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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
James Clarence Mangan
Artistic Figure from Fishamble Street, Dublin, Ireland
James Clarence Mangan was born in 1803 in Dublin, Ireland, to an unsuccessful grocer. From the age of fifteen to 25, he worked as a copying clerk in the office of a scrivener. After he left this position, Mangan began writing to support himself, and was published in Dublin University Magazine and the Irish nationalist newspaper The Nation (“James Clarence Mangan”). He later transferred his writing “almost exclusively” to John Mitchel’s new paper, The United Irishman, as he “thoroughly sympathized with [Mitchel’s] revolutionary sentiments” (Webb). John Mitchel was himself a great admirer of Mangan; he once said that “I have never yet met a cultivated Irish man or woman, of genuine Irish nature, who did not prize Clarence Mangan above all the poets that their island of song ever nursed” (Webb). This nationalism can be seen quite strongly in Mangan’s original poem Irish National Hymn:
“For the following list of words for land, by no means exhaustive, we are indebted to the graciousness of Mr James Clarence Mangan of the Ordnance Survey office at Dublin, and to the scholarship of his associates.”
-Star of the Sea, 76
O Ireland! Ancient Ireland!
Ancient! yet for ever young!
Thou our mother, home and sire-land—
Thou at length hast found a tongue—
Proudly thou, at length,
Resistest in triumphant strength.
Thy flag of freedom floats unfurled;
And as that mighty God existeth,
Who giveth victory when and where He listeth,
Thou yet shalt wake and shake the nations of the world. (Mangan).
Many of Mangan’s poems were loose translations of other works, particularly works written in Irish and German; however, his translations were “often so free that Mangan is in effect using the original as a vehicle for his own emotions” (“James Clarence Mangan”). His original poetry, some of which he also claimed was translated, focused largely on Irish history and lore. Despite his success as a poet, Mangan had a difficult life; his “natural melancholy” was “aggravated by years of ill-paid drudgery and an acute disappointment in love,” and he was addicted to alcohol and opium (“James Clarence Mangan”). After he died on June 20, 1849, his funeral was attended by only two people (“James Clarence Mangan”).
O’Connor’s decision to mention Mangan specifically, rather than invent the name of a scholar, helps to root the novel in its historical background, as does the casual mention of many other historical figures from the time period. Mentioning Mangan also serves the purpose of demonstrating Dixon’s thorough research, at least for this portion of his “journalism.” After all, Mangan was a scholar of languages, in particular Irish, and for Dixon to have appealed to an expert on the topic makes Dixon’s version of events appear somewhat more credible.
“James Clarence Mangan.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Mangan, James Clarence. “Irish National Hymn.” CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts. Cork,
Ireland: UCC. Accessed 29 February 2016.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Webb, Alfred. A Compendium of Irish Biography. Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1878. Library
Ireland. Web. 28 February 2016.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
Back to Artistic Figures: Essay Analysis