'A piece of fine meshwork': the intertwining fiction of Philip Roth and Edna O'Brien

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O'Brien, Dan
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University College Cork
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This thesis comprises a comparative analysis of the works the Irish author Edna O’Brien and her contemporary and friend, the Jewish-American author Philip Roth. It investigates the striking biographical, textual and stylistic symmetries between two writers from very different cultures and literary traditions. The thesis begins with the, until now, undetected intertextual nexuses between Roth’s fiction and O’Brien’s. These allusions significantly alter the readings of a number of their novels, while at the same time indicating wider transatlantic frames of reference now apparent in their work. O’Brien has, since the beginning of her career, been in frequent correspondence with all of the pre-eminent Jewish-American authors of her time, and her work conducts a dialogue with key Jewish-American texts. Conversely, Roth’s fiction—like O’Brien’s, obviously indebted to Joyce—has frequently alluded to other seminal Irish authors. The literary and personal relationship of Roth and O’Brien symbolize myriad links between Jewish and Irish literary cultures. In O’Brien’s (and wider Irish) fiction, the Jew is often positioned as an exotic but dangerous “Other”. Equally, throughout the Jewish canon Irish Catholics are frequently employed as foils. Roth and O’Brien investigate difference by depicting relationships that cross these boundaries. Through understanding the complex interrelations at play between the fiction of Roth and O’Brien, and between their work and that of a wider pantheon of Irish and American writers, this thesis will reposition both as transnational authors while developing a culturally sensitive, textually nuanced account of their transatlantic literary relations.
Transnationalism , Intertextuality , Irish literature , American literature , Jewish literature
O'Brien, D. 2016. 'A piece of fine meshwork': the intertwining fiction of Philip Roth and Edna O'Brien. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.