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This book offers a major reassessment of the work of Brendan Behan (1923-64), author of The Quare Fellow, The Hostage and Borstal Boy. It charts Behan’s intellectual journey from his early imitations of Republican verse and song to his formulation of a literature which could articulate and convey a thoroughly postcolonial, critical nationalism. Brendan Behan moves beyond the popular image of Behan as a stage-Irish rebel and presents his writings as complex representations of the construction and negotiation of identity and culture. Behan’s plays, stories, autobiographies, poems and newspaper columns, composed in mid-century Ireland, explore the bonds of language, class, religion, colonialism and nationalism.
This book argues that Behan’s work expands the anti-colonial project of Irish revival writings to articulate a revisionist critique of post-independence Irish nationalism. Behan’s writings engage in intertextual dialogue with the writings of Hyde, Synge, O’Casey, Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce, to fashion from them his critical, comic interrogations of cultural nationalism.
John Brannigan teaches English at Trinity College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast.