Linguistic legacy of the colonial era

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews The Rising of the Moon: the language of power by Ella O’Dwyer, Pluto Press, £18.99 hbk

ELLA O’DWYER served almost fourteen years in an English prison for alleged conspiracy to cause explosions. Born in Tipperary, she had completed her BA degree in English at University College Dublin when, in 1985, she was arrested with a friend, Martina Anderson, in Glasgow, and charged with plotting to cause explosions in England.

After thirteen months in Brixton, she was deemed guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. For the next thirteen years she was in Belmarsh and then Durham and in 1994 was transferred to Maghaberry. By that time she had completed her master’s degree and then achieved a doctorate having written a dissertation on The Linguistics of Power and the Structuration of Meaning.

Now, at thirty-eight, she is conducting a post-doctoral fellowship at Boston College. Therefore, not only does O’Dwyer have an academic viewpoint for her subject matter, but she has also seen it at work on a personal level.

Ireland is a country where, for centuries, the population has been subjected to victimisation and incarceration. There is much meaning in the joke-like exhortation: ‘Whatever you say, say nothing!’ The implications for the language and identity used in Ireland are immense.

While Ella O’Dwyer is concerned with recent years, showing how oppression has obstructed and fractured the nature of Irish national discourse -- and that this fragmented voice is a feature of all post-colonial narrative, I would contend that the influence of repression has been there since the 17th century.

I thoroughly recommend this book as someone who has been much interested in Irish popular literature as well as the literary novel. It is a study of great sensitivity and wit, of sorrowful enthusiasm that will reward all readers.

Pegeen O’Sullivan adds:

O’DWYER USES outstanding figures and events of Irish history and a wide cross-section of literary works to study the psychological effects of colonisation on subject peoples, particularly the Irish.

She is particularly interesting on the ways in which subjugation has complicated and often neutralised the Irish aspiration for freedom.

She does not limit herself to Irish authors and points to interesting similarities between their work and contemporary African literature.

The Rising of the Moon is a triumph of the human spirit. However, the rather technical language means that it is not an easy read. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2003-07-17 22:06:31.
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