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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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10 | Killing the Bats: O’Brien, Abjection, and the Question of Agency

10 | Killing the Bats: O’Brien, Abjection, and the Question of Agency


Patricia Coughlan

The OED defines the noun ‘abjection’ as follows:

The act of casting down; abasement, humiliation, degradation.


The condition of casting down … downcastness, abjectness, low estate.

The action of casting off or away; rejection.

That which is cast off or away; refuse, scum, dregs. Usually fig. of persons.

and the past participle ‘abject’ with the sense 1. of ‘cast off, cast out, rejected. Obs.’, and the sense 3. of ‘down in spirit or hope; low in regard or estimation, degraded, mean-spirited, despicable’. It illustrates the obsolete noun ‘abjectedness’, defined as ‘downcast condition; abasement; abject state or condition’ with a 1660 citation from Robert Boyle’s Seraphic Love: ‘[Christ] from the height of Glory … sunk Himself to the bottom of Abjectedness, to exalt our condition to the contrary extreme’. 1

My title refers to the following episode in O’Brien’s trilogy, which takes place after Kate Brady has been forcibly brought home from Dublin to her father’s tumbledown farmhouse. It is well after the death of her mother:

I swept the seven lonely, empty bedrooms because bat droppings dotted the floors.

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