Ann Owen Weekes, Irish Women Writers: An Uncharted Tradition (Kentucky UP 1990), 252pp.

Contents, Seeking a Tradition: Irish Women’s Fiction [1]; Maria Edgeworth: Doestic Saga [33]; Somerville and Ross: Ignoble Tragedy [60]; jElizabeth Bowen: Out of Eden [83]; Kate O’Brien: Family in the New nation [108]; Mary Lavin: Textual Gardens [133]; Molly Keane: Bildungsromane Quenelles [155]; Julia O’Faolain: The Imaginative Crucible [174]; Jennifer Johnston: From Gortnaree to Knappogue [191]; Iish Women Writers: The Experience of the mass [212]; Notes, 220; Selected Bibliog., 243; Index, 249. [ills. followed p.190.]

Quotes Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan, ‘I must be talking to my friends’.

Takes Freud and Levi-Strauss to task for their respective views of women in relation to penis envy (castration) and women-as-commodity in exogamous exchanges and draws on Margaret Mead and Nancy Chodorow to conclude that culture not biology is the chief determinant of women’s role. Considers that Said and Barthes - the very writers to whom we turn for help in articulating ‘monocentrism’ and ‘ethnocentrism’ fail to recognise their own androcentric perspectives, quoting Said on the central patriarchal text’ and Barthes on the fact that every narrative is a ‘staging of the (absent, hidden, or hypostatized) father’, and finds also that Bakhtin fails to distinguish women’s voices in the ‘cacaphony’ he hears in the novel. [8]. Draws on Elaine Showalter’s concern with ‘patterns almost impossible to perceive’ when women writers are studied in their relation to male writers. [9]; further endorses Elizabeth Janeway [16]

Cites Frank O’Connor on Lavin and Julia O’Faolain on the misogyny of Irish writing.

Modern Irish literature is dominated by men so brilliant in [2] their misanthropy [sic, prob. err. for ‘misogyny’] ... [that] the self-respect of Irish women is radically and paradoxically checkmated by respect for national achievement.’

Frank O’Connor writes that Irish men reading Lavin is lost when the revolution ‘practically disappears’ to be replaced by ‘sensual richness’ quite foreign to him. (O’Connor, ‘The Girl at the Gaol Gate’, in The Lonely Voice, A Study of the Short Story, Cleveland 1963, 202, 204.)

differs from previous studies in its quest for a specifically Irish women’s tradition

Historical survey of history of colonisation of Ireland; focus on the feminisation of Ireland in Jacobite poetry and in the revolutionary period, viz, Pearse, ‘My mother bore me in bondage, in bondage my mother was born’, and compares this with the Proclamation’s feminisation of the country: ‘In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.’

disempowerment;

Bottigheimer: ‘Excluded from landed wealth, from political life, from the “official” church, the Irish erected a counter-culture, not so much rebllious as evasive’. [16]

writers from Maria Edgeworth to Molly Keane ‘forced to address their work to a foreign, imperial male, English audience.’ [17]

Lady Morgan, Emily Lawless are excluded on the basis of excessive romanticiism and sentimentality. [20], but refers to future studies to include Mary Manning, Maura Laverty, janet McNeill, Edna O’Brien, Caroline Blackwood, Maeve Kelly, Mary Beckett, Clare Boylan, Polly Devlin.

Endorses Showalter’s conception of the woman’s text as a ‘double voiced discourse’ that always embodies the social, literary and cultural heritages of both the muted and the dominant.’ [25]; also endorses Nancy Miller on ‘emphasis added’ to women’s texts. [25]

Endorses Susab Gubar, ‘the myth must be rewritten to be evaded’ [28]; ditto Alicia Ostriker, who sees the woman writer as revising the myths and reversing traditional values [29]

Based on interview, indicates that Mary Lavin, Julia O’Faolain, and Jennifer Johnston do not see themselves as feminists, Johnston for instance holding that feminists like the IRA alienate [30]

Lavin: ‘women are out of their boxes everywhere’ [30] but ‘individual conscience must always have priority over group belief.’

O’Faolain: havng edited not in God’s Iamge, a consideration of the legal status of women from Greek to Victorian times, Julia O’Faolain notes that she has moved on. She absorbed those influences and can now concentrate on women without being bound by their political concerns. [31]

Molly Keane ... while not claiming to be a feminist, is full of admiration for those she alls “the tearaways”, the young women who are outspoken about their goals. [31]

claims that she does not ‘distort their writing’ in extracting their work from the body of Irish fiction. [31]

Anna Maria Elers Edgeworth; death of Honora, 1782; RL m. Honora’s sister, Elizabeth;

CR: within the text itself Edgeworth draws clear parallels between the behaviour of the Rackrents as landlords and of the Rackrents as husbands, the comparison she points to in the preface ... In Rackrent each wife escapes upon her husband’s death, her fortune intact and indeed in two cases increased. [42]; Ironically, as a colonised Gaelic-Irish servant, one of Elizabeth Janeway’s weak, Thady can be seen as a surrogate woman, one prevented from supporting her natural allies by the need to remain in the good grace of the powerful.’ [43]

QUOT (The Real Charlotte), ‘It is hard to ask pity for Charlotte, whose many evil qualities have without pity been set down, but the seal of ignoble tragedy had been set on her lfie; she had not asked for love, but it had come to her, tweisted by the malign hand of fate. There is pathos as well as humiliation in the thought that such a thing as a soul can be stunted by the trivialities of personal appearance, and it is a fact not beyond the reach of sympathy that each time Charlotte stood before her glass her ugliness spoke to her of failure, and goaded her to revenge. (The Real Charlotte; n.p.; Weekes, 61.]

Weekes ends honestly reporting Jennifer Johnston’s attitude: she does not see her writing ... as part of an Irish female tradition, yet she does see Irish writing as distinct from English. She suggests that the root knowledge without Irish people of both a double grammatical and a double cultural mode enriches and enerises their work, allowing their Irish reader to respond, as outsiders cannot, to th always-present undertones and qualifications of the second culture. But women’s work, in the past was ... too scarcre and too constrainted to serve as a model.’ Weekes concludes her own argument in saying hat, ‘as the dialogue focuses more securely and emphatically on women, on their choices, roles and relationships not as these relate to men but only as they relate tot he world, the literature of Anglo- and Gaelic-Irish women present a unified tradition of subjects and techniques, a unity that might become an optimistic model not onoly for Irish literature but also for Irish people.’ [219] .

BIBL, incl.

J. J. Lee, ‘Women and the Church’, in Women in Irish Society, ed., MacCurtain and O Corrain (Westport: Greenwood 1979).
Janet Madden-Simpson, ed., Woman’s Part: An Anthology of Short Fiction By and About Irish Women, 1890-1960 (Arlen 1984).
Joan Ryan, ‘Women in the Novels of Kate O’Brien: The Melick Novels’, in Heinz Kosok, ed, Studies in Anglo-Irish Literature (Bonn: Bovier Verlag Herbert Grundmann 1982), pp.322-32.
Catherine A. Murpy, ‘The Ironic Vision of Mary Lavin’, in Mosaic, 12 (Spring 1979), cp.69.
V. S. Prichett, Introduction, Mary Lavin: Collected Stories.
Shari Benstock, ‘The Masculine World of Jennifer Johnston’, in Thomas Staley, ed., Twentieth-Century Women Novelists (NJ: Barnes & Noble 1982), pp.191-217.

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