SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Frances Grahl (CCLPS, SOAS) and Eli Davies (University of Ulster) - Blurring boundaries: new formulations of the home


Date: 31 January 2018Time: 3:15 PM

Finishes: 31 January 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: Talk

The papers for this session will explore the ways in which traditional boundaries of public and private have been unsettled in Irish and migrant novels and discuss the ways in which the home becomes a site of political struggle, solidarity, hope and radical potential.

Eli Davies (University of Ulster)  The 1998 Belfast Agreement officially brought an end to “the Troubles”, the euphemistic term commonly given to the war fought by the British security forces, the Provisional IRA and loyalist paramilitaries between 1969 and 1998 in Northern Ireland. The Agreement places a good deal of emphasis on dealing with the past and the rights of both Catholic and Protestant communities to remember their experiences of the conflict. The resulting commemorative culture in Northern Ireland is often centred on public space, physically inscribing stories and identities into the landscape through murals, memorials and parades. Such representations of the past leave gaps and privilege certain public, masculinist identities experiences at the expense of others. It has mainly been left to cultural forms such as film and literature to explore the more private realm of the conflict.  

Within such works the home, the family and sexual relationships have often functioned as an escape from the conflict, or “opt out”, to put it in more pejorative terms (see Cal by Bernard MacLaverty or Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson). Literature exploring the experiences of women, however, has often complicated these representations, showing the more complex workings of the home and the domestic, with the lines between public and private becoming blurred. One by One in the Darkness by Deirdre Madden is a powerful example of how the everyday, domestic sphere can function in literature as a site of struggle in itself, integral to the conflict in Northern Ireland rather than separate from it. The novel is an exploration of grief and loss, as three sisters and their mother deal with the murder of their father/ husband by loyalist paramilitaries in their home. Violence frequently intruded on domestic spaces during the Northern Irish conflict through army raids and paramilitary violence and Madden’s novel dramatises the psychological impact this has on a family.  All four women work through their grief in different ways, sometimes thinking it through in relation to the wider political situation, or to the Northern Irish landscape or to their family and home. The domestic is central to all of this, as a space in which stories are told, the conflict is made sense of, solidarities are strengthened and the emotional work of grieving and dealing with the past takes place.

Eli Davies is a PhD researcher at Ulster University, exploring the relationship between gender, memory, literature and the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. She completed an M.Phil in Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin in 2003 and between then and 2016 worked part-time as an adult education teacher, writer and editor. She is co-editor of Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and The Women Who Love Them, an anthology of women's music writing published by Repeater.

Frances Grahl (CCLPS, SOAS, University of London): Alternative living spaces, alternative families: solidarity and new kinships in the migrant home

In post-war migration fiction, the home and domestic spaces are often associated with poverty and precarity. A wide range of fictional works in French and English look at housing difficulties under the ‘colour bar’ of the 1950s and 60s, while later, ‘second generation’ writers would react against what they saw as closed, traditional migrant homes, bound by religious and family ties. However, in recent novels of migration, new domestic arrangements are being modelled which simultaneously combat the ‘traditional, quiet migrant family home’ stereotype and extend bonds of solidarity far beyond the home.

Two interesting examples look at women’s paid work inside the home. In Minaret by Leila Aboulela the protagonist, a Sudanese migrant who has fallen upon hard times, woks as a domestic servant for a wealthy Egyptian family in London. Meanwhile in Un pays pour mourir by Abdellah Taïa, a Moroccan sex-worker cares for an Iranian refugee she finds in the street. Both novels examine the hardship and precarity of the domestic space for female migrant workers, yet challenge the idea of migrant domestic space as traditional and separate to the mainstream societies of Paris and London, crossing the conceptual border between ‘home’ and the ‘outside world’. This paper will examine the new formulations of family that the two works offer, and discuss the liberational potentials that such re-imaginings could hold. While both narratives are marked by material concerns and contingency, they permit new ways of living to be imagined.

Frances Grahl is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies at SOAS, University of London. The working title of her thesis is Mapping the Migrant City: Presentations of the Migrant Experience in the Contemporary European Novel, and her work sets out to chart how recent novels on the subject of migration map and counter-map the cities of Paris, London and Rome. From a comparative literature background, she takes an interdisciplinary approach to new literary geographies and representations of migrants and ethnic minorities. She is involved in migrant solidarity networks across Europe, and has written about her experiences of solidarity work with migrants and refugees in London, Calais, Paris and Athens.

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