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The Female and the Species

The Animal in Irish Women’s Writing


Maureen O'Connor

Describing the Irish as ‘female’ and ‘bestial’ is a practice dating back to the twelfth century, while for women, inside and outside of Ireland, their association with children, animals and other ‘savages’ has had a long history. A link among systems of oppression has been asserted in recent decades by some feminists, but linking women’s rights with animal advocacy can be controversial. This strategy responds to the fact that women’s inferiority has been alleged and justified by appropriating them to nature, an appropriation that colonialism has also practiced on its racial and cultural others. Nineteenth-century feminists braved such associations, for instance, often asserting vegetarianism as a form of rebellion against the dominant culture. Vegetarianism and animal advocacy have uniquely Irish implications. This study examines a tradition of Irish women writers deploying the ‘natural’ as a gesture of resistance to paternalist regulation of female energies and as a self-consciously elaborated stage for the performance of Irish identity. They call into question the violent dislocations and disavowals required by figurative practices, particularly when utilizing Irish topography, an already ‘unnatural’ cultural construct shaped by conflict and suffering.


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Chapter Four: Running with the Hare and Hunting with the Hounds in the Fiction of Somerville and Ross 99


chapter four Running with the Hare and Hunting with the Hounds in the Fiction of Somerville and Ross Edith Somerville and Violet Martin, who wrote as E.Œ. Somerville and Martin Ross, are not usually numbered among their New Women contem- poraries, a significant exception to this oversight to be found in a recent study by Julie Anne Stevens.1 One reason for this misrecognition lies in the writing team’s unapologetic devotion to rural Ireland.2 The dominant discourses of modernity conceive the New Woman strictly as an urban phenomenon, and most criticism has confined the figure well within city limits. Sally Ledger, for example, insists that ‘the New Woman was nothing if not modern. She was largely an urban phenomenon, a significant presence in the city landscapes if the second half of the nineteenth century’.3 The only deviance from this model that has been recognized until recently is in the work of Olive Schreiner, of whom W.T. Stead noted in 1894, ‘who could have foreseen that the new, and in many respects the most distinctive note of the literature of the last decade of the nineteenth century would be sounded […] in the solitude of the African bush’.4 As we have seen, 1 Julie Anne Stevens, The Irish Scene in Somerville and Ross (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007). 2 In a letter written by Martin to a correspondent in London, quoted by Somerville in her memoir, Martin expresses pity for those who have to live in London, Irish Memories (New York: Longmans, Green,...

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