Padma Rangarajan, “‘With a Knife at One’s Throat’: Irish Terrorism in The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys” (pp. 294–317)
Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys (1827) is a silver-fork novel edged in steel: a portrait of aristocratic 1790s Dublin society that doubles as anti-imperialist jeremiad. It is also one of the earliest pieces of fiction to explicitly identify terrorism as an inevitable consequence of colonial conquest. In this essay, I demonstrate how Morgan’s novel upends the standard definition of terrorism as a singular historical rift and rewrites it as a condition of life. Modernity has no chance in Ireland, Morgan argues, if the colonial parasitism of the past continues unabated. In The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys, Morgan prefigures Frantz Fanon’s diagnoses of the colonized psyche by carefully detailing the psychological and material effects of symbiotic terrorism—that is, terrorism as a complex network of reciprocal, mutually constitutive violent exchanges. Intertwining the thwarted legacy of the 1798 Irish Rebellion, the ongoing depredations of the Irish Ascendancy class, and her fears of an imminent revolution of the peasantry, Morgan mines Ireland’s near and distant past to forecast violence’s inevitable futurity.