Introduction: The Aesthetics of Plainness
This book examines a particular strain of realism that found expression in the ‘improvement’ fiction of post-Union Ireland. Strongly didactic and assertively realistic, Irish improvement fiction laboured to address the squalid condition of post-Union Ireland by instructing both peasants and landowners in a range of practical matters such as agricultural modernization and the effective administration of estates. Improvement fiction was addressed to landowners and the upper classes as well as the peasantry in a sustained effort to create a shared textual frame of reference in post-Union Ireland. As such, it was an attempt to redefine the textual culture of the period, displacing aestheticism, fantasy, romance, and political extremism with a strongly practical and realistic body of writing. This realism was itself entwined in a larger project to formulate a liberalism that would provide the necessary conditions for modernization in Ireland.
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