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Edna O'Brien

'New Critical Perspectives'

Series:

Edited By Maureen O'Connor, Kathryn Laing and Sinead Mooney

The essays collected in Edna O’Brien: New Critical Perspectives illustrate the range, complexity and interest of O’Brien as a fiction writer and dramatist. Together they contribute to a broader appreciation of her work and to an evolution of new critical approaches, as well as igniting greater interest in the many unexplored areas of her considerable oeuvre.

The contributors who include new and established scholars in the field of O’Brien criticism, are Rebecca Pelan, Maureen O’Connor, Michelle Woods, Bertrand Cardin, Ann Norton, Eve Stoddard, Michael Harris, Loredana Salis, Shirley Peterson, Patricia Coughlan, Sinéad Mooney, and Mary Burke.

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2 | Edna O’Brien, Irish Dandy

2 | Edna O’Brien, Irish Dandy

Extract

Maureen O’Connor

In explaining ‘Why Irish Heroines Don’t Have to be Good Anymore’, in a 1986 New York Times article of that title, Edna O’Brien recalls this scene:

One day in the early 1950s I saw a very tall woman in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, bending over to talk to someone; she was dressed completely in black, almost like a nun, and indeed had what Yeats’s sister Lily described as a sort of royal smile. It was Maud Gonne, the ‘burning cloud’ as Yeats described her. Seeing her sent a shiver through me. I had touched or rather glimpsed both politics and poetry. Unwittingly it spurred me to write (13).

This Irish heroine is one of two ‘living legends’ distinguished ‘both for their beauty and their patriotism’, according to O’Brien; the other being Constance Markiewicz, whom O’Brien quotes as saying, ‘I’ll have a pistol here and a pistol here and my best hat’. Terry Eagleton similarly links the two women in his claim that they

resisted the left-utilitarianism of some of [their] male comrades with a concern for style, elegance and ornament, an attention to the small beauties and stray pleasures of life which could be easily dismissed as female vanity (295).

The avant-gardists uniting style and politics in both Eagleton’s and O’Brien’s accounts are instances of the Irish ←38 | 39→female dandy, a contemporary example of which, this essay will argue, Edna O’Brien herself belongs.1

In...

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