"What saves us is ceremony" : ritual and communal identity in regional British and Irish literature.


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This study examines the role of ritual in enabling regional communities in twentieth-century British and Irish literature to articulate and sustain communal identity. Literary studies on the topic of ritual and community have rarely integrated the two fields, and yet, as but anthropological and theological studies indicate, ritual is an integral component of group identity and community narrative. Drawing upon the phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur, the liturgical theology of Aidan Kavanagh and Graham Hughes, and the philosophical history of Charles Taylor, I argue that the four authors under consideration—Anglo-Catholic poet T. S. Eliot, Orcadian Scots poet and novelist George Mackay Brown, Irish playwright Brian Friel, and Welsh poet Gillian Clarke—employ ritual in their texts as a strategy for articulating and preserving communal identity in order to resist the homogenizing pressures of late capitalism and philosophical modernity. The work of all four authors demonstrates the need for community to retain a local history of itself that does not suppress but rather incorporates a variety of voices for greater truth and accuracy; furthermore, the community cannot strive to remain static and unchanging, but must be dynamic and responsive to the pressures and questions with which its members wrestle. Furthermore, by choosing to write for a distinctive local community, these writers are able to explore within a microcosm issues that concern people from a wide range of communities and contexts. I conclude that this careful attention to the local produces a dynamic regionalism that avoids sectarianism and nationalism and offers readers strategies for preserving local history and communal memory through the corporate unity and narrative strategies for interpretation that ritual affords.



British literature. Irish literature. Regionalism. Ritual. Communal identity. Communal memory. Religion. Twentieth century.