Talking American Literature at Uppsala: “The facts in the case of G. Glover (†1688): Cotton Mather, Alan Titley’s An Bhean Feasa, and the Myth of Irish Slavery”

  • Date: –17:00
  • Location: Engelska parken Room 16-1044
  • Lecturer: Gregory Darwin (Uppsala University)
  • Organiser: Department of English, Uppsala University
  • Contact person: Daniel Kane
  • Seminarium

Alan Titley is, in no particular order, a novelist, critic, playwright, translator, professor of Irish, and a Corkonian. His formally experimental 2014 novel, An Bhean Feasa (“The Wise Woman”) takes for its subject the execution of Goodwife Glover for the crime of witchcraft on the 16th of November, 1688, in the city of Boston. Glover is of historic interest both as the last person to be tried and executed as a witch in the city of Boston (a few years before the infamous trials in Salem), and as the first documented speaker of the Irish language in North America. Titley’s novel opens during the aftermath of her execution, and proceeds backwards in time, recounting her trial, her arrival in Boston, her period of indentured servitude in Barbados, and her exile from Ireland under Cromwell’s Commonwealth. Titley follows a version of the popular narrative which had developed around Glover in the early 20th century, one in which she is portrayed as a Catholic martyr and a symbol of forbearance and piety for Irish-Americans. Her time in Barbados, while not supported by any contemporary sources, accords with a popular understanding of early modern indentured servitude and penal transportation as fundamentally commensurate with the transatlantic slave trade. This understanding of the early modern Irish transatlantic experience, unsurprisingly, is often used in contemporary discourse to minimize or dismiss the impact of the slave trade on the present day. The aim of this discussion is threefold: to present what the archive tells us about Glover’s life and execution along with a genealogy of the myth of her martyrdom, to introduce Titley’s novel and the strategies it employs in portraying seventeenth century Boston, and to open the space to a discussion of the politics and ethics of representation raised by the novel.

PS: the title of the novel is pronounced roughly “An Van FAS-a”