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Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement$
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Helen O'Connell

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199286461

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199286461.001.0001

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Political Discipline and the Rhetoric of Moderation

Political Discipline and the Rhetoric of Moderation

(p.127) 4 Political Discipline and the Rhetoric of Moderation
Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement

Helen O’connell

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores how improvement writers attributed agrarian unrest in rural Ireland to the absenteeism, decadence, and irresponsibility of landlords as well as to the difficulty of civilizing the peasantry. William Carleton's stories and novels represent the plight of a small farming class throughout the economic depression of the post-Napoleonic wars. In his fiction, the sufferings of a hardworking, improving peasantry are depicted against the context of absenteeism and the anarchy of agrarian unrest. Improvement writers attempted to counter all extremism — of religion, politics, language, and temperament — with a ‘rhetoric of moderation’. This chapter argues that this rhetoric of moderation shaped the nationalist discourse of Young Ireland. In keeping with his project to mould a disciplined and orderly citizenry for the eventual creation of a nation state, the essays of Thomas Davis are steeped in the tropes of improvement.

Keywords:   Irish literature, improvement fiction, Young Ireland, William Carleton, peasantry, Thomas Davis, agrarian unrest, absenteeism, rhetoric of moderation, political discipline

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