Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light (2010) can be ascribed to the number of biographical novels which seem to rewrite, revisit and interrogate the cultural past with a specific interest in literary and artistic lives, a trend that has gained increasing momentum in neo- Victorian and neo-Edwardian fiction. This novel, where O’Connor confirms his stature as one of the greatest Irish living writers, is an outstanding example of recently growing output of Irish biofictions in so far as it fictionalises the lives of two protagonists of Irish cultural history, J.M.Synge and his muse, the actress Molly Allgood. Although Molly is the central character, in fact, Synge is the haunting double, the ghostly presence who accompanies her throughout her memories and reminiscing. The novel combines biograhical fiction and (fictionalised) cultural history in what could be considered a historiographic metafiction featuring other historical figures such as W.B.Yeats and Lady Gregory, and interlaces some recurring tropes of the Irish literary imagination. O’Connor’s literary agenda in this novel clearly addresses the heritage of literary Ireland and its resilient (or tarnished) myths, and it does so through the prism of a biofictional staging of the protagonists’ romance that dramatizes both the truth and the mythmaking of the artistic achievement and the performative dimension of identity, along with a consideration of the trope of Irishness and the migrant’s identitarian plight, as the protagonist spends most of her life abroad and dies in poverty in London in 1952. The narrative constantly plays with the distance between Synge and Molly’s official profiles and Molly’s reminiscing, always possessed with the ghostly, haunting presence of her lover. Ghost Light is sustained by two main thematic clusters: theatricality and spectrality, woven into a self-conscious, metafictional narrative which makes use of anachronisms, disjointed temporal frames, shifting points of view, the use of an authorial “you” which addresses the protagonist, and is interspersed with some significant metanarrative references to the fictionalisation of biography. The present article analyses such related clusters in detail, showing how they qualify the generic instability of the text. By weaving the colourful threads of performativity and theatricality in the fabric of this biofiction, O’Connor expands this tension between public and private personae to the notion of projected, fashioned, fabricated identities that strut and fret on the stage of memory, while these always appear bound up with artistic creativity. Molly’s figure is thus partly encompassed by Synge’s urge to project fictions of sorts - ie. his own transfigurative vision of those lives and personalities - over the people of Ireland he met and attempted to represent in his art. The final part of the article investigates the rich intertextual and metaliterary structure of the novel and relates them to the epistemological issues attached to biographical fiction. While in the paratext O’Connor disclaims any attempt at biographical exactitude, thus qualifying the novel as a biofiction, he also discloses a deep and knowing engagement with the Irish literary tradition that surfaces through an intertextual and metaliterary allusiveness mostly referred to Joyce’s Ulysses. In several passages the protagonist’s interior monologues clearly resound with “Mollyesque” tones, most notably in the moving, powerful last pages, significantly consisting in her unwritten, undelivered love letter to J.M.Synge, as if to signal the impossible closure of the attempt to revive the truth of a life.

"A settling of the ghosts": biofiction and spectral teatricality in Joseph O'Connor's Ghost light

Gefter Wondrich, Roberta
2018-01-01

Abstract

Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light (2010) can be ascribed to the number of biographical novels which seem to rewrite, revisit and interrogate the cultural past with a specific interest in literary and artistic lives, a trend that has gained increasing momentum in neo- Victorian and neo-Edwardian fiction. This novel, where O’Connor confirms his stature as one of the greatest Irish living writers, is an outstanding example of recently growing output of Irish biofictions in so far as it fictionalises the lives of two protagonists of Irish cultural history, J.M.Synge and his muse, the actress Molly Allgood. Although Molly is the central character, in fact, Synge is the haunting double, the ghostly presence who accompanies her throughout her memories and reminiscing. The novel combines biograhical fiction and (fictionalised) cultural history in what could be considered a historiographic metafiction featuring other historical figures such as W.B.Yeats and Lady Gregory, and interlaces some recurring tropes of the Irish literary imagination. O’Connor’s literary agenda in this novel clearly addresses the heritage of literary Ireland and its resilient (or tarnished) myths, and it does so through the prism of a biofictional staging of the protagonists’ romance that dramatizes both the truth and the mythmaking of the artistic achievement and the performative dimension of identity, along with a consideration of the trope of Irishness and the migrant’s identitarian plight, as the protagonist spends most of her life abroad and dies in poverty in London in 1952. The narrative constantly plays with the distance between Synge and Molly’s official profiles and Molly’s reminiscing, always possessed with the ghostly, haunting presence of her lover. Ghost Light is sustained by two main thematic clusters: theatricality and spectrality, woven into a self-conscious, metafictional narrative which makes use of anachronisms, disjointed temporal frames, shifting points of view, the use of an authorial “you” which addresses the protagonist, and is interspersed with some significant metanarrative references to the fictionalisation of biography. The present article analyses such related clusters in detail, showing how they qualify the generic instability of the text. By weaving the colourful threads of performativity and theatricality in the fabric of this biofiction, O’Connor expands this tension between public and private personae to the notion of projected, fashioned, fabricated identities that strut and fret on the stage of memory, while these always appear bound up with artistic creativity. Molly’s figure is thus partly encompassed by Synge’s urge to project fictions of sorts - ie. his own transfigurative vision of those lives and personalities - over the people of Ireland he met and attempted to represent in his art. The final part of the article investigates the rich intertextual and metaliterary structure of the novel and relates them to the epistemological issues attached to biographical fiction. While in the paratext O’Connor disclaims any attempt at biographical exactitude, thus qualifying the novel as a biofiction, he also discloses a deep and knowing engagement with the Irish literary tradition that surfaces through an intertextual and metaliterary allusiveness mostly referred to Joyce’s Ulysses. In several passages the protagonist’s interior monologues clearly resound with “Mollyesque” tones, most notably in the moving, powerful last pages, significantly consisting in her unwritten, undelivered love letter to J.M.Synge, as if to signal the impossible closure of the attempt to revive the truth of a life.
2018
giu-2018
Pubblicato
File in questo prodotto:
File Dimensione Formato  
INverbis Gefter Wondrich.pdf

Accesso chiuso

Descrizione: ARTICOLO PRINCIPALE IN VERSIONE PDF EDITORIALE
Tipologia: Documento in Versione Editoriale
Licenza: Digital Rights Management non definito
Dimensione 100.13 kB
Formato Adobe PDF
100.13 kB Adobe PDF   Visualizza/Apri   Richiedi una copia

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11368/2929566
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact