the most powerful men in eighteenth century Ireland, such as Archbishop William King, who was constantly seeing Catholic ghosts and monsters lurking in the outer darkness. Irish Gothic fiction (as opposed to proto-Gothic horror), though, did not appear until the end of the 1750s and the early 1760s, by which time the Irish Catholic middle class had (partially) established itself and begun to make concerted and organised efforts to have the Penal Laws repealed and power in Ireland re-distributed, which is why the fear of lost control Foster has noted as central to Irish Protestant thinking should be traced to these crucial decades.

    It is important to recognise that Gothic is not synonymous with horror, and although the Gothic novel appropriates the imagology of horror which monsters others in proto-Gothic literature, it does so in a surprising way which actually articulates a much more amenable toleration for that reviled Other and a genuine desire for reconciliation with that Other in the creation of a new and progressive Ireland. The Irish Gothic may have its roots in a profoundly intolerant and retrogressive Protestant chauvinist nationalism, and it may carry on and repeat many of the tropes and themes of this horrific intolerance, but it also transforms this tradition in an attempt to imagine a different future for the island. The Irish Gothic novel is not a straightforward extension of horror into fiction but a profoundly ambivalent attempt to solve the tensions of the past, break out of the suffocating enclosures of the enclave, and connect with those outside the borders. That it is not usually a very successful attempt to do this, and instead collapses and dissipates into contradiction and incoherence, does not ultimately alter this central fact. As a narrative of the self – that is, as a means of providing a coherent sense of a community and individual identity – the Gothic tends to failure, usually collapsing under the weight of its own existential ambitions. Elizabeth Napier long ago pointed to the incoherent, inconsistent and incomprehensible aspects of the Gothic, and William Patrick Day has demonstrated that the Gothic narrative frequently ends in collapse rather than resolution.61

    However, the broadly liberal orientation of the Gothic must be acknowledged. As Baldick and Mighall argue, the Gothic novel is best understood as an instrument of liberal thinking, in fact, often a rather tame articulation of bourgeois Whiggism promoting the values associated with middle-class liberalism and largely in favour of protecting the state and the family from breakdown, ‘gratefully endors[ing] Protestant bourgeois values as “kinder” than those of feudal barons’.62 As this version of liberalism is articulated in an Irish context it reveals itself as both profoundly suspicious of Catholicism and yet simultaneously longing to reach out and embrace it in fraternal toleration, an ambiguity with enormous political implications for Irish society. Irish Gothic is not, as many believe, a straightforward expression of Anglican bigotry in which Catholics simply continue to occupy the villain’s position, but instead it articulates an urgent need felt by liberal Anglicans to find some means of reconciliation with the reviled Other, for the healthy future of the body politic. In Ireland, Anglican liberalism came into its own in the 1750s with the solidification of a strong patriotic consciousness, a consciousness which emerged because of a crisis of existential proportions in the Anglican enclave: the Money Bill dispute of 1753. Before turning to the dispute itself, it is important to interrogate the argument that Irish Gothic should be considered a specifically Anglican (or even broadly Protestant) mode, since this claim has come in for a great deal of criticism recently.


    This page titled Part I is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jarlath Killeen via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

    • Was this article helpful?