Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Victoria" by Desmond Hogan

The Irish Quarter Year Two
:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1
Desmond Hogan Week-June 18 to June 31
Day Six
Proper Nouns and European History
Co-Hosted  by Shauna Gilligan
author of 
Happiness Comes From Nowhere

Project Notes-Desmond Hogan Week has now been extended until at least June 31.  I will keep the name.   I am treating Hogan's work as "found objects", a way of looking at literary art from the long ago.   If you are new to the work of Hogan, I suggest you read his stories and Shauna Gilligan's very well done introductory post on his work.   This is not a closed event, if you are interested in doing a guest post, you are welcome to do so.  I also found the Youtube has lots of videos related to Irish Travellers.  Some are serious documentaries and interviews and some are nasty  shows that depict travellers as fools and welfare spongers.   


Now it is Loneliness who comes at night
Instead of Sleep, to sit beside my bed.
Like a tired child I lie and wait her tread,
I watch her softly blowing out the light.
Motionless sitting, neither left or right
She turns, and weary, weary droops her head.
She, too, is old; she, too, has fought the fight.
So, with the laurel she is garlanded.

Through the sad dark the slowly ebbing tide
Breaks on a barren shore, unsatisfied.
A strange wind flows... then silence. I am fain
To turn to Loneliness, to take her hand,
Cling to her, waiting, till the barren land
Fills with the dreadful monotone of rain 
Katherine Mansfield

Victoria" (2003)
When Prince Albert died she said "Now there is no one left to call me Victoria"
Today I will post on one of Hogan's more recent stories the very interesting "Victoria".   In adition to talking about the stories and what happens in them I will look at one feature of the work of the author in a bit more detail. Today I will ponder why a narrator who is seemingly talking to younger Irish Travellers with whom he lives about things many people with advanced degrees  may never have heard about in their entire lives.    In the ten page or so story (page counts will differ for me from the print edition as it depends on how you set your Kindle) there are over fifty proper nouns related to English, Irish, and European history and geography.  
I think the author is somehow trying to show how outsiders view centrifugal history, why only an Irishman or woman who sees Ireland through the eyes of an outsider can truly see this.   This is much the same thing Declan Kibard said in his brilliant chapter on Oscar Wilde.  Then the deeper question becomes why these pronouns and not others.   (I know this post will interest only those already into Hogan's work and I am in fact trying to do something different in these posts than I have in all but a few of my others.)

Here are some of the proper nouns used in "Victoria":  English, Gypsy, Romeo, Shetland, Rath Kaell, Spanish, Vickers Trailer, Gort Pier, Liverpool, Victoria, Princess Margaret, Colby,
Royal Deer Forest, Corby,  World War II, Serbia, World War I, Europe, Christmas, Vale of Evesham, Mulhuddolt, Dublin, Wilstead, Bedfordshire, John Bunyan, Stow, Epson Derby,
Germany, Russia, Catherine the Great, Appelby Fair, the Furher, Giraldus Cambrensis, Anglo Saxon, Quaker Pegg Derby Set, Taskers, Royal Munsters Fusliers and Cyclist Company, Japanese, Kilrush, Nenagh Fair, Limerick Junction, St Patrick's Night, 1945, American, British Army, George the IV, Beau Brummell, France, Christian Brothers, Galway, Tipperary, Kilkee, 1944, Ballinasloe Horse Fair, Sophia-Augusta, the House of Anhalt-Zebst, Empress Elizabeth, Russian Orthodox, Peter III, Gerit van Honthorst's Child of Christ, St Joseph, Hitler, General von Schleicher and Rubens (and there are lots more)

"Victoria" is narrated in the first person and as mentioned earlier, by a man who is not an Irish Traveller but who apparently lives with a group of English Gypsies talking to a young Gypsy man.   (My research indicates the formal education of Travellers and Gypsies lacks way behind the population of Ireland as a whole which makes sense and one would be able to infer this anyway from the life styles of the travellers depicted in the story.)   The narrator has to know the man he is talking do does not know what many of these nouns refer to other than the English and Irish place names.  We see he knows this in this remark "Kerrin looked around my caravan as if it were a foreign country".   

