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Edna O'Brien

'New Critical Perspectives'


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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9 | ‘Meaniacs’ and Martyrs: Sadomasochistic Desire in Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy

9 | ‘Meaniacs’ and Martyrs: Sadomasochistic Desire in O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy


Shirley Peterson

All masochists are just sadists waiting to be cured.

Edna O’Brien

The IRA’s recently-declared disarmament in Northern Ireland, although disputed, signals an encouraging development in an otherwise escalating international climate of terrorism. As a symbolic gesture, it also undercuts a particular gendered nationalism that has helped define not only the IRA but also the Irish Republic, a nationalism that has historically curtailed women’s liberation and reinforced gender norms ‘for the good of the State’ (Pelan 49). As Heather Ingman argues, from 1922 the new Irish nation-state sought to establish ‘national norms of gender’, in support of a ‘homogeneous’ postcolonial ideal that increasingly relied on strict female virtue and a ‘hypermasculine republican model of masculinity’ (253, 255). Consequently, as Eileen Morgan argues, the pure but suffering Irish woman is one of the ‘foundational myths of the Republic’ that enshrined ‘the quintessential maiden-victim’ along with her counterpart, the ‘Irish hero’ (451). Thus, destabilizing this entrenched myth ←151 | 152→of victim/hero has decided allure, especially if the hero can also be a victimizer.

The patriarchal and nationalist underpinnings of this polarized gender division have been amply noted. I would simply add that they are attended by concomitant sadomasochistic impulses that drive the mid-century Irish sociopolitical agenda. To that end, I will focus on Edna O’Brien’s 1960s trilogy, revised and collected as The Country Girls Trilogy in 1987.1 Together, these texts provide a fascinating study of sadomasochistic desire as contained within the demands of...

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