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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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(p.200) Conclusion
Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement

Helen O’connell

Oxford University Press

Improvement discourse is central to an understanding of both 19th-century and Revival-period Ireland. The writers examined in this book were instrumental in an attempt to articulate a realism that would distinguish their fictions from the fictionality of the novel and other literary discourses. Improvement writers implied that there were two social and political possibilities: liberal reform or radical revolution, the former associated with rational modernization and the latter linked to violent revolution. Improvement writers emphasized the necessity of work in the form of both physical labour and writing as the means by which civil society could be created and stabilized. In the process, these writers constructed distinctions between speculation and work, idealism and realism, and poetry and prose. This study has shown how 19th-century Irish writing acutely manifests a counter-revolutionary and counter-Romantic tradition, registering a fear of what ‘liberty’ might entail while partaking of the rhetoric of its possibility.

Keywords:   Irish literature, improvement fiction, Ireland, peasantry, landowners, physical labour, realism, Mary Leadbeater, William Carleton

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