The story is in part  an interior monologue  and in part a one sided conversation with Kerrin Sanger who in fact was "a little English Gyspy boy".  ( English Gypsy's are intermarried with Travellers and  the English unknowingly refer to Irish Travellers in England as Gypsies.)   The speaker of the story knows for sure that Kerrin does not know what he is talking about.  Anyway I do not want this post to get out of control but I do want to take a look at a few of the Proper Names used and why I think they are in "Victoria", a seemingly simple but in fact very sophisticated story.  

John Bunyan -The author of a great travel book, Pilgrim's Progress is referenced as coming from a family that have been tinkers for many generation.  "Tinkers" are another Irish term for travellers and gypsies as they were often seen as repairers of pots and pans.   We are seeing maybe one of the most treasure of English classics might have traveller roots, what was once an outsiders work  is now an ossified classic to most who will never read it.   Or at least the narrator wants to think that might be true.

Giraldus Cambrensis was a medieval Welsh chronicler who wrote of peacocks in the woods, this thought is somehow related to our stimulated by the knowledge that Kerrin hunts for wild peacocks.   

Catherine The Great and Empress Elizabeth-why is this in the story, is it just something pulled at random from the narrator's copious memory?   Catherine the Great was a 15 year old from a minor German house in the 18th century when Empress Elizabeth married her to her half wit son Peter III and set her on the path to be Empress of Russia.  I think we are being put in mind the capricious nature of political power, one day your are a Czar and the nest day you are murdered and displaced by a teenage girl.  Power in the centrifugal world is arbitrary, capricious and based on violence.

Victoria Travellers were very loyal to the crown and greatly admired the marriage of Queen Victoria, subjects the crown could not care less about were totally loyal to the Queen while holding the government in the same contempt in which it held them.  Also, as referenced in the devasting last line of this story named for her, once her husband Prince Albert died she spent decades in great loneliness.    Of course the line maybe just something the narrator comes up with off the top of his head.

George the IV and Beau Brummel- (Admission, I am relying on an old movie for this) George IV was very lonely, surrounded by stooges and sycophants and not able to marry the woman he loved, with no actual friends.  Beau Brummel, a figure who was a stylized version of an English Gentleman was his only friend, he died broke and alone leaving George IV once again alone.

These are just a few of the Proper Nouns.   The many place names show that outsiders really may know more about the culture they are excluded from than insiders.   

Why does the speaker talk way he does?    He knows for sure the Gypsy Boy does not know of most of those items he refers to, but he is not an intellectual bully or a show boater.   My conjecture  is he is unable to really talk to the Gypsy boy (and the others in the caravan with whom he lives) about much of anything that come from his deepest concerns so he is just talking to fill a void. He probably has never had anyone in his whole life he really could talk to without caution or holding back.  He also knows there is something wrong with him but he does not know what it is.   All these cultural and place name references are his attempt to place himself in the culture that he is unable to really find his feet with.   His paradox is he understands   much but not himself.

He may also be trying to take control of history in his stories.  Many of the references he uses are not learned in public schools kind of material, the things only years of wide self-directed reading could bring one to know, perhaps with no coherent overview behind it or perhaps even profounder with a subconscious repudiation of all grand schemes.

"Victoria" is a wonderful work of art, there is much more to be found in this story than I have mentioned or no doubt that I have been able to perceive with only three readings.

 Lilliput Press press publishes Hogan's work and offers two of his works as E-Books.   I found their catalogue totally fascinating.   They are the premier publishers of Irish related books, located in Dublin and established in 1984.

Shauna Gilligan's wonderful new novel Happiness Comes From Nowhere can be purchased on Amazon or The Book Depository.

Mel u

1 comment:

shaunag said...

Mel, i think you've hit the nail on the head about this story - it is about finding ones place in the world (whatever world that is) and it is through storytelling that this happens. In Victoria, the storytelling is one of relating historical figures to the lives of those he wishes to connect with.