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Artistic Figures in Star of the Sea
The Role of Historical Artistic Figures in Star of the Sea
The historical artistic figures in Star of the Sea serve many diverse roles in the novel. To an even greater extent than the political figures, the novel’s artistic figures serve the role of questioning the existence of an objective truth surrounding not just the novel, but the potato famine and wider colonization of Ireland. Although not listed as political figures, many were also involved in politics of the time, through their art or otherwise, demonstrating the pervasive impact of Irish colonization on the people of Ireland, England, and abroad.
The questioning of objective truth is a particularly important theme within Star of the Sea’s artistic figures. Charles Dickens is one of the only historical figures to merit not just a mention, but several appearances in the novel, and O’Connor takes liberties with Dickens’s portrayal, implying, for example, that Dickens was inspired to write Oliver Twist based on stories told to him by Pius Mulvey (O’Connor 179). Naomi Jacobs writes in The Character of Truth: Historical Figures in Contemporary Fiction that contemporary writers ““have been directly and indirectly influenced by theories of history, character, and language that question the existence and even the desirability of factual truth, unified identity, and aesthetic perfection. Freed from the constraints that had limited use of historical figures under the reign of realism, contemporary writers are using such figures with increasing frequency to serve a variety of fictional aims” (xiv). By including Dickens in such a manner, O’Connor’s fictional aim is to question the validity of any objective truth surrounding historical events, especially as they relate to a colonized country.
Other artistic figures in Star of the Sea serve not to question the validity of historical objectivity, but to immerse readers in the culture of the time and remind them of the pervasiveness of the Irish struggle’s portrayal in art. From a passing mention of Irish poet James Clarence Mangan in a footnote to a derisive and racist mention of Irish songwriter Thomas Moore by Surgeon Mangan, we see that Irish artists also pervaded the culture of both England and Ireland. A footnote mention of Jonathan Swift, perhaps one of the most important Anglo-Irish advocating the rights of the Irish, serves the purpose of creating a nuanced portrayal of the English by reminding readers that many English and Anglo-Irish (like Swift) actively supported the Irish cause; many political figures mentioned in the novel serve this same purpose.
Jacobs writes that ““unashamed of partial truth, these writers owe no allegiance to the bogeys of accuracy and objectivity; as a result, they can find no reason not to use historical figures” (204). O’Connor’s use of artistic figures, in particular his liberties with the history of Charles Dickens and complex portrayal of Englishmen like Jonathan Swift, serves to question the validity of historical truth in the setting of a colonized country and its oppressor.
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
Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë)
Artistic Figure from Market Street, Thronton, England
“[Merridith] reached into his pocket and placed a book on the table. ‘You left it on the bar. Last night. When you departed. Thought you’d rather like to have it back.’ [Dixon] flipped open the cover and removed from the frontispiece a folded-up banknote that had been serving as a bookmark.
by Ellis Bell
T. C. NEWBY & CO.
‘The prodigal returns to his master,’ he grunted, through a dense mouthful of deep grey smoke.'”
-Star of the Sea, 130
Emily Brontë was born in 1818 in Yorkshire, England, the third child of her Irish father, Patrick Brontë. Brontë’s mother died when she was just three years old, after which she and her siblings “were left very much to themselves in the bleak moorland rectory” (“Emily Brontë”). Other than a single year Brontë and her sister Charlotte spent at a girls’ school, the siblings were educated at home. Brontë spent several years teaching as a young adult, before deciding, along with Charlotte, to study in Brussels so that they could begin a school of their own in England and help support the family (“Emily Brontë”).
In 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë published a book of poetry under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, respectively. It was not a great success; just two copies were sold, and “consensus of later criticism has accepted the fact that Emily’s verse alone reveals true poetic genius” (“Emily Brontë”). Brontë’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, was published in December of 1847, to poor reception: critics initially derided it as “too savage, too animal-like, and clumsy in construction” (“Emily Brontë”). Brontë died a year after its publication, in December of 1848, due to tuberculosis, and was buried in Haworth, England (“Emily Brontë”).
Wuthering Heights is a dramatic story of obsessive love, set in an isolated region of Yorkshire. After Cathy Earnshaw and Edgar Linton marry, the embittered Heathcliff, who loves Cathy, “plans a revenge on both families” which continues until Heathcliff’s death (“Emily Brontë”). Unlike the works of her sisters, Brontë’s novel makes “no use of the events of her own life and show[s] no preoccupation with a spinster’s state or a governess’s position” (“Emily Brontë”). Although initial critical reception of the novel was poor, it has since come to be viewed as “one of the finest novels in the English language” (“Emily Brontë”).
Within Star of the Sea, Brontë’s novel demonstrates Dixon's desire to be a successful, lauded author; David Merridith deeply insults Dixon by first insinuating that Dixon himself is Ellis Bell. After Dixon insists that he isn't the author of Wuthering Heights, Merridith mocks the idea that Dixon could ever write such a work of literature. O'Connor also reminds readers of the Brontë family connection to Ireland; David Merridith comments of the novel's setting, "it's so clearly Connemara despite the clever way it's disguised. Connemara, Yorkshire, all poor places" (131). In this way, Brontë is claimed as an Irish writer by both Merridith and O'Connor.
“Emily Bronte.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia
Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
Back to Artistic Figures: Essay Analysis