This page is referenced by:
Political Figures in Star of the Sea
The Role of Historical Political Figures in Star of the Sea
The historical political figures featured by Joseph O’Connor in Star of the Sea serve several roles in the novel. Functioning as a postmodern questioning of objective reality, an allusion to the continuing Irish struggle long after the events in Star of the Sea conclude, or a reminder that many English and Protestants did, in fact, fight for the rights of deeply oppressed Irish Catholics, the political figures of the novel serve diverse but important roles throughout Star of the Sea.
Although this theme is more prominent among O’Connor’s artistic figures, a postmodernist questioning of objective reality through the use of historical people also exists among the political figures. Naomi Jacobs writes in The Character of Truth: Historical Figures in Contemporary Fiction that “The presence of the historical figure signifies our questioning of the artificial boundaries between truth and lie, history and fiction, reality and imagination” (xxi). Perhaps the best example of this questioning occurs with women’s education reform advocate and suffragist Emily Davies, who in the world of Star of the Sea is good friends with David Merridith’s sister Natasha; Natasha is even said to have edited Davies’s real-life work The Higher Education of Women (O’Connor 103). This mixing of the historical and the fictional aids O’Connor in the questioning of any one objective history, which is a particularly important examination to make in the context of a postcolonial novel, due to the colonizing country’s suppression of the atrocities it has committed against the colonized.
Other political historical figures are used by O’Connor to remind readers that the Irish struggle for independence continued long after the end of the potato famine. John Mitchel and James Connolly are both quoted in epigraphs decrying Irish oppression, Mitchel in 1856 and Connolly in 1916; prefacing the novel with these quotations reminds or informs readers before the novel even begins that the struggle for Irish independence and horrors committed by the English continued long after the potato famine. The third historical figure serving as a reminder of the continuing struggle, Charles Parnell, who advocated for Ireland in Parliament during the 1870s and 80s, is alluded to in the novel’s epilogue as a final reminder of the post-novel fight for independence (O’Connor 366).
Finally, O’Connor works in Star of the Sea to paint a nuanced portrayal of the English by mentioning political figures who supported the Irish cause. Angela Burdett-Coutts, for example, along with Charles Dickens, runs a safehouse for prostitutes, many of whom were poverty-stricken, starving Irish women, as we see in the novel. Additionally, we are reminded that Theobald Wolfe Tone, Irish but not Catholic, nonetheless “fought and died for Ireland as captain of the revolutionaries in ’98” (O’Connor 67).
O’Connor’s use of historical political figures in Star of the Sea clearly serves a diverse set of purposes throughout the course of the novel. However, what these diverse purposes all have in common is that they demonstrate the complexity and deftness with which O’Connor weaves his tale.
Jacobs, Naomi. The Character of Truth: Historical Figures in Contemporary Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Print.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt Books, 2002. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey GunnBack to Historical Figures
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
Political Figure from Cahersiveen, County Kerry , Ireland
“[A barquentine] had… carried the remains of Daniel O’Connell, M.P. – ‘the Liberator’ to Ireland’s Catholic poor – from his death-place at Genoa in August of that year, to be laid to rest in his motherland. Seeing the ship was like seeing the man; so it appeared from the passengers’ tearful praying.”
-Star of the Sea XVII
Daniel O'Connell was born to Roman Catholic parents in County Kerry, Ireland, in 1875. O’Connell was adopted and raised by a childless uncle, who supported O’Connell’s secondary education at two English colleges, which O’Connell had to flee after revolutionaries forced their closure. O’Connell was eventually able to finish his education at Lincoln’s Inn, in London, after which he took a position as a lawyer in Ireland in 1798, marrying his cousin Mary O’Connell a few years later.
O’Connell was “innately conservative in politics,” and wrote in opposition to the 1798 and 1803 Irish rebellions that “no political change whatsoever is worth the shedding of a single drop of human blood” (Wallace 78). Despite this conservatism, O’Connell vehemently opposed the 1800 Act of Union, speaking against it in his first public speech. He also championed the rights of Catholics, founding the Catholic Association in 1823 (Wallace 78).
The Catholic Association worked to elect members of Parliament that would support Irish self-rule; in order to protect the “forty shilling freeholders” (those eligible to vote) who were sympathetic to their cause, O’Connell founded the Order of Liberators in 1826, earning himself the title “The Liberator.” O’Connell’s work paid off in 1829, when the English government passed a bill permitting Catholics to become members of Parliament, and O’Connell himself was elected an MP (Wallace 79).
In his new position, O’Connell continued to work for the rights of the Irish. He “negotiated the informal ‘Lichfield House compact’ with the Whigs” in 1835, which led to “four years of enlightened administration, attributed to the Dublin Castle under-secretary, Thomas Drummond” (Wallace 79). O’Connell began a series of “monster rallies” in 1843, (so called due to the massive audiences, which were estimated to exceed three-quarters of a million people), in which he spoke out against the English government (Wallace 79).
The final monster rally was banned by the government; O’Connell canceled it in an effort to maintain peace. Despite this, he “soon faced charges of creating discontent and disaffection among the Queen’s subjects,” of which he was quickly convicted (Wallace 79). Although the charges against O’Connell were later dropped by the House of Lords, his health suffered greatly during the three months he was in jail, and his movement was falling apart in favor of the Young Ireland revolutionaries. O’Connell began a trip to Rome in 1847, hoping to improve his health, but died in Genoa, Italy on May 15 (Wallace 79).
Within Star of the Sea, Daniel O’Connell serves as a powerful reminder of the many Irish working to liberate their country through political means. The reaction of the Star of the Sea passengers demonstrates his importance to the people of Ireland, and their “tearful praying” (XVII) for O’Connell is also demonstrative of the passengers’ commitment to their religion, even in the face of severe oppression.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Wallace, Martin. 100 Irish Lives. Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
Back to Political Figures in Star of the Sea