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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 12 Aungier St., Dublin, Ireland
Thomas Moore was born to Roman Catholic parents in Dublin in 1779. From the time he was young, Moore “displayed gifts as an actor and mimic,” which were encouraged by his parents, who enrolled him at a local academy (Wallace 82). Moore went on to attend Trinity College in Dublin, where he “managed not to become embroiled with the United Irishmen, though he shared their ideals” (Wallace 82). During his time at Trinity College, a friend also fostered Moore’s newfound interest in traditional Irish music (Wallace 82).
“The Surgeon had clearly been in the middle of one of his interminable stories when Merridith had arrived…. Something about a pig who could talk. Or dance? Or stand on its hind legs and sing Tom Moore. It was an Irish peasant story anyway: all of the Surgeon’s were.”
-Star of the Sea, 7
After graduation in 1798, Moore moved to London, where his musical talent made him very popular with London society. Moore turned down an offer to become the first poet laureate of Ireland in 1803, instead briefly serving as admiralty registrar in Bermuda before returning to London. Between 1808 and 1834, Moore published 10 volumes of Irish Melodies, which included both love songs and “stirring patriotic ballads as acceptable to the English as to the Irish” (Wallace 82).
Moore published many other, largely less successful, works during this time, including a satire, "Corruption and Intolerance," which railed against English oppression of the Irish. In 1811, Moore married Bessy Dyke, an Irish actress with whom he had worked. Although a largely happy marriage, the couple faced financial struggles due to “Moore’s own pride and high principles” (Wallace 83).
In 1822, Moore found himself entrusted with the memoirs of Lord Byron, but he allowed Byron’s half-sister to burn the documents “for fear publication would cause a scandal” (Wallace 83). Moore wrote and published a biography of Byron in 1830, and also published biographies for several other historical figures. He spent his final years in the town of Sloperton, England, and died there on February 25, 1852 (Wallace 83).
The reference to Thomas Moore serves a couple of purposes in the novel. First of all, Surgeon Mangan’s shortening of “Thomas” to “Tom” is a sign of his disrespect for Moore as an artist; his comparison of the Irish to pigs is downright racist and displays Mangan’s failure to view the Irish as people worthy of respect. Second, this reference displays Moore’s prevalence in not only Ireland, but also England, as an artist; despite Mangan’s contempt for the Irish, even he is aware of Moore’s importance as an Irish songwriter.
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
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