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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
Artistic Figure from 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
Hieronymus Bosch, born Jeroen van Aeken, was born sometime in the 1450s in the Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the third in a line of successful painters after his father and grandfather, and died in the same town in August of 1516. Little is known of his personal life; rather it is Bosch’s legacy as a moralistic and imaginative painter that has made his name recognizable today (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
“I… had managed to find homes for some of the more valuable pieces, the skeletons and some of the rarer eggs and fossils…. Johnnyjoe Burke and his brother dug a great pit by the shore and we filled it up with all the remainder, then set the lot on fire and covered it again. It was like something dreadful out of Hieronymus Bosch.”
-Star of the Sea, 105
Bosch signed only seven of the approximately 40 works attributed to him, and dated none, so questions still remain about his development as an artist over the course of his lifetime. However, his paintings are all understood as “sermons on folly and sin,” painted by a man who “was a pessimistic and stern moralist” and “had neither illusions about the rationality of human nature nor confidence in the kindness of a world that had been corrupted by human presence in it” (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
Although dating of Bosch’s works is uncertain, different themes and images are found in Bosch’s earlier and later works. Bosch’s earliest works, such as The Seven Deadly Sins, “depict humanity’s vulnerability to the temptation of evil [and] the deceptive allure of sin… in calm and prosaic settings” (“Hieronymus Bosch”). Bosch’s middle period is marked by the development of a “disconcerting mixture of fantasy and reality” in his works, including The Temptation of St. Anthony, a departure from the conventional morality of his earliest paintings (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
Bosch’s final works left behind both pastoral and hellscape scenes in favor of close-up images depicting “densely compacted groups of half-length figures pressed tight against the picture plane,” with the effect that “the spectator is so near the event portrayed that he seems to participate in it physically as well as psychologically,” as seen in The Crowning with Thorns (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
Within the novel, Hieronymus Bosch is only mentioned briefly, in the text quoted above. However, David Merridith’s comparative use of Bosch, known for his gristly hellscapes, paints a strong image of the burning fossils and taxidermied creatures found in the novel. The pit full of rotting animals and skeletons also may serve the purpose of likening Lord Merridith’s treatment of his collection to his treatment of his Irish tenants, many of whom were themselves becoming skeletal before burial in mass graves.
“Hieronymus Bosch.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 24 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