“Once Upon a Time”. Fabulists and Storytellers in Clare Boylan’s Fiction

Giovanna Tallone (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano), in Irish Women Writers. New Critical Perspectives, eds. Elke D’hoker, Raphaël Ingelbien, Hedwig Schwall,  Peter Lang, Bern, 2011, pp.269-83)


Storytelling is a recurring motif in Clare Boylan’s fiction. Characters in her stories, from “Bad-natured Dog” to “A Little Girl, Never Out Before”, and her novels, such as Holy Pictures and Last Resorts, are often busy telling each other stories, creating an alternative or parallel reality in order to face the harshness of life and the persecution of loneliness. Memories are mythologized and become stories, playing with language makes life an acceptable fiction, and conjuring up stories in bed creates the privileged location of a magic circle, a private territory for both survival and self-deception.

Children are both subjects and objects of storytelling and the dreamlike quality of some of Boylan’s stories often indulges on children abandoned in secluded or isolated places, thus reproducing a stock situation in fairy-tales. Even though Boylan does not rewrite traditional stories, her fiction exploits features from archetypes in fairy-tales, from the formulaic “Once upon a time” to witch-like figures and wolfish men.

The purpose of this essay is to explore the function of storytelling alongside patterns of fairy-tales in Clare Boylan’s fiction, taking into account situations and characters – of all ages and social classes – that in various ways reproduce or bear an echo of stock situations and characters in fairy-tales.


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