Three Questions with . . . Eve Patten

Author: Mary Hendriksen


Eve Patten is Professor of English at Trinity College Dublin and Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute. She works in the area of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Irish and British literature and cultural history and served for many years as convenor of the MPhil in Irish Writing at Trinity’s Oscar Wilde Centre. As Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, she co-ordinates research programmes, events, and visiting fellowships across the Arts and Humanities, and leads initiatives in research policy and civic engagement.

Professor Patten is author of several books, most recently Ireland, Revolution, and the English Modernist Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2022) which looks at how English modernist writers often filtered domestic concerns through their literary responses to the Irish revolution and its aftermath. She is also the editor of a recent volume of critical essays, Irish Literature in Transition, 1940-1980 (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and co-editor of a forthcoming volume of short stories, Dublin Tales, to be published by Oxford in autumn 2023. Originally from Belfast, she maintains strong links to Northern Ireland and is currently collaborating with Queen’s University Belfast on a Shared Island research project, "Ireland’s Border Culture," which will produce a digital archive of visual, literary, and creative representations from the Irish border area.

In 2018 Professor Patten made her first visit to the Notre Dame campus to give the Annual Seamus Heaney Memorial Lecture, on the topic of "Heaney, Auden, and the Age of Anxiety." She lectured at the Institute's 2018 IRISH Seminar at the University of Oxford and at the Long Room Hub's June 2022 conference "Seeing Ireland: Art, Culture, and Power in Ireland 1922 | 2022," attended by IRISH seminar participants and part of the initiative "States of Modernity: Forging Ireland in Paris" in which the Long Room Hub and the Keough-Naughton Institute were collaborators.

Heany Lecture


From Dublin, Professor Patten answers our Three Questions:

What are you working on?

In recent months I’ve returned to reading a lot of fiction from Northern Ireland, and I’m trying to think about how fiction has been positioned as a substitute for a much-discussed ‘official history’ that—for all the government initiatives, enquiries, and tribunals—remains beyond everybody’s grasp. This isn’t to suggest that a novel can provide a factual account of what happened during the Troubles, but to think more systematically about alternative records of sensibility and emotion that might provide a different ethics of history, a different kind of forensics. I’ve been struck recently by parallel evolutions in places that exist in comparable states of 'aftermath', and particularly post-apartheid South Africa. Reading Premesh Lalu’s new book Undoing Apartheid (Polity 2022) has shown me that the core elements of an aesthetic education—literature and the creative arts in particular—have a responsibility to articulate experiences in language that deliberately avoids the traps of politicised discourse. I hope I can write something on this in the new year.

I’ve also begun work on a literary biography of one of the writers I discussed in my recent book Ireland, Revolution, and the English Modernist Imagination—a relatively minor figure who turns out to have had a fascinating life. I’ll save the details on that until I’m a bit further on, but I have to admit that I’m already lost to the charms of life writing and the roominess of the single-author study, with all the elasticity of what Virginia Woolf called "fertile fact."

What are you reading?

I’ve just gone back twenty years to a book that I should have read when it came out in 2002—The Divided City, by Nicole Loraux—which looks at the processes of peace-making, memory, and amnesia in ancient Athens. It offers some challenging perspectives on the kind of anthropology we need to make sense of societies emerging from civil war, and has helped me rethink the work of memory studies in an Irish context, with some relevance to how we should now evaluate the Decade of Centenaries. I’ve also been reading some wonderful new work by my Trinity colleagues. Michael Cronin’s Eco-Travel: Journeying in the Age of the Anthropocene (Cambridge University Press, 2022) is a really lively read, a perfect guide to renewing our contact with the wider world, post-pandemic, through practices of what he calls ‘microspection’. And like many others, I’ve been deeply moved by Sean Hewitt’s evocative memoir All Down Darkness Wide (Cape, 2022), the story of the author’s adolescence and first love framed by his reading of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. For light relief, I’m plundering the cleverest comic novelist around—Elif Batuman—and thoroughly enjoying Either/Or, the sequel to her wonderful philosophical satire of 1990s student life at Harvard, The Idiot

What are you looking forward to this coming year?

April of 2023 will mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, so that will be an opportunity to reflect on the processes of conciliation and compromise that brought some stability to Northern Ireland. We’re planning a major discussion event on this fraught history in the Trinity Long Room Hub, together with our international partners. 

I’m also looking forward to a visit to the University of Cluj, in Transylvania, in May of 2023, to speak at a conference on the theme of ‘transmission'. Having worked in Romania for some years in the 1990s, I have a deep affection for the country and relish any chance to revisit. My colleagues there are producing some really dynamic work in film and literature, and, like their counterparts in Ireland, trying to see if the parameters of a ‘national’ culture can be maintained in an increasingly globalised landscape. So there will be interesting connections and comparisons, but also, I know, some good hiking and great eating. And finally, I’m looking forward to reading more poetry. I recently attended a symposium to celebrate the 80th birthday of the brilliant Eiléan ni Chuilleanáin, and it sent me back to her work with renewed attention to the value of the poetic voice—not just in literary studies but in our political life, and to poets as ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world,' even when that world is apparently collapsing.