Loughborough University

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Irish women's rural fiction since independence.

posted on 2012-10-19, 10:45 authored by Deirdre O'Byrne
This thesis explores Irish women's rural fiction since Independence, concentrating on novels and short stories which cover a historical span from the 1940s to the 1990s. It includes a broad range of writings, considering the position of women who work in the countryside, who covet land or wish to escape from it, Anglo-Irish property owners, and struggling Protestant farmers. The texts vary from the woman-centred stories of Mary Lavin, Edna O'Brien and Jennifer Johnston to the consciously feminist fiction of Maeve Kelly, Mary Dorcey, Leland Bardwell, Eilis NI Dhuibhne and Evelyn Conlon. The introduction sets out the historical contexts, beginning with de Valera's 'rural idyll' which provides the backdrop to Lavin's early stories. I examine the texts in their social and historical contexts, and draw on the work of social scientists, anthropologists, journalists and historians, in providing background to the writings. Many of the texts reveal an anxiety about Irish identity, and highlight the problems of a post-colonial Irish society. For instance, Lavin's 'Sarah' can be read as charting the disappearance of the old order and the onset of a Catholic conservatism. I discuss the ground-breaking fiction of Edna O'Brien, which broaches taboos around women's lives which are later taken up by the Irish Women's Liberation Movement. This movement of the 1970s heralded a corresponding change in women's rural fiction. Prevailing traditions of male inheritance and myths of nationhood were questioned. As 1980s Ireland unleashed a stream of attacks on women's sexuality, instigating even more restrictive practices regarding contraception, abortion and divorce, Irish women writers rose to the challenge, tackling subjects such as abortion, incest, marriage breakdown, and infanticide in the Irish countrySide. I examine these writings in the light of contemporaneous real-life stories, such as the Kerry Babies Case. O'Brien and Johnston show the decline of the Big House in rural Ireland, and both write about inter-religion relationships. The conclusion discusses recent changes in rural Ireland, and looks at the publishing history of Irish women's fiction. It considers the reception of Irish women rural writers and their works abroad, in the light of the growth in Irish Studies.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Deirdre O'Byrne

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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