John McGahern (1934-2006) has been widely acknowledged as one of the foremost Irish prose writers of the twentieth and the early twenty-first century. McGahern has traditionally been regarded as a "chronicler" of the lives of farmers, teachers and policemen in the Irish midlands in the twentieth century. The social and historical veracity which so many readers admire in his novels and stories accounts for his popular success in his native country. It has also been the subject of a significant body of criticism of his work. This new book on McGahern's fiction argues how he was not only an acute social commentator but also an intelligent and perceptive reader interested in the nature and function of literature. It presents McGahern as a highly literary writer aware of the various literary traditions he had inherited, and shows how his imagination was shaped by his lifelong immersion in Irish, English and European literature.
Drawing on archival material as well as on original close readings of his fiction, Stanley van der Ziel examines how McGahern's reading of classic books and authors determined the concerns of his novels and stories, by placing some key elements of McGahern's aesthetic in their appropriate literary contexts.
John McGahern and the Imagination of Tradition presents McGahern as a novelist of ideas by showing how his fiction engages in a knowing and self-conscious way with ideas about literature from different historical periods. It is a study of McGahern's fiction seen through the literary influences that shaped his imagination, which argues that McGahern's imagination absorbed things that interested him in the writers he had read and thought about, often for many decades, in order to make an art that was at once wholly individual and deeply traditional. In thematically arranged chapters on McGahern's debt to authors such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Wordsworth, the nineteenth-century Realists, Proust, Joyce, Yeats, Beckett and others, it demonstrates how well-known tropes and ideas from those authors are repeatedly reworked or re-imagined, often in ironic ways, in his fiction.
Stanley van der Ziel is the Blair Chair Postdoctoral research associate at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. He has previously taught English and Irish Literature at University College Dublin, the University of Limerick and St Patrick's College, Drumcondra.