This page was created by Elizabeth Pilon.  The last update was by Austin Gerth.

Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Structure of the Novel

One of the characteristics that makes Star of the Sea postmodern literature is the way the novel is structured. Filled with discontinuity, intertextuality, self-reflection, and historiographic metafiction, it is “a novel preoccupied with textuality and with the processes of composition, Star of the Sea repeatedly draws attention to the way narrative mediates and constructs history” (Beville 80). The entire novel is mediated information by a third party character. Titled “Prologue from an American Abroad: Notes on London and Ireland in 1847,” the story being told is portrayed as a work of journalism by G. Grantley Dixon, an American journalist. The use of this fictional author allows readers to question the element of voice throughout the novel. As an American, does Dixon have the right to tell the stories of these characters? Does he have a bias towards the Irish or the aristocrats? Who can we rely on? Although the entire novel is told by Dixon, there is discontinuity within the novel in terms of how the story is unveiled. Dixon switches between telling the present events happening on the ship and following the voyage chronologically, to revealing the past and each character’s history. Thrown in with these accounts are the captain’s logs of the voyage, which add another third party view to the tale.

“Driven by a tragic historical context, the novel utilises intertextual references to both install and blur the boundary between historical and fictional texts” (Beville 94).

In order to incorporate new factual, unbiased, and authentic inclusions, Dixon/O'Connor also integrates historical documents, letters, interviews, and other references. This historiographical metafiction fictionalizes these historical events to add evidence to the stories of the characters. Hutcheon defines historiographic metafiction as novels that are self-reflexive and “re-introduce historical context into metafiction and problematize the entire question of historical knowledge” (54). By bringing in these historical references and fictional historical documents, O’Connor enables the ability to question the history of the Irish Famine and the experience of it. He uses actual references, such as Punch Magazine, to show the racism towards the Irish people at the time, and quotes from people, such as Charles Trevelyan and John Mitchel, to show the British and Irish viewpoints on the famine. Incorporating these historical references along with fictional historical documents puts the story into a historical context. O’Connor also adds in intertextuality in the novel, referencing works such as Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, and Jane Eyre. All recognizable and popular texts, using these literary intertexts to appear alongside all of the other references and fictional texts highlights the historical relevance of the novel.

Beville explains Star of the Sea by arguing that “on the one hand the novel provides an exploration of and interrogation into the historicizing process, on the other hand it stresses the need to remember, and forwards the somewhat controversial idea that fiction can provide a space where the past can be partially recuperated” (79). The historiographical metafiction and intertextuality in the novel is used to support the story, which ultimately conveys the characters’ experiences by providing historical evidence.

Works Cited
Beville, Maria. “Delimiting the Unspeakable: Gothic Preoccupations in Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea.” Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies 1.1 (2014): 30-41. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. “The Pastime of Past Time”: Fiction, History, Historiographic Metafiction.” Postmodern Genres. Ed. Marjorie Perloff. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989. 54-74. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Sarah Swansen
Technical Designers: Sara Juntunen, Elizabeth Pilon

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