How the Other Three-Quarters Lived: The Cabin in Famine Literature
AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractIn the 1841 census three-quarters of houses in Ireland were placed in the lowest two classes, one-roomed mud cabins and slightly larger mud cottages. What Harriet Martineau describes as ‘Irish cabin life’ was a matter of fascination for visitors to Ireland before and after the Famine, and the cabin became a key site of ethnographic exploration. Curious or philanthropic observers were either shocked by the poverty and wretchedness they saw, or puzzled or even offended by the seeming happiness and healthiness of cabin-dwellers. During the Famine, the cabin was a scene for tragedy and horror: the place from which the people were evicted, from which they emigrated, in which they were quarantined, where they were found dying or dead, where they were buried. The roofless cabin later eloquently attested to their suffering and absence, and has become one of the most significant visual icons in the commemoration of the Famine. This chapter examines the representation of the cabin in literature from the time of the Famine to the present day, in the works of authors such as William Carleton, Anthony Trollope, Margaret Brew, Carol Birch, Anne Enright, and Tana French, considering the ways in which social hierarchy and communal relations are mediated through its space in texts set during the Famine, and its spectral significance in modern and contemporary literature as a concrete or symbolic inheritance, a time-machine, a haunted house, a place to desecrate or take refuge in, and a crime scene.
CitationMelissa Fegan, 'How the Other Three-Quarters Lived: The Cabin in Famine Literature', in Marguerite Corporaal and Peter Gray (eds) The Great Irish Famine and Social Class: Conflicts, Responsibilities, Representations (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2019), 29-50.
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