University of Limerick
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Inadequate realities: a social-constructionist perspective on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s fictional communities in times of socio-political and material revolution

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posted on 2024-01-15, 12:47 authored by Sean Aldrich O’Rourke

I apply a social-constructionist framework to the short fiction and novels of Irish Gothicist Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu that were published from 1860 to 1873. Though social-constructionist theory postdates Le Fanu, his rendering of communal reality-creation follows many of its central tenets by portraying reality as unfixed and consisting of constructed, shared understandings of the world. Through depicting reality as constructed, his texts critique ineffective and oppressive ways of maintaining sociopolitical and material frameworks in times of threatened radical change. They also prompt readers to seek more just, effective frameworks.

I define reality as communally built sets of rules, or paradigms, with which a community articulates what is real and acceptable or unreal and unacceptable. Le Fanu’s characters construct their reality through interactions within their communities, steadily reinforcing hegemonic social norms and paradigms for categorising the material world. Further, Le Fanu portrays them struggling with materially unreal and socially unacceptable forces: ghosts, vampires, and other subversive figures who challenge the coherence of realities, threatening to destroy or replace them. As a result, readers and characters can be displaced from communities’ ineffective realities.

Le Fanu experienced the actual decline of established sociopolitical and scientific paradigms. This Victorian Irish context informs his late fiction’s focus on how realities are built and deteriorated. Further, Le Fanu immerses readers in the world of his texts, making readers an imaginative part of the creation and deterioration of realities. By simulating an experience of one’s reality decaying, rather than using his works to allegorise Irish politics, Le Fanu delivers his social critiques on an affective level.

My approach adds to Le Fanu studies and Irish Gothic scholarship more broadly. Through analysing Le Fanu’s depiction of reality construction in moments of threatened change, I demonstrate a novel methodology for revealing crucial, affective Irish-literary perspectives on such moments.



  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Christina Morin

Department or School

  • Scoil na Gaeilge, an Bhéarla, agus na Cumarsáide | School of English, Irish, and Communication

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