"Reading in the dark" by Seamus Deane: A striking title for a striking novel

Essay by CrazyJaneUniversity, Bachelor'sB, May 2006

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It is always interesting to know what the deeper senses of a title are. Certainly one like "Reading in the Dark" appeals to the imagination and some people might even be disappointed if it would only have one significance. That is not the case here; on the contrary, the title contains a number of ideas that are inextricably connected to the story. The combination of reading and darkness may seem somewhat conflicting at first sight, but it becomes clear that the blending of these two factors describes the subject matter in an ideal way. In addition, both reading and darkness have a meaning of their own, which is elaborated in function of the novel's contents.

The most obvious reference to the title of the novel is the chapter in which the boy remembers his fascination for The Shan Van Vocht, the first novel he ever read. The Irish title can be translated as The Poor Old Woman, which is 'a traditional name for Ireland' (RD 19).

It deals with the great rebellion of 1798, when the Irish revolted 'against the British establishment in Ireland' but were brutally defeated. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Rebellion_of_1798). The reason Deane chose this nationalistic book is that it stands for 'the chaotic torrent of Irish history' (http://www.salon.com/april97/reading2970411.html) and can then also be associated with the complex history of the boy's family, which is gradually revealed as the novel advances.

This revealing of the past is a second explanation of the title. When the boy is reading The Shan Van Vocht at night, his brother asks him to turn off the lights: 'For Christ's sake, put off that light.' (20) This doesn't stop him from thinking about the novel and from inventing the course of it: 'I'd switch off the light, get back to bed, and lie...