‘Ourselves Alone’? Encounters Between the Irish Literary Revival and Australian Settler-Modernisms, ca. 1913–1919


This essay examines intellectual exchanges between early twentieth-century Australian literary nationalists and the Irish literary revival, with attention to the transnational and imperial differences in between. It traces the travel narratives of Vance Palmer, Esmonde Higgins and Miles Franklin in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, their performance of New World settler ‘selfhood’ in Ireland, and their encounters with Irish literary contacts including George William Russell (Æ) and Darrell Figgis. In historicising these encounters in relation to settler-colonial ambivalence, it argues that Australian literary travel narratives of revolutionary Ireland were constituted around multiple displacements of meaning between Irish nationalist and Australian settler-nativist constructions of autochthony. As urban intellectual milieux outside the networks of Irish ethnic associationalism, these literary connections offer a culturally hybrid location in which to re-examine the play of overdetermined meanings around Ireland in early interwar (‘White’) Australia. Situated in relation to Irish historical contexts external to Australian nationalist narratives, these dislocations of meaning illuminate an excess of Irelands in settler radical political imaginaries beyond stable constructions of nation or place.

In his fragmentary travel narrative of Ireland in mid-1919, published in the Melbourne Fellowship and Sydney Bulletin as a series of short essays (‘Dublin Days’, ‘Dublin Nights’ and ‘Literary Dublin’), Vance Palmer projected a New World utopia of settler modernity onto Ireland Ireland embodied, for Palmer, the realisation of White Australia’s ‘democratic character’, its vitality and its ‘extreme vivacity’.1 Palmer who arrived in Ireland after enlisting in the military only to arrive in Europe three days after the Armistice, was accompanied on this visit by his brother-in-law Esmonde Higgins, a student at Balliol College on his summer break.2 A month later, Miles Franklin, who had earlier left the United States for London, visited Ireland on a separate tour as a political tourist and self-described ‘pilgrim’ in search of a departure from the quotidian in the political ferment of Ireland.3 As canonical figures in Australian literary nationalism, Palmer and Franklin have…

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Published 30 September 2021 in Special Issue: The Uses of Irish-Australian Literature . Subjects: Cultural & national identity, Historiography, Self discovery, Travel fiction & writing, Miles Franklin, Nettie Palmer, Vance Palmer, Settler mobilities, Irish-Australian Literature, Irish War of Independence, White Australia Policy, Irish Literary Revival.

Cite as: Yan , Jimmy H.. ‘‘Ourselves Alone’? Encounters Between the Irish Literary Revival and Australian Settler-Modernisms, ca. 1913–1919.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 2021, doi: 10.20314/als.a42041cd47.