'A place in the mind': the anatomy of space in the works of Maeve Brennan
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date23/11/2027
This thesis anatomises the elements of space in the works of Irish-American author Maeve Brennan, using four key spatial paradigms. It considers the effects of space – physical and conceptual – within Brennan’s body of literature, from the non-fiction ‘Long-Winded Lady’ epistles that she produced for The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town,” to the forty-odd works of short fiction that appeared over two decades in the same illustrious magazine, beginning in the early 1950s. Neglected in her later life, Brennan’s writing is now classed amongst the most important of women’s voices in twentieth-century Irish fiction, having undergone a significant reclamation and reappraisal in the thirty years since her death. As a transnational Irish woman writer with regular access to an audience that numbered in the millions, Brennan’s work was uniquely liminal. Single and childfree, she eschewed the securities of family and home, experiencing an ‘otherness’ that she shared with her fellow New Yorkers, many of them left hanging on, she wrote, to a city half-capsized; “most of them still able to laugh as they cling to the island that is their life’s predicament”. Appraising the four spatial elements – Urban Space, Diaspora Space, Manic Space, and Feminine Space – this thesis traces Brennan’s experience of the city as a single woman at a time of degenerative urban renewal; of mental illness, as a casualty of the psychosocial dispossession suffered by the doubly-subjugated Irishwoman; and of the very notions of home and identity, which, for Brennan, could never be fashioned by absolutes. Notwithstanding the recent renewal of scholarly interest, this dissertation seeks to begin to address an obvious lacuna in the critical study of Brennan’s oeuvre. It does so by assessing what Henri LeFebvre saw as modernity’s “devastated” spaces of “emptiness,” which in the tapestry of Brennan’s writing, are carefully, consciously, explored. In a 1974 letter to friend and confidante Howard Moss, Brennan wrote: “One thing is certain, it is all a dream.” It is a suitably ambiguous expression for a writer who cultivated an interstitial existence, whose stories inhere within an oneiric cycle of reiterative pasts, and whose works, I argue, naturally become the in-between space of radical Irish fiction.
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