The Irish Psyche as Portrayed through Miranda in Jennifer Johnston's Fool’s Sanctuary
In her novel Fool’s Sanctuary, Jennifer Johnston reflects on the Irish psyche and gives an insight into some of the factors that appear to create such a unique culture. This aspect of the novel is explored particularly through the novel’s protagonist, Miranda. She acts like a symbol, the embodiment of the typical Irish person. Miranda’s characteristics, attitudes and values are shaped by the influences of her country, therefore reflecting possibilities that typically set the Irish people apart. These characteristics include a symbolic and surreal outlook on life, a love of poetry and music, the importance placed on memories, a sense of humour, the way they love and an inability to accept happiness as reality.
Ireland is a spectacular island whipped by harsh weather, steeped in history and torn by wars that have raged for centuries and it is these aspects that contribute to the Irish psyche. Great Irish writers throughout history, such as Yeats and Joyce, have written about these influences in Ireland and the impact that they have on its people. Johnston equally explores similar concepts in Fools’ Sanctuary. It is a powerful story, Miranda’s story, showing how the turmoil in Ireland in the 1920’s affects an individual’s life and changes it irrevocably. Johnston’s delicate mixture of emotion and caustic observations provide a unique analysis of the Irish psyche. Furthermore, she explores the concept that many of the characteristics that are developed are fundamentally self-destructive. Miranda tries not to be affected by Ireland’s conflict and there are a number of ways in which she tries to escape. However, ultimately this only ends in her self-destruction. Essentially, Jennifer Johnston’s novel is a portrayal of what can be considered to be aspects of the Irish psyche, giving an insight into why these traits are unique, what these traits could be attributed to and how they lead to self-destruction.
One of the most prominently explored Irish characteristics in Fool’s Sanctuary is the importance placed on memories. The novel itself is centralised on Miranda’s memories. This fact alone reflects the importance that Miranda places on events of the past. As a dying women, the people of the past crowd her head. In the opening scene of the novel, Miranda thinks:
I can call them all to my side now…. The cast of my play. The play that is in my head, always in my head.
Miranda becomes so obsessed by her "play", the memories, that they appear to dominate her life. At the moment that death looms, Miranda thinks of how she has "played [her] play for the last time." She does not think of "life" and this in itself is an indication of how her memories are no longer merely thoughts, but rather they have become her life.
The sheer vividness of Miranda’s reflections are evidence of how highly they are valued. She remembers many things in great detail....