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The Literary Afterlives of Roger Casement, 1899–2016 by Alison Garden

Cover of The Literary Afterlives of Roger Casement, 1899–2016 by Alison Garden
The Literary Afterlives of Roger Casement, 1899–2016. Alison Garden. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020. Pp. 224. £80.00 (cloth).

“The ghost of Roger Casement / Is beating on the door.” So runs the refrain of William Butler Yeats’ “The Ghost of Roger Casement.” An imperialist who wrote scathing reports of colonial human rights abuses in the Congo and Brazil, Roger Casement sought German military aid for the 1916 Easter Rising: the British government arrested, sentenced, and hanged Casement for high treason. In her new study, The Literary Afterlives of Roger Casement, 1899-2016, Alison Garden frames her inquiry within the language of haunting and intervenes in Casement’s very indeterminacy: “towards the repetition of an unfinished history; the particularly ghostly fashioning of Casement’s literary afterlives” (14).

Garden sums up the difficulties of writing on Roger Casement’s legacy thus: “if Casement’s championing of the oppressed has been dwarfed by speculation about his personal biography and sexual identity, then the ambivalence with which he sometimes wrote about European imperial undertakings and the various peoples he encountered has received even less acknowledgement” (7). Garden avoids the ongoing debate regarding the veracity of Casement’s “Black Diaries” (which detail his sexual activity with other men). Under the subject of “silenced histories” falls the question of Casement’s queerness and how it has been referenced (or silenced) in the many works which Garden draws upon in her dynamic study across cultural memory (21). Garden’s work provides contributions to queer modernism as a field of study, alongside what David James and Urmila Seshagiri call “metamodernist” inquiry,[1] especially in Chapter Three, when Garden takes up Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 novel At Swim, Two Boys, which is set during the Easter Rising and mingles queer nationalist masculinity with desire. Throughout this study, Garden embraces all that is “complex, contradictory and messy” in Casement’s legacy: unrestricted by text or canon, she concludes her study with a series of museum exhibitions that reflect the legacy of Roger Casement in 2016 (78). Alison Garden demonstrates how the “queer archival trail” of Roger Casement continues to disturb neat narratives of history (206).


[1] David James and Urmila Seshagiri, “Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution,” PMLA 129, vol. 1 (2014): 89.