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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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3 | Red, Un-Read, and Edna: Ernest Gébler and Edna O’Brien

3 | Red, Un-Read, and Edna: Ernest Gébler and Edna O’Brien

Extract

Michelle Woods

‘As usual I went to the bookshop at the bottom of Dawson Street where I had a free read every week’, declares Kate, protagonist of Edna O’Brien’s The Lonely Girls (1962), ‘I read twenty-eight pages of The Charwoman’s Daughter without being disturbed … Coming down the stone steps of the bookshop, I met him, point-blank’ (195). Kate has met the man who will become her controlling husband, Eugene Gaillard, ‘a dark-faced god turning his back on me’ (197). That Kate has been reading James Stephens’s The Charwoman’s Daughter (1912) is significant: Stephens’s novel of women’s life in impoverished turn-of-the-century Dublin and their attempts to escape the bonds of patriarchy is a forerunner to Kate and Baba’s story, which ends in the only escape that seems possible at the time, marriage. There is, however, a second allusion in this reading choice associated with the first meeting with Gaillard, a fictionalized version of O’Brien’s husband Ernest Gébler. Gébler was also a novelist and his first novel, He Had My Heart Scalded (1946), follows a similar trajectory in its account of the emancipation of Maggie McLoughlin, a girl born into poverty in Dublin who is trapped into marriage, but finally escapes her family, her dying husband, and Dublin, by emigrating to England.

O’Brien described Gébler as a ‘Mr Rochester’ figure (qtd in Woodward 42) , telling an interviewer that she had a ‘Jane Eyre-type marriage … I took the Brontës a little too seriously. It was...

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