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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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11 | ‘Sacramental Sleeves’: Fashioning the Female Subject in the Fiction of Edna O’Brien

11 | ‘Sacramental Sleeves’: Fashioning the Female Subject in the Fiction of Edna O’Brien

Extract

Sinéad Mooney

It is the only time that I am thankful for being a woman, that time of evening when I draw the curtains, take off my old clothes, and prepare to go out. …. I shadow my eyelids with black stuff and am astonished by the look of mystery it gives my eyes. I hate being a woman. Vain and shallow and superficial.

Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls

An unsuccessful appearance is more than a pity; it is a pathological document.

Elizabeth Bowen, ‘Dress’

Edna O’Brien’s writing has always been interested in the ways in which female bodies are classified, disciplined, invaded, destroyed, altered, decorated, and pleasured. Her writing since 1960 systematically explores the condition of women as embodied subjects, specifically the ways in which western society disciplines women’s bodies within a heterosexual economy, and the extent to which women may accept or contest this. Juxtaposed with this, however, is a continual quasi-Swiftian presentation of the carnality of bodies in terms which, in their ←196 | 197→insistent dwelling on ‘filth’, decay, contamination, and waste, appear to ignore or actively transgress the norms of the basic hygiene of socialization and acculturation, and suggest a recurring anxiety over that most basic of boundaries, that between the I and the not-I. In this, her writing as a whole is strikingly suggestive of Julia Kristeva’s theorization of abjection, a relationship which is explored in detail by Patricia Coughlan’s ‘Killing the Bats’ in this...

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