Utopian island realism in J. M. Synge’s travel narrative of The Aran Islands and Tomás O’Crohan’s autobiography The Islander

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


What is the relationship between the “no-where” of utopian imagination and the realist impulse to represent faithfully the world in the here and now. This case study explores this question through an examination of the literary-spatial topos of the island in two key texts of twentieth-century Irish works of realist literature: Tomás O’Crohan’s Irish-language autobiographical work, The Islander (1937), and J. M. Synge’s diaristic travel narrative, The Aran Islands (1907). Reading these works comparatively, I link Synge’s and O’Crohan’s apparently sui generis representations of life on the western islands of Ireland to the broad literary and critical tradition of European realism and locate the influence therein of positivist, anthropological currents of thought as well as the cultural politics of post-imperial nation building. Working in dialogue with postcolonial, spatial, and Marxist criticism, this study articulates how a realist fixation on the spatial figure of the island in these works enables a form of culturally nationalist utopianism as well as an ambivalent form of spatially utopian discourse that resists geographical, cultural, and epistemological totalization.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLandscapes of realism
Subtitle of host publicationrethinking literary realism in comparative perspectives - Volume I: Mapping realism
EditorsDirk Göttsche , Rosa Mucignat, Robert Weninger
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherJohn Benjamins
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9789027260369
ISBN (Print)9789027208064
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2021

Publication series

NameComparative history of literatures in European languages
ISSN (Print)0238-0668


  • Islands
  • Utopia
  • Realism
  • Irish literature
  • Postcolonialism
  • J.M. Synge
  • Tomas O'Crohan


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